Dissolving Realities
Hanzhang Lai and Phang Lim imagine the future of communication technologies and the role of the architectural practice in the metaverse.

"Dissolving Realities" explores how the exponential growth in communication technology is changing the way we interact with the tangible and intangible spaces. The domestic space has lost its value of privacy and intimacy, and the boundary between traditional binaries will be no more. The thesis envisions a dystopian future where users are prisoners to their technologies. The project addresses issues such as privacy and domesticity in a satirical way by constructing Hearth, a tech company where it uses strategies to capitalize on its users.

The project was developed at the Syracuse University.

KOOZ What prompted the project?

HL | PL With the pandemic affecting billions around the globe, we rely so much more on our communication technology and that made us realize how public our domestic spaces were. We were constantly socializing through our phones and computers and our rooms were like an extension of the virtual space. We have been interacting very differently with our physical space ever since the introduction of the telephone in our domestic space in the 1920s, and the television in the 1950s. This invasion of the public into the domestic inspired us to explore the role of architecture in this new digital age and how our physical world could cater to the virtual world.

KOOZ What questions does the project raise and which does it address?

HL | PL Our project aimed to address the rise in communication technology and how it is making our physical space less significant than before. People interact so heavily with the virtual space that the physical architecture acts merely as a shelter. Gotfried Semper’s 4 elements of architecture argues that the 3 outer elements (roof, enclosure & mound) are key in protecting the Hearth, which is a place of gathering and socializing. The hearth in the contemporary world has evolved into a technological advance device that enables us to communicate and participate in the collective virtually anytime and anywhere. Therefore, we created a dystopian future in a satirical way by positioning ourselves as a tech company called Hearth to raise these issues where users are voluntarily selling their privacy within their domestic space.

Architects have always been creators of space and we believe that this will be no different in the virtual world.

KOOZ How do you envision the role of the architect changing with the advent of the metaverse?

HL | PL Throughout our project, we kept questioning ourselves on the role of architecture as society slowly shifts into the virtual world. Architects will need to critically question their role and occupation during this interesting period of time and we transition from the tangible to the intangible. Architects have always been creators of space and we believe that this will be no different in the virtual world. While the significance of the physical space is being threatened by the advent of the metaverse, there are potentials for architects to find other means to express their imagination and creativity. The metaverse could be a place where one can apply his or her skills to create a more impactful space. In our project, the physical architecture serves as a space for users to transition from the physical to the virtual, allowing them to be fully immersed in the metaverse. It is a place where the physical and virtual co-exist to create a richer experience in socialization.


KOOZ What is the potential of this new digital space for the realms of architecture and design?

HL | PL The virtual space is a tool for architects to imagine more and the potential for architecture is limitless as anything is possible. Without any physical restrictions, architects can now construct virtual cities within days and impact millions around the globe in a very personal way. Architecture in the digital space is an architecture for all and anyone can participate and be part of a large inclusive community.

KOOZ How and to what extent could this redefine the way we approach the very act of designing?

HL | PL The virtual space is a very powerful tool as it allows anyone to design and anyone to be a creator of their own. It changed the way we interact with one another and individuals can now share their ideas instantly wherever and whenever they want. We are optimistic about the future as the act of designing will be widely accessible and the creative community will be more connected than ever.

Architecture in the digital space is an architecture for all and anyone can participate and be part of a large inclusive community.

KOOZ What is for you the power of the architectural imaginary?

HL | PL We chose the route of using architectural imaginary for our project as we wanted to simulate and raise questions among the audiences. The simple act of imagining a possible future, imagining the “other” world created a discourse among our professors and friends regarding the future that we are heading towards and it was really interesting to hear everyone’s opinion. As we slowly adapt to the virtual life, we believe that architectural imaginary will be especially powerful as the audiences can now better understand the creator’s intention and be fully immersed within the space narrated.


Hanzhang Lai is an architectural designer currently based in Beijing, China, where she works for MAD Architects. She is a recent graduate from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Architecture degree and a minor in Communication Photography. Her notable achievements include receiving the Faculty Prize for her joint thesis project, ‘Dissolving Realities.’ In her work, she is interested in exploring the impact of current-day architectural discourse on design decisions and how that could shape daily lives.

Phang Lim was born and raised in Johor Bahru, Malaysia and holds a Bachelor of Architecture from Syracuse University, New York, where he was also a teaching and research assistant. He has several experiences with architecture firms in various countries, including the United States, Italy, and Singapore. In his final year joint thesis, titled “Dissolving Realities”, he explored the invasion of privacy in the domestic space through the help of communication technologies; the thesis was awarded the faculty prize for the James A. Britton Memorial Thesis Award. He has always been interested in the city’s physical form where it is constantly under the influence of social, economic, and physical condition, and is recently drawn into the possibilities of the fusion between traditional and virtual cities. Phang currently works as an apprentice at Studio Red Hong Yi in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

22 Dec 2021
Reading time
8 minutes
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