The Virtual and Architecture, From Life, Royal Academy, London

Inherent in every great building are ideas or concepts that transcend the actual building itself and have the potential to be actualized in a number of other ways to generate other buildings. They are what Gilles Deleuze would call the virtual in the actual or real, a kind of potentiality that can become actual in different or other ways. Today, the process of design is inundated by diverse requirements that relate to politics of everyday life, such as the right to personal security, or rights of light, or the need to address climate change or comply with planning regulations that negotiate the right/s to the development of cities. These have led to different coefficients for buildings such as space planning, security, rights-of-light, fire engineering, sustainability engineering, façade engineering, or health and safety, each with an associated consultant, that enter the design process at different moments and introduce much unpredictability to it.The task of the architect is to co-ordinate these different coefficients for buildings and their associated consultants, and through doing so, define the architectural idea or concept. Once there is an idea or concept, the architect, aware of the possibility of actualizing it in different ways, engages the different parties that enter the design process at various stages, such as end users, client, donors, politicians, etc., and tests different ways of actualizing it until one is deemed most suitable. Once the building is constructed, the ‘elasticity’ of its idea remains hidden to the ordinary person, though architects are able to imagine it. We propose to draw from the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi (1420-1436) and the church of Sant’Ivoalla Sapienza in Rome, designed by Francesco Borromini (1640-1650), focusing on their nave. The virtual idea common to these two naves, which are designed by two different architects, is the ribbed dome: a hemispherical form composed of ribs which are connected by infill surfaces. The ribbed dome, as these two structures show, can be actualised in different ways. Its depth or height, number of ribs, the profile of infill surfaces between the ribs, and its scale of openings can be varied to respond to external factors, such as asymmetries that respond to physical constraints of an actual site, or programmatic requirements, or environmental considerations required. Varying any of these coefficients, leads to a different distribution of loads through the dome and produces a unique ribbed dome with different optical and acoustic affects. In the Tennant gallery, visitors will be given a VR set of handheld controllers and be invited to vary the different coefficients of the ribbed dome and choose and experience different ways that it can be actualized, including like the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore and the church of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza. The installation will thus use game engines to present to the public the virtual attributes of buildings using two buildings as case studies. Its aim will be to demonstrate that the virtual is not the opposite to the real, but on the contrary, is that which contains all the potentialities for it. Furthermore, that there is much to be learnt, or ‘draw from’ buildings that exist. It will also be a test for how game engines could be used to integrate end users within the process of design, enabling them to “see” the different ways that any architectural idea can be actualized.

Giles Deleuze, based on the philosophy of Bergson, proposes that the ‘virtual’ is not opposed to “real” but opposed to “actual”. It is a kind of potentiality that can become actualized in different ways. Marcel Proust defi nes a virtuality as “real but not actual, ideal but not abstract” Charles Sanders Peirce supported this understanding of the virtual as something that is “as if” it were real.


Architect - Farshid Moussavi Architecture

Coding - Ittybitty Elephant Design Labs

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