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Space Popular: Value in the Virtual

Photo: Jeanette Hägglund. 2018.
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Skeppsholmen, Stockholm

Space Popular: Value in the Virtual

Space Popular unfold an immersive installation exploring the role of architecture, and architects in the design of virtual worlds.

Value in the Virtual presents a vision of the latent potential of spatial design in and for virtual environments. Shaped by the practice and conceptual lens of Lara Lesmes and Fredrik Hellberg1 (Space Popular), this immersive installation articulates a direction for architecture which interfaces with cognitive science, colour theory, and the spectacular possibilities laid before us at the dawn of an imminent and immersive virtual reality.

Taking the form of two simultaneously active environments—one physical and one virtual—experience full-scale fragments of Stockholm dissolve, mutate, distort and replicate and envision a constellation of possible futures in which material values are radically recast.

For Value in the Virtual, Boxen becomes a shared space and testing ground for discussion about the role of architecture, and of the architect, in the virtual sphere. During and beyond the exhibition a virtual layer of Boxen2 will be able to be visited in Sansar – a social virtual reality platform accessible by anyone, anywhere, at anytime.

  • 1
    Photo: Jonas Malmström. 2018.
  • 2
    Image: Space Popular. 2018.
Photo: Jeanette Hägglund. 2018.

Value in the Virtual

In 1935, the American science fiction writer Stanley Grauman Weinbaum published Pygmalion’s Spectacles3, one of his final novellas and the first fictional model for the systems and experiences that we now describe as Virtual Reality (VR). The story opens in Manhattan, with a chance encounter between Dan Burke, an employee of the Board of Trade in Chicago, and Professor Albert Ludwig, a “gnome-like” man bristling with intrigue. Taking shelter from the rain, they discuss philosophy and human perception, in which the professor argues that the sensations we feel are in fact mental phenomena – they exist not in the world, but in our minds. “But how, then,” he ponders, “do we know that objects themselves do not exist only in our minds?” Waving at the “light-flecked buildings” across Central Park, he asserts to Burke: “You do not see that wall of masonry; you perceive only a sensation, a feeling of sight. The rest,” he surmises, “you interpret.”

Time and again, science fiction has prophesised the very technologies that are now accelerating toward broad availability and widespread use. From E. M. Forster’s The Machine Stops4 (1909) to William Gibson’s Neuromancer5 (1984), visions of a world in which ’virtual’ environments and interactions are the norm bleed from the pages of fiction and raise some of the more urgent ethical questions of our time. In the sphere of architecture and design, such questions are particularly acute. What form should an architectural value system take, for instance, when it expands from the physical world into virtual multiverses? If the designers of these environments are not bound by a requirement to shelter, nor required to adhere to the various physical limitations imposed by building in the ‘real’ world, what could be expected from them? Ultimately, and perhaps most importantly, what is the role of the architect and designer in this transition?

With these questions in mind, Value in the Virtual presents a vision of the latent potential of spatial design in and for virtual environments. Presented through the practice and conceptual lens of Lara Lesmes and Fredrik Hellberg, creative directors of the London-based architecture studio Space Popular, this installation articulates a direction for architecture which interfaces with cognitive science, colour theory, and the spectacular possibilities laid before us at the dawn of an imminent, immersive virtual reality.

The six environments in Boxen make reference to spaces and places that can be found in Stockholm. The totems, which represent gateways to a virtual layer, explore shifting value systems in a future virtual ‘built’ environment. From the Golden Hall of Stockholm City Hall6, which hosts civic functions from civil marriages to the annual Nobel Prize banquet, to Östermalmstorg subway station7 and the public art of Siri Derkert, these environments span public, private and in-between spaces that together comprise the fabric of the city. What you see in Boxen can be experienced by anyone, at anytime and in anyplace, through Sansar – one of the world’s largest social VR platforms. The six environments coexist simultaneously as a virtual layer, which may be experienced through any VR hardware both in and outside of Boxen.

If virtual reality is no longer science fiction then it is our collective duty, both as potential users and as citizens of liveable domains yet to be designed, to take responsibility for a technology that will in all likelihood dominate our everyday experiences and interpersonal interactions in the imminent future. For this reason, Value in the Virtual is intended as a shared space and testing ground for discussion about the role of the architect, and of architecture, in the burgeoning virtual sphere.

  • 3

    Pygmalions Spectacles, Stanley Grauman Weinbaum (1935). Read on Project Gutenberg ↗

  • 4

    The Machine Stops, E. M. Forster (1909). Learn more ↗

  • 5

    Neuromancer, William Gibson (1984). Learn more ↗

  • 6
    Image: Space Popular. 2018.

    Detail from the Golden Hall

  • 7
    Image: Space Popular. 2018.

    Detail from Östermalmstorg subway station

Photo: Jeanette Hägglund. 2018.
Photo: Jeanette Hägglund. 2018.

Space Popular

Lara Lesmes (Spain) and Fredrik Hellberg (Sweden), both graduates from the Architectural Association in London, founded Space Popular ↗ in Bangkok in 2013. Based in London since 2016, the practice works at multiple scales: from furniture and interior design to architecture, urbanism, and the design of virtual worlds. The duo have extensive teaching experience at INDA (Bangkok) and the Architectural Association and have lectured and participated as visiting critics internationally. Beyond their academic experience, Space Popular has ongoing and realised built projects and exhibitions in Europe and Asia.

Boxen at ArkDes

Boxen ↗ was a platform for fast-changing, experimental projects at ArkDes. It provided space for alternative voices to inspire discussions about architecture, design, and their relationship to society by promoting radical and responsive installations, exhibitions, events and dialogues by and between architects, designers, and thinkers. Designed by the emerging architecture studio Dehlin Brattgård ↗, Boxen opened in 2018 and was dismantled in 2023. All materials have been reused in the 2024 redesign of the museum’s spaces, designed by Arrhov Frick ↗.

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Sussman, Ann. Cognitive Architecture: designing for how we respond to the built environment ↗ (2015). ISBN: 9780415724685

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Curator: James Taylor-Foster
Special Advisor: William Hamilton
Assistants: Ludvig Holmen, Daniel Tayar-Watson
Graphic Identity: Studio Reko

Team at ArkDes: Madeléne Beckman, Markus Eberle, Daniel Golling, Jakob Kjellberg, Stefan Mossfeldt, Sandra Nolgren, Elisabet Schön, Halla Sigurðardottir, Maria Östman, Eva-Lisa Saksi