New directions for young architects: ENTERTAINMENT

The new directions that I am looking at revolve around the idea of simulation. My last post looked at how construction and fabrication technologies are used to simulate the elements of building construction and use. In entertainment design the elements of space are a means to a different end – the simulation of experience. As a result (and thank goodness!) people are at the centre of the action.

morgan freeman CG by Jose Lazaro

The crews who work on production design for film, television and the stage might easily have been on a building site the previous day using the same skillset. The main difference is that what they build for productions is a prop – a temporary installation whose primary function is to add context and scenery. The production designer’s work may take us backwards or forwards in time or completely out of place into a fantasy (it is physical sets that I am thinking of here - CG next).

Looking at musical stage sets it is probably no coincidence that London’s Architectural Association gave us both Archigram and Mark Fisher and hosted the musical architecture students who went on to form Pink Floyd.


There is no need to mention how many different fields computers have revolutionised but probably the most accessible product of this digital age is computer graphics. No need to deal with the command line or complicated circuitry – just to sit back and soak it in. It is quite ironic that the buzzword in film today is 3D (like it was in the early 1950′s) – to make the film experience more immersive. Titanic director James Cameron talks of how he devised a ‘virtual camera’ (on a monitor) to allow him to ‘move’ around the 3D scenes of his upcoming magafilm Avatar. As architects look to film, film is becoming a bit more like architecture.




… which leads us to the fields that are really at the cutting edge - 3D gaming, which is established; virtual worlds, which are still not quite mainstream; and augmented reality, straight out of the movies (as far as I am concerned) and coming soon to a street near you. They are all developments of the concept of virtual reality. Anybody remember Jaron Lanier. He has been evangelising about VR since the 1980′s. The idea seemed to have so much promise in the 90′s but, on the surface, did not live up to its hype. I do not think it is an overstatement to say that now its time has come.

The pace of development in gaming in the past 40 years has been breathtaking. We have gone from the likes to Pong to massively multiplayer online role-playing games like World of Warcraft.

Simulation on screen (online) probably does not get any more literal than Second Life - the best known virtual world of its kind. It comes with its very own 3D modeling software, but also currency, land ownership and many other features that would be found in the real world.




I think augmented reality and the film Minority Report immediately comes to mind – the mall scene where Tom Cruise’s immediate environment responds to his presence (the billboards – advertising!). AR happens when virtual and real worlds are merged. As the phrase suggests it is a heightened experience of reality. If you have ever worn a headset kit in a museum to get commentary of what you are looking at then you have experienced augmented reality. The difference now is the incredible impact of digital and mobile technology. This is an area that I will really keep my eyes on.



I haven’t been to a Bartlett jury in a while but I am sure that all of the developments mentioned above have been tackled in one way or another in student projects. It is the nature of the school (and its neighbour the AA) to push towards what is coming next. The unfortunate thing that I recall is that this exploration hardly ever comes to anything post-graduation. There are many reasons that I can think of but won’t bother to go into here but as I said in my original post of this series – these tough times present an opportunity for new directions to flourish.

I look forward to seeing what can happen now that the lights have been turned off at the summer show.


A few related resources:

Further reading:

Staged Architecture Mark Fisher Eric Holding    Designing Virtual Worlds Richard A Bartle    Filmcraft Production Design Fionnuala Halligan

(Image at top from Rudolph Herczog)

5 thoughts on “New directions for young architects: ENTERTAINMENT

  1. I’m not sure I’d say that entertainment is a new venture for architects or those with an architecture background. From the stage sets of Metropolis, the story boards of popular tv shows, concert sets of rock acts such as U2 and the Pet Shop Boys, and most recently the set for the Academy awards (Oscars) designed by David Rockwell – architects have been actively, albeit it quietly involved in the entertainment industries.

  2. Hi David, you’re correct (Mark Fisher above has been going since the 80′s) but the idea of architects going into ‘old media’ is still not mainstream. However what I am looking at here is the bigger picture of what entrtainment design means, including for technologies that are literally being released now – especially in CG and VR. This idea of ‘entertainment’ goes beyond film/tv/stage.

  3. As a young architect, I wanted nothing else but to produce real, built projects. Today’s virtual technologies however have provided satisfying ways to realize creative ideas without physical construction. When coupled with the freedom that is afforded in the world of fantasy design, I think that many young architects may find appealing professions within the CG field.

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