In this guide we'll take you through one of the hottest topics in technology at the moment: the metaverse, virtual reality and the changes that might might to industries like architecture and interior design.
What is the metaverse?
The first question most people ask about the metaverse is this - what is the metaverse? There’re a lot of assumptions wrapped up in the word metaverse so it’s worth spending some time unpacking it.
To the general consumer ‘metaverse’ works as a catch-all term that covers a series of very different experiences (and which are at very different stages of development). These include hugely successful gaming worlds like Roblox, heavily PR-ed (but relatively basic) virtual worlds like Decentraland, virtual reality experiences and hardware (like the Meta Quest goggles), augmented reality (either via mobile devices or hardware like headsets), all wrapped up with a good dose of web3 and NFTs. Confusing, huh? Let’s try and deal with them one by one.
Firstly, the metaverse.
At its purest, ‘metaverse’ as a concept refers to the idea of massively scaled, interoperable, real time rendered 3D worlds which you can experience synchronously with a vast number of other people: giving you the opportunity to more advantageously, richly and enjoyably live your digital life than the current 2D desktop or mobile interface. The vision is that the metaverse will be accessed through virtual reality or mixed reality headsets (also known as augmented or extended reality): for instance the Meta Quest 2 VR headset or the Apple Extended Reality headset that’s slated for launch in 2023.
Let’s be clear - that vision of the metaverse does not yet exist yet.
What does exist are what you might call proto-metaverses: 3D digital worlds which you can visit but which have limitations, for example in terms of interoperability, breadth of functionality or quality of rendering. Some of these worlds you might be familiar with already - Roblox is a gaming site that can be classed as a metaverse, whilst Decentraland, The Sandbox and Horizon Worlds are the poster children for the metaverse as community spaces. Currently many of these proto-metaverses are accessed through 2D screens like mobile phones and desktops, rather than headsets that give a virtual reality experience.
What is virtual reality and augmented reality?
Whilst we’re on the subject of headsets, let’s consider these in the context of the metaverse.
Firstly, Virtual Reality (VR) headsets do not give access to the metaverse.
You can buy a Meta Quest 2 today, have an awesome time gaming in 3D but never participate in the metaverse. So VR can exist without the metaverse. But the metaverse needs virtual reality (or augmented reality) to fully realise its vision of an immersive 3D experience that acts as a superior simulacrum of the real world.
Of course, if current computing power limits the scope of 2D proto-metaverses such as Decentraland, you can imagine the kind of hurdles that might be faced in trying to create fully immersive, 3-dimensional virtual reality metaverses. Hence why Meta’s Horizon World is so frequently panned for its simple and retro-style graphics.
Outside of the metaverse, Virtual Reality is already relatively advanced. The Meta Quest 2 is the most common consumer VR headset, but PC and games console linked headsets are also gaining traction (such as the headset for the Playstation 5). Furthermore, B2B-centric and B2G (Business to Government) VR businesses such as Finland’s Varjo are even further advanced. Their headsets might cost in the region of $10,000 a piece, but they are already being integrated deep into the processes of manufacturing and design businesses and even exploited for military use.
Coming soon: augmented reality on headsets.
The next major development from the headset perspective (which will also influence the metaverse) is set to be Augmented Reality or AR (also known as Mixed Reality, MR, and Extended Reality, XR!). These headsets will overlay virtual experiences on top of the real world - much in the same way as AR apps on mobile phones. However, with AR headsets the experience will be significantly more immersive and integrated. Many in the VR sector believe that AR will be the technology that gets the most significant consumer uptake - as it will not suffer from some of the limitations that VR headsets do (particularly the way that VR headsets lock the user fully away from the real world).
Hopes hang on the Apple XR headset.
Much expectation is hanging on the launch of the Apple XR headset, expected in 2023 - in the belief that Apple will do for XR what the iPod did for digital music and the iPhone for mobile applications. As most metaverse experiences currently take place with in fully virtual environments, the potential for the metaverse in mixed reality environments has not yet been fully explored.
Could a future mainstream iteration of the metaverse be virtual environments and experiences integrated into the real world, accessed through an XR headset? Conceptually that is more likely than the mainstream adoption of fully immersive metaverses than necessitate the user wearing headsets that create a barrier between themselves and the real world.
As an aside, most VR headset manufacturers are now introducing pass-through camera technology: cameras on the front of VR headsets that let the user view and interact with the real world whilst being deeply engaged with a virtual environment. This hints at the likely future for VR – and so the metaverse – which is a mixed integration between virtual and real environments.
How web3 relates to the metaverse
Another important term to understand is the context of the metaverse trend is web3. You might be familiar with the idea of web 2.0 - this was the collective term that appeared in the early 2000s for the emergence of social media, user-generated content and interoperability.
Web3 refers to the idea of the next stage of the internet - a decentralized web, living on the blockchain, where the media and assets you interact with or own are not held on centralized servers, but decentralized using blockchain technology (the blockchain is, in its simplest form, a decentralized database). NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) and cryptocurrencies frequently appear in relationship to the metaverse: both are iterations of blockchain technology. NFTs are the blockchain equivalent of ownership certificates; cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin a form of digital money (although they act more like an asset class).
In many ways, web3 harks back to the original spirit of the internet in the 1990s: a place where decentralised individuals could be empowered over centralised corporations. As the early stages of the metaverse have been driven by a tech culture with a libertarian streak, it’s perhaps not surprising that its communities have latched onto web3 technologies as a way of creating virtual worlds where individuals have complete control over their property and information.
That said, the metaverse does not need web3 to succeed, nor does web3 need the metaverse (though web3 does need something – “a technology in search of an idea” is a phrase often attached to web3). The metaverse and virtual reality can become mainstream using the social architecture of web 2.0: but if web3 startups develop a killer application for the metaverse, it may have a major role to play.
Metaverse architecture & metaverse interior design
So what is metaverse architecture? And how can architects use the metaverse? Even in its current prototype form, the metaverse offers a raft of opportunities. It also offers an intriguing glimpse of a future role for architects that is even richer and more diverse than real world ones.
First of all, you can argue that of all the real world professions outside of coding, architects have the greatest opportunity in the metaverse. It has the potential to be the largest and fastest moving real estate development ever – even just one metaverse (Decentraland) is the size of Dubai. All that new real estate is going to need design - and many of the current people leading that design come from a coding or tech background, not architecture or design. You could argue that the current design aesthetic of metaverse reflects the “tech bro” culture of software developers and crypto-specialists: there are few examples yet of truly beautiful metaverse buildings and spaces. Novelty and gimmick tends to dominate over aesthetics.
The opportunities for architects and interior designers in the metaverse and virtual reality
With over 80,000 virtual landowners across different metaverses, the potential for architects, interior designs and interior product brands is huge. For the first time the digital economy has really opened up to architects and interior designers. Sure, you’ve been able to use the internet to market your business or products and there are some great services that connect customers and architects in ever richer fashions, for example Havenly.
But the metaverse creates the opportunity for architects to be more than just users: then can be creators of this new environment. Potentially, it opens a whole new revenue stream - for as architects and interior designers become creators in virtual spaces, they also become content owners. For example selling multiple editions of the same building, or designing and selling virtual design products or interior schemes. As with all digital platforms, a previously local practitioner suddenly has the potential to sell their skills globally: a unique opportunity for architects and designers who tend to be tied to local execution (both by local style trends, the need to access to customers' physical spaces and practicalities such as building regulations.
Will metaverse architecture & interior design be different in the metaverse?
What is the purpose of furniture in the metaverse? That intriguing question unpacks many of the most fascinating opportunities the metaverse opens up. There is no gravity, legs don’t get tired, there’s no need to sit down and eat, avatars don’t sleep. In the metaverse there are no building codes, no fire regulations, physics does not apply and material costs are meaningless. In that context buildings and furnishings can take on a whole new role in virtual spaces: as vessels for personal expression, art, identity. From this perspective, architecture and interior design in virtual environments will be an evolution from existing real world principles: the idea of space and what it contains being a way to express identity will be dialled up; the need for a space to be practical and a rational reflection of everyday life will be dialled down. In the metaverse, conceptual and creative ideas in architecture and interior design may finally have found their perfect canvas.
In its early iterations, most metaverse architecture and metaverse interior design is a fairly rational extension from the real world. The design ethos is at the same stage as the Apple iOS on early iPhones, with fake leather stitching on the calendar app. That kind of design is called skeuomorphism and its intended to make users feel comfortable moving from real to virtual experiences. As metaverse architecture and interior design moves past the skeuomorphic stage, the creative opportunities will be huge.
Real estate in the metaverse and virtual reality
The concept of metaverse real estate is still in its early stages, but there are already a few companies and platforms that are beginning to explore the possibility of owning and trading virtual land and property. The most well-known example is probably Second Life, which has had a virtual land market since 2003. In recent years, there has been increasing interest in the potential of virtual reality (VR) technology for real estate applications.
There are a few key differences between metaverse real estate and traditional physical real estate. First of all, ownership of virtual property is usually not tied to any specific location in the physical world. This means that it can be bought, sold, or traded without any geographical restrictions. Secondly, virtual property can take on a wide range of forms and functions – from simple 2D land parcels to entire 3D virtual worlds. And finally, since metaverse real estate exists entirely in digital form, it can be bought, sold, or traded instantaneously and without any costly or time-consuming paperwork.
The potential applications of metaverse real estate are many and varied. For example, businesses could use it for virtual office space, meeting rooms, or even entire headquarters. Online retailers could use it for virtual storefronts, while educational institutions could use it for virtual campuses. The possibilities are limited only by our imagination.
The cost of metaverse real estate will depend on a number of factors, including the size and location of the property, as well as the specific virtual world in which it is located. In general, however, we can expect prices to be significantly lower than traditional physical real estate. This is due to the lack of geographical restrictions and the fact that virtual property can be created relatively easily and cheaply. Of course, there are also some risks associated with metaverse real estate. For example, since virtual worlds are still in their early stages of development, they may be subject to sudden changes or even complete shutdowns. This could result in the loss of any money invested in virtual property.
The Decentraland metaverse provides both a tantalising glimpse of the potential of virtual real estate and a warning as to the financial risks. Decentraland is a decentralized virtual world where users can interact with each other and buy or sell land. Land in Decentraland is divided into parcels, each of which is equivalent to 10m x 10m in size. Parcels are grouped together into "regions", with each region containing up to 65,536 parcels. Users can buy land in Decentraland through the Decentraland Marketplace. Landowners can develop their land as they see fit, and generate revenue from it by selling virtual goods or charging rent for access to it. You buy the virtual real estate in Decentraland using their own crypto-currency "Mana" which is based on the Ethereum blockchain. At the peak of the first interest in metaverse real estate in late 2021, some plots on Decentraland sold for $3.5m. By late 2022, the value of that same land value had fallen to $525,000.
Virtual reality architecture and virtual reality interior design
Much of what we’ve covered so far has focused on the core concept of the metaverse: real time rendered 3D worlds where you can interact with other users. But the closed environments of VR and XR also offer a wealth of opportunities. The graphic quality of VR (and soon XR) is already so good that it’s possible to interact with perfectly rendered virtual objects. Finnish headset manufacturer Varjo even recently challenged people to spot the real car versus the virtual car.
This means that architects and interior designers can start using VR as a tool to interact with and sell to clients. In a world where travel may be restricted by pandemics or the desire to reduce carbon foot prints, the opportunity to showcase and present products via VR should not be passed up.
How to get started in metaverse architecture and metaverse interior design.
As there are multiple metaverse worlds, getting started in this space can be daunting. That’s why we created Superdwell – to help connect architects and interior designers to clients and metaverse projects. Many of the skills that architects and interior designers use in the real world can be transferred to virtual projects. However, there are new skills to learn. Paramount is an understanding of the limitations of different metaverse worlds. Due to the processing power needed to real-time render 3D worlds containing live users, metaverse worlds set limits upon the graphical complexity of the elements within them. Understanding these is vital to understanding what can created. It’s also necessary to see how users interact with the different worlds: each metaverse has its own culture, so spend time in them seeing how users move through them, what they interact with and which spaces are popular.
Thanks for reading this guide! We hope you found it helpful and informative. If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to reach out to us. We wish you all the best in your journey into the metaverse!