Weightless Bricks (Act 1)


Mixed Reality Experience

My involvement in this project came through the continuing relationship I have with the Bartlett School of Architecture at UCL and their former alumni. I was asked by John and Paula of Soft Bodies Studio to help with the realisation of this mixed media installation. How can sound help bind the virtual and the real? How to build a bridge between memory, expectation and a new unexpected landscape? Can they be brought together to create something compelling between the physical and the digital? A new set of hybrid sensations? To forget that the digital is manufactured and that the physical isn’t what you are seeing, hearing and touching? By extension, if you address every sense, is what you create...‘real’? How close can we get? What about augmenting your actions so that each gesture you make has extended reach and consequence?

All of these questions are addressed in this project.

The great thing about animation is that the whole sonic landscape is up for reinterpretation. Are you going to create a diegetic sound to add a sense of transparent realism to make an object feel real and give it weight? Or are you going to create a sound that hasn’t been heard before to create a new narrative to transport the viewer, or surprise an expectation? There is no correct answer - both paths have their merits, and it’s in the interplay between the two that surprising moments can occur.

Part of the challenge of VR is in guiding the viewer - there's so much going on around you that you can often miss obvious cues as you look around. In this project, areas of focus are highlighted sometimes with illumination and sometimes with sound, and sometimes through haptics - real objects help the bond of believability between what you see and and what you know to be real. No-one questions the fact that a TV show is a series of still images running at 25 frames a second, with pixels made up of three colours, yet we believe we see movement and a rainbow of different shades, we allow ourselves to park our interrogation of the medium (as it's effectively invisible to our senses) and be transported with the story. Interestingly, vision is so dominant in how we perceive the world that we still use the words 'invisible' and ‘viewer’, even though we are speaking of more than one sense.

So how to merge haptics, a 3-dimensional landscape and sound effectively to create a convincing world? Not necessarily a facsimile of our world, but an engaging world. Are we able to be productive in an environment like this rather than be merely entertained? Does a more believeable experience translate into greater value? Or does the fact that it is digital forever mean that it doesn't hold the same currency as a physical object? What about a physical object that carries hidden abilities? We don't doubt our phones are real, we don’t doubt the consequences of sending an email are real, even though the interfaces are glass, metal, plastic and light. We pick up this slab of glass and metal and within a few seconds we are talking to Australia. We don’t question the experience is real and yet on paper it sounds absurd. It’s not even actually your friend’s voice, it’s a reassembled string of 1s and 0s. Yet you’ve communicated something to your friend and when you meet them again in a physical space, they will remember that conversation.

In this project, the objects have many layers - the fruit contains a BIM model. The ball-bearings that the physical dish rotates upon are augmented in the sound files, and they are designed to be listened to together so you can’t tell what is coming from the digital realm and what is coming from the physical. While sitting in the seat (called a ‘scale mobile’ in the film) that takes you to the full size building, a fan blows gently in your face. Vertigo is enhanced. The scent of the impregnated silicone fruit adds to your understanding (and your memory) of it. What is the quality of that experience and that memory? Does it have more value than a conventional film? Does it feel larger than life, hyper-real, or ultra-real - beyond what we would consider real, creating an exaggerated memory?

This question of value, particularly, as more of our attention shifts into the digital realm will be fascinating to watch develop. What kind of stories will we want to tell when we are able to seamlessly communicate and control experiences for 3 or more senses that we trust? It’s great to be part of that conversation through this project.


Mixed Reality Experience Proposal

Today, we carry out our occupational duties largely in the digital space as work is more ephemeral and nomadic than ever before. Weightless Bricks is a site-specific mixed reality experience created by Soft Bodies. It speculates on the imaginary potential of future virtual work environments.

Experienced through a virtual-reality headset, viewers will adopt the first-person perspective of a worker, led through a series of virtual spaces and blended with some of the physical objects presented in the display. The viewers will explore a hybrid scenario where physical architecture has become fully entangled with a digital world. This is a project proposing different scenarios for creative production in the virtual space in the near future.

Soft Bodies is an interdisciplinary design studio, based between London and Amsterdam. It was founded by Paula Strunden, John Cruwys and David Flook, who met while studying at the Bartlett School of Architecture in London. The studio seeks to freely expand the production of space and objects by bringing the physical and virtual worlds closer together.

Join us every Friday to immerse yourself in this free mixed-reality experience created by Soft Bodies as part of Invisible Landscapes: Imagination (Act III) exhibition/invisible-landscapes in the Architecture Studio.

Each session runs every 3 minutes. Free, drop in, no booking required.

If you require vision correction, we recommend wearing contact lenses if this is possible, as the device is incompatible with most eyeglasses. If this is not an option, please speak with the attendant when you check in, and the technicians will do their best to accommodate your needs with prescription inserts.

The performance is wheelchair accessible, although some parts might be unpractical.

The performance is suitable for all ages, though the Wearable Mixed Reality devices will fit at varying levels depending upon head size and shape. Therefore, we do not recommend this experience for children under 13.

Each visitor will be provided with a viewing device for use during the performance. Technologists will be on hand to assist with fitting and any questions you may have. As every head is different, the fit and comfort of the devices will vary.


VR Sessions ran from 15th February - 29th March 2019. I will announce any new showings here that I am made aware of but in the meantime feel free to visit the Soft Bodies Studio website.