Drop City: Inspiring A New, Immersive VR Architecture Revolution

Virtual reality is ushering in a new era for architects. Immersive VR architecture offers the opportunity for transformation of existing processes, not only in the practical way that we execute designs and constructions of property, but as a creative tool. We take a look back to the 1960s countercultural movement and its fascination with immersive experiences, and examine the ways this fascination reverberates with architecture in the virtual age.

Drop City

In southeastern Colorado in 1965, four artists came together to buy seven acres of land. Upon that land, they built Drop City. Residents created their own architecture; Triacontahedral and zonohedral domes made from old car parts and junk. Built by trial and error, the domes were essentially mutations of the geodesic form, and inspired as much by the collaborative minds that went into their construction as by the psychotropic drugs cascading through those minds.

At Drop City, the artists made works of art, including ‘The Ultimate Painting’, a spinning circle whose composition changed when illuminated by strobe lights. The geometry of the geodesic domes and polyhedral tessellations were a defining feature of the Drop City style, winning the group the prestigious Buckminster Fuller Dymaxion Award for their contribution to geodesic culture.

This is an accolade that thrilled the architects at Drop City: to them, Fuller was a guru. “A designer,” the man once said, “is an emerging synthesis of artist, inventor, mechanic, objective economist and evolutionary strategist.”

The architecture at Drop City exemplifies the mood of those times. A time of upheaval, of overturning traditional hierarchies, of experimentation. Architects subscribing to this new, countercultural zeitgeist collectively searched for a new kind of utopia, which included a view to technological progress as much as ecological harmony and sustainability, accelerating ahead of the rigid status quo to an Elysian future.

Modernist Architecture and Immersive Experience

Combined with the Drop City modernist architecture, the many striking art installations they created, like ‘The Ultimate Painting’, can be viewed as an early yearning for the immersive experiences now offered by virtual reality technology.

One of the crowning architectural pieces of Drop City, for example, was the Theatre Dome, constructed to accommodate an immersive 360-degree projection system.

The countercultural ethos of the time, and of movements like that of Drop City, echo the modernist fusion of art and life. Collaboration and community, mind expansion, and disruption.

“These immersive experiences,” says Andrew Blauvelt, senior curator of the ‘Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia’ exhibition at Walker Art Centre in Minneapolis (open until May 27, 2017). “Offered a taste or glimpse of that life. Installations were filled with new media like slide projectors, films, video, light, sound, but also wind, scents, elements of nature.”

Immersion for the Digital Generation

Of course, ‘immersion’ is now the VR community’s favourite buzzword. From virtual walkthroughs of property to virtual tourism, VR and AR as planning and construction tools, to VR movies and gaming, the whole point of the virtual reality movement is to immerse participants in the virtual world.

Whilst, clearly, in its uses within various industries (such as Property, Surgery and Medicine, and Retail) make the immersive nature of VR a tool for the streamlining and optimisation of process, there is another side to virtual reality, and one that the creative arts can thoroughly get behind.

Immersive VR Architecture

Architecture is, at its heart, a creative medium. Many of those who become architects are driven by the desire to beautify the built environment, to breed human progression through interaction with space and form. And, beyond its practical uses, both augmented and virtual reality can open previously unseen doors into a new world of spacial experience.

You don’t need to be a consciousness fiend to see the benefits of the Drop City movement. When you take away the psychedelia of the Drop City modernist architecture and installations, there is a core belief in sustainability, ecological sensitivity, and community spirit.

These three concepts are all the more vital to the architectural mindset in this increasingly digital age, where divorce from nature and one another threatens humanity’s ability to thrive. Once again, we are faced with a need to disrupt the staid status quo of the utilitarian politics of our times, and architectural design will play a key role in both facilitating and demonstrating that disruption.

The architecture community is sensitive to this need for a reconnection between humanity and nature. Sustainable architecture, that which works in tune with nature and the environment, and encourages communal living, is already a strong aspect of architectural concepts right now.

There is a conscious leaning towards providing a more active interaction with the built environment through architecture. Combining human space with the natural environment through the use of light, materials, and the integration of horticulture is a way of disrupting the digital hegemony of our times.

If we can use the immersive visualisation tools provided to us by virtual and augmented reality to inspire us with the architecture we create in the real world, we have another creative tool in our architectural arsenal.

If we can integrate augmented reality overlays on our designs to encourage this active interaction with the built environment, then we have the chance to evolve architecture for the future.

With the ability to create immersive virtual architectural visualisations using the influence of the immersive dreams of our Drop City forebears, the virtual revolution is in our hands.

If you would like to learn more about the sectors within the Property industry that will benefit most from these technologies, and the ways in which this will happen, then be sure to download our whitepaper ‘How Virtual and Augmented Reality Will Revolutionise House Building and Property Marketing’.

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