Metaverse vs. Sustainability: How can the Metaverse Help us Deliver Better Designs?

Let’s get to the bottom of the Metaverse hype! As more and more people dance around the subject of weather or not it is harmful for sustainably-conscious architecture designers to utilize the Metaverse, I decided to interview Oliver Lowrie, a Director at Ackroyd Lowrie, an award-winning London-based architecture practice dedicated to building the cities of the future, who is already using this technology to enhance Ackroyd Lowrie’s low-energy designs.

The topic of sustainability is one of the most pressing issues facing architects in the Metaverse. We are just a few years away from the year when we will be able to achieve sustainability goals that will make us better planet occupants. You will notice that many clients who live in larger cities are looking for low-carbon or net-zero investment options. How can we keep our feet on the ground while advancing technological innovation and ensuring that this vision of a better world is realized?

Image Courtesy of Ackroyd Lowrie

Ackroyd Lowrie, despite the fact that the words “Metaverse” and “Sustainability” sound contradictory together, decided to combine as much of their design approach using the right technology in order to enhance a more sustainable solution.

Sara: When did your journey into metaverse began?

Oliver My “journey to the metaverse” began six years ago, at the one-year celebration of the founding of Ackroyd Lowrie (the company I founded with Jon).

We didn’t have any finished work so we decided to highlight some of the technological advancements that we thought would change the construction industry. A CNC machine was fabricating elements and a 3D printer was printing scale models of one of our projects. In one corner, we had a virtual reality setup.

A second-hand VR headset was purchased along with an Xbox controller that could be plugged into a computer. The headset was hung in the corner of the room and projected the user’s movements onto the wall behind the warehouse.

One point, we glanced over to see the client from the project waiting in line to try the VR. We were afraid for his reaction, but he was overcome with emotion when he stepped out of the headset. “Why haven’t you ever shown me this?” It’s almost as if you have made the dream that I’ve been imagining come true for the last three years. It’s amazing! I can see it now and I know what I want to do.

Image Courtesy of Ackroyd Lowrie

S This is a great idea, and I can see why offering this experience to potential clients could be a valuable added-value.

It is interesting to me to see how you manage to sustain your projects while exploring new technologies such as AR, VR, and now the metaverse.

O: Jon, a pioneering sustainable Architect Studio, and I worked together for a school project. Jon completed a post-occupancy evaluation of the project. It scored highly in terms its user satisfaction. As with most school projects, there were multiple stakeholders involved in the sign-off process. Some feedback revealed that while plans were approved, stakeholders didn’t fully understand the design, which was based only on 2D drawings. This was also true for our clients in the photo studio years later. We were able to make changes in virtual reality before we even arrived on site.

Building buildings correctly is the best thing we can do to make them last. This is sustainable as the buildings will likely be kept in their current form rather than being modified or demolished because it does not work correctly. It is more likely that the design will work in VR if you test it.

S We have now come to understand the potential benefits of VR in design, but it is still not the Metaverse…

Although multi-user remote virtual reality has been discussed for some time, we never felt the motivation to actually set it up. Within the first month of Covid’s launch, we had a functioning multi-user remote VR process. The model was hosted on a cloud storage site. Clients could meet in the model space, talk with them through the headsets and we could conduct design meetings inside the model. It was our own little metaverse.

People will remember the words metaverse in years to come and laugh as much as they did when they heard their parents talk about surfing the Internet. As designers, working in three-dimensional spaces online has become the norm. We currently use Archicad. All models can be accessed from the cloud by multiple users, including consultants. The cloud also allows us to quickly access the same model from both our office or at home via virtual reality headsets.

S If your main focus in design is on cities, what impact will this have on the design of future urban landscapes and how can you make it work?

O I’m excited about applying the metaverse to the designing process because I don’t want to limit the feedback we get as architects to just the clients and stakeholders we design for. We want to build a company that designs great cities.

Public consultations are used to support building design and not test it. The best views are not shown. I want everyone to have the opportunity to see every aspect of the cities we design to ensure that they are as beautiful as possible.

Image Courtesy of Ackroyd Lowrie

Virtual reality is the best way to experience a city in its entirety. Metaverse, a 3D interactive public consult tool, can be used to road-test the cities we wish to live in. The Metaverse is a tool that can help us achieve sustainability.

Architects around the world are exploring the topic of metaverse. Disrupt Symposium is a first-of-its-kind Business of Architecture event, taking place from 1-5 May. It is designed to educate and inspire in business and practice operations. We are pleased to welcome Patrick Schumacher, Director at Zaha Hadid Architects to the stage. He will give a keynote address on “Opportunities for the metaverse” and provide advice and steps-by-step strategies that architects entrepreneurs can use today to improve their ability to strategize and be successful as metaverse designers.

Other topics include client acquisition, business strategy, financial management, business strategy, sales, marketing and communications, branding and social media. Public relations, expert positioning, publishing online or in print, leadership and team building. Retention and leaving a lasting legacy are some other topics.