The Virtual Hearth

Project

Another dimension extracted from the physical. People no longer share physical location but experience in the virtual.

When technology becomes more immersed into our daily lives with AR/VR technology, people will have the opportunity to gather around virtual platforms rather than Instagram pages. Today, there is a problem of isolation caused by developed algorithms of social media that intends to separate topics from each other, preventing interaction. It is called the echo chamber effect where people are allowed only to view posts of their own interest. No contradictory topics appear on your news feed.

How can VR/AR technology bring people from different interests together?

What will be the hearth in the digital in the future?

Interview

What prompted the project and the interest in the brief developed by Intermediate 1?

Our aim was to define certain qualities of the Internet that have a social impact on people. The Internet has a 2D interface in our daily lives; we access information through flat screens. However, in the future the Internet will become much more immersive with AR/VR applications, which is what we at Tools for Architecture are interested in..
As a unit, we treated the Internet as a field of work, made site analysis of our research and started designing the Internet as a three dimensional space. With this method, we focused on future scenarios of “What will happen when Internet becomes much more involved in society with AR/VR technology?”

How would you define your relationship to the internet?

As a student studying in Central London, I think that we are obliged to use the Internet; could be the map, a translation, delivery or network. I use the Internet to socialise on different platforms such as Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. I check my phone whenever I have free time, it gives me a break from my daily schedule.

What questions does the project raise?

‘The Virtual Hearth’ focuses on social media platforms and their impact on society. The Internet allows us to create the biggest social network of human history. I wanted to understand the quality of online social networks. Recent algorithms impremented by Facebook and Instagram have led to a certain disconnection between users. We are constantly surfing pages with similar content; someone interested in cats will see more posts of cats whereas a person interested in dogs will see more posts of dogs. But there is no ‘hybrid space’ that allows users from different backgrounds to meet at an intersection; a news feed with dogs and cats is not available with the new algorithm. This is called ‘the echo chamber effect’ and mentioned by Jaron Lanier, a pioneer on the topic of virtual reality;
‘The algorithms used by social media platforms end up feeding us things they think we are already interested in, so we find ourselves in a mirror chamber with a narrower and narrower experience of the world.’[1]

My project aims to propose a spatial system that creates hybrid spaces in between topics. By offering a corridor between ‘cats page’ and ‘dogs page’ it is possible to widen the online experience of any user.

What importance do you behold upon the images through which you articulate the project?

The images articulate real-life examples when this proposal is put into practice. They are aimed to highlight the main elements of my proposal. The images focuses on two elements; the gathering element that is adopted from campfires, and the exhibition of partial enclosed spaces from the physical world that are introduced into the virtual reality platform to ensure a level of comfort. Architecture of this platform depends on the movements of users, they create or close these enclosures according to the movements of their own spaces brought from the physical world.

What was the most important tool when articulating the project, from research to execution?

After my research, I had several design options which provide a virtual space for people to gather around while simultaneously being aware of other conversations. I tested my proposal on a VR social media platform called Sansar. By uploading my three dimensional drawing into this platform, people started coming in and experiencing this space with VR glasses or desktop computers. There were diverse responses from the visitors to my project, which gave me a lot of helpful feedback on how avatars utilize these virtual spaces. I could say that 3d modelling and broadcasting my project was the most important tool that helped build upon the proposal.

What is for you the architects most important tool?

Representation is crucial when it comes to explaining a complex proposal. As a unit we were all focusing on non-physical elements that were spatialized later by our interpretation of the Internet. Visual documentation was the most important tool of our projects in order to introduce this unusual site.

What case studies and typologies did you look to when designing?

Looking into the history of humanity, campfire was one of the first examples of a successful gathering. The fire was a phenomenon that attracted humans and brought them to one point in the middle of the dark, wild nature. In my proposal, new gatherings are based on the structure of a campfire; with the gathering element at the centre and people congregating around the element; constituting circular enclosures.

How do you approach the design for a space of gathering?

In my images, the fire element is mainly at the centre of the composition of conversations. It represents the hierarchy of different topics, store information discussed during the experience and attract visitors through movement and form. An elevated version of fire was what I was focusing on during this project.
The second aspect of my proposal is that users have the chance to identify themselves by their comfort zones; instead of having a 2D profile page, every user brings a part of their house to introduce themselves. Enclosures start to appear once people are around a gathering element.

How important are factors which go beyond sight and expand to our other senses?

To ensure the presence of comfort into this platform it is important to be immersed in the experience with all five senses. Yet VR devices do not yet provide an opportunity to design the smell, touch or taste of an experience. For the moment, sight has crucial importance in bringing a level of familiarity into the platform I am proposing, but other senses are limited to the physical space that the user is in.

To what extent do you feel affected by the echo chamber?

The echo chamber is not easy to discern when you don’t have two accounts on the same social media platform. For example, I have two accounts on Instagram and both have different news feed. I am the same person receiving two different pages catered to two different interests because of the different content my accounts have.
I can also feel affected by the echo chamber when meeting physically with my friends; I realize that they have not heard of recent news about architecture because they are not architects. Same applies to my account; I am not made aware of any other news of development in other areas even though I am interested in their fields such as finance, agriculture or politics.

How does VR offer a solution?

VR provides a spatial experience of information; it encourages the user to experience Internet by walking, listening and seeing. It helps people to have a better understanding of the dynamics inherent in social media platforms. VR allows simultaneous spatial visibility of other ongoing conversations, allows transparency between contradicting opinions. Once everything is spatial, it is easier to compare one to another.

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