Is virtual reality and augmented reality the future of Monash Art Design and Architecture (MADA)?

Image: Sourced by Lachlan Clarke, group work by Lachlan, Hannah, Mark and James (architecture studio ARC3001)

Virtual reality (VR) “can be traced back to flight--simulator research from the late 1960s” (Leighton Beaman 2016). Augmented reality (AR) is “created by combining hypothetical spaces with physically existing ones” (Leighton Beaman 2016). As a student in third year architecture I am interested and engaged with the technological possibilities of the platform. It is fascinating exploring the way it interacts with Art, Design and Architecture degrees. To begin, discussion was started with students from all faculties in MADA. MADA faculties are seeing more advanced technology being taken on by the students and in the classes. The overall response from the various disciplines was positive, many students had used it or engaged with it some point in their degree.

Interviews were conducted with third year students from the Bachelor of Fine Art, the Bachelor of Design and the Bachelor of Architectural Design. All students were asked similar questions and encouraged to expand, if they felt engaged with the topic. All the students interviewed were investigative and had a positive or productive association with VR or AR.

Abbie Cooper and Zoe Alexiades both mentioned that the design students were offered a class on VR, however, it was replaced by Mobile Publishing in 2019 (Cooper 2019, interview). The students were mad they didn’t get more chances to explore it in their time at Monash (Cooper 2019, interview). Zoe Alexiades believed it would be beneficial “earlier on (first year) when people are still exploring what they like and their style” (Alexiades 2019, interview). Abbie Cooper and Zoe Alexiades are graduating at the end of 2019 and hope to work in industry or start their own company, both think they may revisit VR when they are practicing.

Architecture students were asked about their experiences with Virtual Reality in studio classes or electives and they reported seeing other students using it. The students spoke highly of the VR presentation quality and felt more inclined to give positive feedback to their peers. Interviewing 3 students who used VR and AR in their final critique in the “Land Generator Studio” provided insight into the current and future use. The “Land Generator Studio” project can be seen in the images featured. It is constructed from 36 images stitched together. The group used AR to propose a “physical world with highlighted leader arrows and pop-up menus” these were used to inform “the user as they walk through the project” (Hamono 2019, interview).

Two of the group’s tutors responded positively, however “two of the critics did not respond well and stated that we shouldn’t be influenced by new technologies and focus on the architecture itself” (Mawhirt 2019, interview). It “allowed the tutors to visualise and interpret spaces exactly how we envision rather than them having their own interpretations from plans”, Hannah Mawhirt also spoke of the possibilities of it being used for communication between architects, engineers and clients (Mawhirt 2019, interview).

Image: Sourced by Lachlan Clarke, group work by Lachlan, Hannah, Mark and James (architecture studio ARC3001)

That’s (the images in this essay) what goes into the software which converts it so when you put your phone in the headset it looks right. We uploaded them onto my phone and used an app which converts 360 images to a readable format for headsets, then simply put the phone into the headset. It uses the accelerometers in the phone to move the image according to your head tilt or movement left and right etc.

Lachlan Clarke (2019)

Some people find AR/VR to be “outside their comfort zone” (Hamono 2019, interview). Speaking to a Fine Art student, she believed it was a step further away from “real” art (Anonymous 2019, interview). She made note of how “people still favour traditional forms of art”, she also believes it may cause a bias amongst students (Anonymous 2019, interview). She fears that too many students using VR may result in limited numbers of shared experiences and more “isolating” art installations (Anonymous 2019, interview). “This physically intimate design of the human – machine interface” has positives and negatives in provocative art installations, it “gives rise to such immersive experiences that the artist speaks” through the technology (Grau 2003, 199).

Overall, the interviews articulated the mixed feelings on VR and AR at MADA. The interviews set up the process in which MADA uses VR in current conditions, whilst prompting thought of the future use. The design students then spoke of the disappointment in access to VR, but an eagerness to learn how to use it. The architecture students were disappointed in the way it was received by some critics. The fine art students were more focused on the limitations and changes it could impose. Currently at Monash University, VR classes and self-teaching is optional and up to the individual student. The discord between students and tutors (including the lack of taught content) as well as the limited awareness means VR is missing from MADA. There is nothing stopping this from becoming a useful tool and receiving more coverage and encouragement in all MADA degrees.


References

  • Grau, Oliver., and NetLibrary, Inc. Virtual Art from Illusion to Immersion. Leonardo (Series) (Cambridge, Mass.). Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2003.
  • Beaman, Michael Leighton. "Total Immersion.(use of Virtual Reality in Architecture)(Perspective." Architectural Record 204, no. 11 (2016): 57.

Interviewees

  • Cooper, Abbie. Bachelor of Design. Interviewed on 01.09.2019
  • Alexiades, Zoe. Bachelor of Design. Interviewed on 02.09.2019
  • Anonymous. Bachelor of Fine Art. Interviewed on 02.09.2019
  • Mawhirt, Hannah. Bachelor of Architectural Design. Interviewed on 03.09.2019
  • Hamono, Mark. Bachelor of Architectural Design. Interviewed on 29.08.2019 and 02.09.2019
  • Clarke, Lachlan. Bachelor of Architectural Design. Interviewed on 02.09.2019