Umwelt: Architecture and Interactive Digital Environments

master dissertation 2020 - 2021

This master dissertation looks into the architectural potential of game engines, online platforms and simulations as interactive digital environments. Umwelt, defined as the world as it is experienced by a particular organism or individual, looks into what these technologies mean for the relationship between agents and their environment, how architecture mediates this relationship an increasingly digitised world.

The project is framed within the profound shift we see in the use of digital design media in architecture from representation to simulation: from a static drawing based approach mimicking analogue predecessors, to a dynamic modelling based approach as a proper digital design medium. Interactive digital environments, enabled through game engines, computational design, parametric modelling, augmented and virtual reality, allow for dynamic, time based, narrative and performative aspects of architecture to be designed and experienced simultaneously.

Furthermore, interactive digital environments are more than mediation, more than just digital copies of our material world, more than fictional parallel universes, increasingly our world is experienced, produced and governed through digital interactive environments. These environments are part of the technosphere, the emergent accidental megastructure that spans the globe through, data centres, networks and satellite communication, that is fundamentally altering the environments we inhabit. Interfacing with and critical understanding of these networked technologies is crucial for architecture to make sense of our technology saturated environments.

The topic of Architecture and Interactive Digital Environments is rather broad, we encourage students are encouraged to find their own trajectory and develop a personal project. We can identify several ways in which architecture intersects with interactive digital environments, that could be potential starting points for the dissertation project:

(1) Learning from existing games and interactive digital environments and how architecture mediates the relationship between player and environment. (2) Interactive digital environments as design media that short-cut the distance between designing and experiencing architecture. (3) Interactive digital environments as way of engaging a larger audience, questioning alternative roles for architects, enabling novel forms of collaboration and collective practice. (4) Interactive digital environments as a forensic tool for reconstructing events and visualising data enabled by combining spatial and time based media. (5) Interactive digital environments as means of designing and directing narratives and develop speculative architectural worlds. …

For the Umwelt: Architecture and Interactive Digital Environments, we have already collected a number of references and key texts, the dissertation project builds on a body of work developed within field station academic design office, we provide expertise in working with computational and time based media.

Image credit: Inside, screenshots from game, 2016