Written by Steve Williams, CEO Harbinger Sign
Vice Media Group recently opened Viceverse, their new global headquarters. Designed by Copenhagen-based architecture firm BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group), the project is the firm’s first to be built on Decentraland, a virtual ‘metaverse’ platform. It appears to be the first project by any serious architecture firm on any metaverse platform, which begs the following questions: Should we as fabricators be concerned? Do we need to start putting software developers on our shop floor? Will anyone even want the things that architects and designers draw to be physically built in the future? Are we a thriving buggy and carriage shop that just saw a car speed by for the first time?
In defining the metaverse, a good place to start is with Meta, the global tech behemoth formerly known as Facebook, who believes so strongly in a metaverse future that they changed their name to Meta and bet billions on a pivot towards it. How does Meta define the metaverse, what is their role in it, and how will they create value and revenue for the company? Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg:
I think a lot of people, when they think about the metaverse, they think about just virtual reality — which I think is going to be an important part of that. And that’s clearly a part that we’re very invested in, because it’s the technology that delivers the clearest form of presence. But the metaverse isn’t just virtual reality. It’s going to be accessible across all of our different computing platforms; VR and AR, but also PC, and also mobile devices and game consoles. Speaking of which, a lot of people also think about the metaverse as primarily something that’s about gaming. And I think entertainment is clearly going to be a big part of it, but I don’t think that this is just gaming. I think that this is a persistent, synchronous environment where we can be together, which I think is probably going to resemble some kind of a hybrid between the social platforms that we see today, but an environment where you’re embodied in it.
See? Clear as mud. In Meta’s defense, defining big concepts with specificity is difficult. Let’s instead look at some practical use cases. Horizon Venues is a product that requires a Quest VR headset for you to see a virtual concert in real time, like a recent performance by the Foo Fighters. Many would-be attendees complained about being unable to get into the virtual venue. It’s a virtual experience of the world’s worst venue.
Samsung hosted a product launch on Decentraland, only to find that users couldn’t get into the already full virtual building, because it was too small and the entrance was too tight. Walmart’s metaverse recreated all the least convenient things about shopping in person (going up and down aisles to find things rather than just typing or saying them and harshly lit big box buildings to name a few) and took away the most convenient aspects like having your purchases in hand when you leave the store. Retailers are just rendering their stores and inviting users to ‘shop’ in the metaverse.
The promise of the metaverse is there are no constraints on design. Anyone can create their own vision of the universe and render it as if it were real, unburdened by the reality of physics, code, cost, and practicality. What is painfully clear from these first attempts at metaverse building is that there was no design. No architect, no environmental graphic designer, no landscape designer, would, when given carte blanche, create a worse version of something that already exists. So, kudos to Vice for hiring actual architects from BIG to design their virtual office. If the metaverse is ever going to be more than a buzzword, it’s going to require the level of professional design we expect in the real world. If not, as fabricators, we’ll be in business for at least another 60 years.