This thesis acknowledges a major paradigm shift in the perception and creation of architecture in today’s contemporary society. Rapid advancements in technology are altering both attitudes towards the production of buildings, but more so the essence of what architecture is. The Virtual Problematic presents the task of designing a Virtual Architecture, as initially stimulated by the current progress of 3D scanning and printing technologies. The city of Istanbul provides the context in which this problematic is investigated, architecturally manifested in a Museum of Virtual Archaeology and Digital Preservation Archive.
The intention of the museum is to challenge how representations of the past can be exhibited and spatially perceived. Although new technologies such as 3D scanning and printing are an integral part to the narrative of my design process, many other ‘analogue’ strategies have also been employed to develop the concept of a virtual architecture.
In his booked entitled 'The Architecture of Virtual Space', Or Ettlinger highlights the role of architecture in the development of virtual spatial experiences.
“The architectural profession has much to contribute to the development of virtual architecture...the whole profession needs to be adapted...to another type of space altogether: a space that has visual characteristics and yet is not physical; a space whose experience may change depending on the nature of the medium through which it is accessed; a space whose different sites are defined not by geographical continents and land, but by context regions and context zones.”
The city of Istanbul provides the ‘context zone’ in which this problematic is investigated, in the form of a Museum of Virtual Archeology, together with a Digital Preservation Archive, occupying an existing cistern adjacent to the site of the museum.
The intention of the museum is to challenge how representations of the past can be exhibited and spatially perceived. Although new technologies such as 3D scanning and printing are an integral part to the narrative of my design process, it is important to highlight that many other ‘analogue’ strategies have also been employed to develop the concept of a virtual architecture.
The common definition of the term ‘virtual’ in recent years has mutated. Today, generally, the word virtual is inextricably connected to the digital world. The technical advancements, and subsequent success of ‘virtual reality’ headsets, immersive computer games, 3D cinema and most recently Google Glass, have all proclaimed to give users access to a digital virtual world of some variety.
This thesis is more concerned with the perception of the Virtual, rather than the media in which it is presented in. Indeed, current and future technologies allow presentation of the virtual to be strengthened, however in many instances, these are based upon an original analogue approach. An example of this would be the digital resurrection of Tupac in hologram form at Coachella festival in 2012. Although a complex digital model of the performer was built for this event, the presentation of it was based upon a simple optical illusion, using the technique of Pepper’s Ghost which will be subsequently explained in further detail later on in the presentation.
Or Ettlinger simply defines the virtual as “A means of seeing space, where in fact there is none”. He highlights four factors: setting, frame, background and subject, all of which are integral to the experience of virtual space. The Museum of Virtual Archeology provides the framework for each of these factors to work in unison.
The programme below demonstrates my initial investigations concerning the translation of 'Virtual' spaces into architecture.
The Virtual Problematic Programme
Careful research and analysis of historical excavations, drawings, interpretations from text, and my own recordings of remaining ruins in-situ, provided a foundation on which to base the location of the proposal. The requirements of the chosen site were that it provided the capacity for the proposed architecture to interact with both present Istanbul, and ancient Constantinople.
This drawing highlights the contested histories of the area, each colour referring to a single source. The dissonance in information is evident in the conflicting layers, the estimated location and orientation of key buildings disputed. It is inherent that within the act of virtually rebuilding an ancient city from scatted, unreliable information, a certain amount of invention is required.
The streets of Old Constantinople, now known as the neighbourhood of Sultanahmet, are saturated with both tourists and crumbling Byzantine ruins. It is the grandeur and wonder of the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque which most attracts people to the area, the surrounding ruins of the Great Palace of Constantinople do not enjoy the same attention, apart from the occasional curious eye through a large fence.
The insensitive attitude towards the preservation of these Byzantine ruins was made further evident as I explored the area. Brutal intersections of contemporary and ancient city appear on every street, the ruins a dismissed backdrop to the city. Although archeologists have proclaimed their infuriation at the disregard for these ancient artefacts, very little has since been instigated by the Government to begin the preservation process.
This thesis seeks an alternative to the preservation of these sites of historic interest, by acknowledging new advancements in technology that would make the digital preservation of these ruins possible. The project is not concerned with the practical restoration of Byzantine Constantinople, but with the continuos digital preservation of a city subjected to extreme development daily. The Digital Preservation Archive is an architectural response to the requirements of this speculative proposal.
The dense tourism of the area provides an existing network in which to propose the digitisation of the city. By accumulating the information gathered by tourists as they record their experiences of the city by camera or smart phone, the data can begin to build an accurate time-based portrayal of the city. The proposed Digital Preservation Archive, aims to take advantage of this technology already being employed, but additionally anticipates the future of portable technology, currently in prototype format.
Companies such as Occipital are leading the way in combining 3D scanning with portable devices. The proliferation of smart phones and portable devices that could employ this technology is vast. Instead of capturing a memory or detail in a 2D image, 3D scans could be taken that provide an immersive depiction, with more options as to how this data is represented.
The advantage of this form of ‘Digital Preservation’, is that by collecting captured 3D scans made by the public, a continual source of data can be uploaded to the servers in the Digital Preservation Archive, where it is processed and replicated by 3D printers if desired. Scans taken each day become a part of history, a narrative of the ever evolving city created, which can be explored online or as part of an exhibition at the Archive. By digitising the city, its past and present conditions can be made available to all, the city becoming virtually immortal.