Architecture of Cyberspace

Nils Becker, Co-founder of online  architecture bible, Architonic, considers the future of space

Where is space heading? I don’t mean the space of Pluto and Mars, but the places we inhabit every day: city streets, office blocks, homes and shopping malls. To hear hipsters talk, our future is in cyberspace – no bricks,
no mortar – just me and a Frank Gehry avatar, wandering lost. The truth is more complex.

Cyberspace and architecture share a fistful of jargon but are very different worlds. Architects are limited by gravity and the laws of physics. Their cyber cousins are worthless unless they master ‘Search Engine Algorithms’. Even the most sophisticated virtual 3-D worlds cannot match the emotional and sensory experiences, good and bad, of real life. You can walk a cyber-city for hours on end and never find true love – or a stiff drink.

Of course, intelligent software is changing the way architects create. Some years back I spent time watching Frank Gehry at work. His design process was that
of an artist: a pencil sketch became a collage, a collage became a model and so on. Every stage of a building’s evolution was shaped by Gehry who responded with new ideas, revisions and rejections to what he created. Today, sophisticated computer tools mean architects can produce a good-looking edifice, a plausible building, in a fraction
of the time. Renderings rule the day, it seems. Is this good for architecture? Personally, I prefer spaces built for human beings to be made by human brains.

Where I think cyberspace can shape real world architecture for good is in the way we experience spaces. Ventures such as Facebook teach an important lesson. People do not need buildings with clearly defined roles – office, home, shopping mall – to interact with the world and each other. We simply need a communication space.

Mobile technology is the great liberator. Workers
can work more freely; architects can create with fewer boundaries. A home can be an office, a café can be a library. Labels are meaningless. Space will be what we want it to be – in future at least.

Urban environments will also benefit from this cyber-influence. Monolithic retail zones where big brands congregate so we can find them will seem a clumsy way to use city spaces. Discerning shoppers are using cyber technology to curate their own shopping malls, a mix
of independent retailers and stellar labels independent of geographical location. Come Saturday afternoon, a smartphone is all they need to navigate their personal consumer space for real.

The future, when it comes, will be hybrid. Our physical environment will embrace cyberspace and, perhaps,

the other way around. One day, we might talk of Cyber-
Architects, the Kengo Kuma and Zaha Hadid of the virtual world; creative minds capable of transforming our experience of a new kind of space.