How would building design change if architects didn’t have to think about them lasting for decades? Or if the structure and layout could change with a few mouseclicks?
That’s the opportunity architects can seize in the metaverse. Most architects would probably say that isn’t appealing at all, because they undertook the discipline to design structures people would experience for a very long time, but for Kirk Finkel, better known as Untitled, XYZ, a full time Web3 architect, it’s inspiring to work with virtual buildings that are iterative to a degree that can’t even be fathomed in the physical world.
“There’s a different relationship because it’s not there for 100 years,” he told The Defiant in a phone call from his analog space in Brooklyn. “The visual language of the building can change so quickly.”
Demand for metaverse architecture is is bound to pick up momentum — there was more than $100M in virtual land sales last week, according to DappRadar. Untitled has found himself a berth in crypto designing spaces in virtual worlds. Most of his work is in Somnium Space (a metaverse that emphasizes goggle-style virtual reality) and Decentraland (which so far has more of a web experience). He’s the architect in residence for the Museum of Crypto Art (MOCA), which represents about half of his work these days.
In fact, one of his favorite projects has been his work on the MOCA space. The overall design inspiration of MOCA was a QR code. Turning a QR code into a building would be a strange concept in the analog world, but he saw it as a good springboard for a Web3 project. Traditional buildings also value easy navigation, but Untitled said that MOCA’s space can be a bit confusing, and that’s by design.
“For me, you don’t need to design a building that has windows, doors and roofs. It doesn’t really make sense to design that,” he said. “It’s almost a shame when you see a real world building manifested in the digital world.”
The crypto architect previously had a traditional career in traditional architecture, primarily working as an urban planner. He stumbled into crypto early, but it lacked a visual manifestation until Web3 started to take shape.
He tinkered around in CryptoVoxels a bit, and then applied for a fellowship with MOCA largely on a whim. He proposed to design an exhibition space to show crypto art. Once he did, he found working in MOCA’s virtual world eye opening.
MOCA exists in Somnium, which is a corner of the metaverse that really emphasizes a virtual reality experience.
“In Cryptovoxels I was kind of playing around, but until I put the headset on it wasn’t real to me,” he said. “People are looking for the most immersive and disruptive experience that they can create. Virtual reality really creates a collective environment.”
Seeing a building in the goggles felt like real architecture to him for the first time.
For those looking to manifest something virtual on crypto property without putting a ton of elbow grease into it, they can pick up modular designs from Untitled via his NFT project, Fforms, and assemble a workable space on the fly.
Like a lot of people, he found blockchains by accident and didn’t anticipate how deep he would go.
“I kind of stumbled into it when I was in grad school. To me the blockchain world felt kind of like a public space, an area that wasn’t visualized yet but one where people were collaborating on things,” said Untitled.
From that first application to make a gallery space to now, his life is totally different.
“It’s a full time gig now which is pretty wild,” he said. “It’s a very funny, surreal experience when someone DMs you to say ‘Let’s build something.’”
Most of what he builds are galleries of one sort or another, places where either a person or an institution can show off digital art collections.
While it might seem like building digitally would be easier, it can prove daunting. These are new spaces and the software and rules change all the time. Plus there’s metaverse specific constraints that take getting used to (this is an oversimplification but: think zoning for crypto space).
“There’s not that many people who build, unfortunately,” Untitled said. “I think there’s still such a high barrier to entry”
That said, he’s not the only architect doing this work. Polygonal Mind and VoxelArchitects are two firms fully devoted to the craft of virtual world architecture, and there are other individual architects in the industry as well.
“There are a lot of real world architects who I think would thrive in this space, and I hope we get there,” he said.
Real World Buildings
He thinks they might not appreciate how forgiving the process is. “What I designed physically was heavily filtered through many different stakeholders and processes. With this world I can see the allure for architects because you can create all kinds of things. You are given the freedom to build lots of ideas.”
What he’s trying to focus on is how to keep the work interesting while still giving clients what they need, helping them and himself eschew the assumptions of real world buildings. While other architects strive to create an aesthetic that they become known for, Untitled says his priority is becoming known for an approach to the work.
Nevertheless, he admitted giving in to aesthetic temptations. “I love spiral staircases though, so I have that problem,” he said.