The International Journal of the Constructed Environment offers an annual award for newly published research or thinking that has been recognized to be outstanding by members of the Constructed Environment Research Network.
Discussions about our contemporary built environment tend to look at themed and virtual spaces as something irrelevant at best or, worse, as something disdainful. Yet entertainment, as a visual and experiential thrust, has consumed the built environment to the point that theming has taken an elevated role that has heightened our expectations for spaces. These spaces have always conveyed narrative; there have always been themes. Thematic design, however, is a form of visual storytelling executed primarily in consumer spaces that is at once popular, profitable, prolific, and above all, problematic. We explore how key developments in the evolution of early cinema and animation push beyond the screen to influence the built environment and examine a similar path within the virtual worlds of digital gaming. We outline the origins of contemporary themed spaces, both physical and virtual, to pinpoint the influences that promulgate a predominately story-based vision of space. To that end we speculate on the increasing bleed between physical and virtual worlds in which architecture is no longer a primary consideration in placemaking.
Dave Gottwald and Greg Turner-Rahman argue that architecture has been overtaken by the power of the moving image. This process of cinematic subsumption spans what they posit are five spatial regimes, beginning in the early decades of the twentieth century with a departure from the architectonic regime; the traditional programmatic, rational organization of spaces. The filmic regime describes the co-mingling of art direction and architecture and the influence of set design on the built environment. Disneyland, the sui generis contemporary theme park model, marks the debut of the thematic regime at midcentury, in which spaces are cohesively planned as transmediated, multisensory experiential design using storyboards. From there thematic design spreads all over the world as but one of many repudiations of modernism. The electronic regime of video games and now virtual reality take elements from the prior regimes to produce compelling entertainment with complex environments. This culminates in the development of the game engine—a software tool for creating hyperreal worlds—which introduces yet a fifth regime, the Holistic. A number of industries, from urban planning to infrastructure and movie production itself, now utilize such engines. Yet this regime’s holism is neither gestalt nor an emergent property of some kind. What is revolutionary about game engine software is that it is a tool for virtual environmental production and consumption. The conceptualization construct is itself the very environment experienced by the player. It is in essence “both the dreamer and the dream.” Gottwald and Turner-Rahman consider the ramifications of these successive spatial regimes in order to craft a theoretical model to prognosticate on potential futures for the design methodologies of our environments—built, virtual, and the growing liminal space between.
The authors are currently finalizing a prospectus for a full-length book on their work, The End of Architecture.
— Dave Gottwald and Dr. Greg Turner-Rahman
Kevin Nute and Zhuo Job Chen, The International Journal of the Constructed Environment, Volume 9, Issue 1, 1–18
James Thompson and Daniel E. Coslett, The International Journal of the Constructed Environment, Volume 8, Issue 2, 27–48
Caryn Brause, The International Journal of the Constructed Environment, Volume 7, Issue 1, 43–54