“Metaverse” is the new buzzword that arouses curiosity and sparks a conversation about opportunities and possibilities in nearly every industry — and architecture is no exception.
Facebook’s recent rebranding as “Meta”, with the vision of transforming the social media giant into a metaverse company, catapulted the debate into the forefront of the zeitgeist.
Metaverse doesn’t refer to a single specific technology but a combination of multiple elements, including VR, AR, aspects of social media, online gaming, in 3D spaces. The term describes a vast transformation in how people interact with technology rather than a method.
The term was first coined by a 1992 science fiction novel, ” Snow Crash“, which envisioned a virtual reality-based successor to the internet.
How Metaverse Will Change Our Online Interactions
Talking about metaverse right now is akin to the conversations about “the internet” back in the 1970s, states Eric Ravenscraft on WIRED. “To help you get a sense of how vague and complex a term ‘the metaverse’ can be, here’s an exercise to try,” he writes. “Mentally replace the phrase ‘the metaverse’ in a sentence with ‘cyberspace.’ Ninety percent of the time, the meaning won’t substantially change.”
In the most straightforward words, the metaverse is a virtual world in which people can work, socialize, and play in spaces inspired by the real world.
For the vast majority of its existence, the internet has been a 2D experience relatively disconnected from the feeling of space. However, the advent of the metaverse might be about to change that irreversibly.
Metaverse and the Design of Physical Products
The world’s economies have been going through a significant shift towards digitalization, the speed at which the COVID-19 pandemic only accelerated. The recent years have seen many brick-and-mortar shops struggle, the meaning of “office” and “workspaces”, or “school” to change and become increasingly more virtual.
However, the metaverse might be introducing an alternative middle-way between physical space and digital activities, thus, changing the needs and wants of spatial design. Many see it as the kickstart of more meaningful “phygital” experiences in our economies, meaning it’ll blend the physical and digital.
The shift has already started in some industries like fashion and luxury goods: Brands like Balenciaga, Moncler, Louis Vuitton, and Burberry use metaverse platforms to show their products and connect with customers.
To take the new “phygital” experiences a step further, many designers turn to making products to be used, bought, and sold in metaverses, such as digital clothing and accessories. According to one estimate, the Metaverse market for luxury and fashion alone could reach USD 50 billion by 2030.
Why Does Metaverse Matter for Architects?
One of the new emerging markets with the advent of the metaverse is virtual real estate. Investors are already spending millions in NFTs, non-fungible tokens, to purchase virtual properties. One survey estimated the market value of the Metaverse at USD 47.69 billion in 2020, and forecasts it to reach a revenue of USD 828.95 billion in 2028.
While we don’t know which investments will prove to be the most fruitful ones in the long run, there’s no doubt about one thing: We’ll see an increasing number of virtual properties being built, which might be a game-changer for the architects and the industry.
In addition to private “homes” and “offices”, metaverse will be hungry for entertainment spaces, such as virtual amusement parks, movie theatres, art galleries, concert halls, opera houses, shopping malls, sports arenas, or any public gathering spaces.
But as these metaverse spheres won’t have real-world limitations such as time, budget, or simple physics, they offer a carte-blanche to adventurous architects to ultimately push the boundaries of their creativity.
This, in turn, could also rejuvenate the architecture in physical spaces, bringing upon a futuristic architectural renaissance.
A Shift in Business Models: Architect as a “Content Creator”
Technological development and our evolving needs keep redefining the role of architecture and architects in our lives. Metaverse is arguably one of the most exciting digital advancements that might cause significant changes in architecture.
This would also open new income streams and business models for architects: Metaverse can allow them to sell their projects as “content”, rather than waiting for a long time to see their efforts manifest as a single building somewhere — which might not always be possible.
In an industry like construction — which is still plagued by inefficiencies, long timelines, difficult permissions, and social hierarchies — architectural design in the Metaverse can shift the power from big firms, and empower individual architects.
Especially given the fact that the market for digital goods is growing twice as fast as the market for physical goods, Metaverse could be the new pot of gold for designers of all kinds, including architects.
All in all, Metaverse could be a new playground for intrepid architects and change the face of physical, digital, and “phygital” architecture, thus our lives, forever.