Architecture, NFT and metaverse or cynicism at its highest

@Jean-Michel Wilmotte

Since April 2022, the Cité internationale de Paris has sold NFT drawings of a virtual architecture project by Jean-Michel Wilmotte, sold as the Maison de l’Ukraine project. A colonist to follow in the metaverse?

If virtual worlds have existed since the birth of science fiction and we have been used to visualizing them from an early age, the rise of the metaverse, a highly augmented reality, has in recent years pushed architects and actors in the design of space. to question the possible interaction between the reality of architecture and its digital avatar.

Until now, the thinking has been forward thinking for architects-designers. For many, the digital model is not yet a basic daily thing, although BIM offers possibilities that, if used to its full power, would be a great maintenance management tool for complex buildings, the living memory of tripaille to anticipate in time the development of the life of the buildings.

La Maison de l’Ukraine’s project, designed by Jean-Michel Wilmotte, at the initiative of the foundation of the Cité universitaire internationale de Paris, and sold since the spring in the form of NFT brings with it a farandol of questions.

In April 2022, the Cité internationale universitaire de Paris wanted to welcome and support from the start of the 2022 academic year up to 500 university students affected by the war in Ukraine. For this, the foundation had asked the professional to imagine a virtual house.” but firmly rooted in reality to unite Ukrainian citizens as the statement explained. This is a first surprise, as it would have seemed logical that the project, even in an emergency, was carried out with the assistance of a Ukrainian architect.

It is from there that the story requires a bit of concentration. Welcoming 500 students in the 43 existing houses and offering them all the logistics they needed was the starting point. Concretely, there is no construction in sight, but a virtual project. Since its creation at the end of the First World War, the Cité internationale has not lacked references in architectural terms with works by Prouvé, Le Corbusier, Foujita… in this respect, the heritage belongs to the universities of Paris, represented by the Chancellery.

Let’s quickly proceed with the selection of the chosen architect to participate in such a project. Cité internationale is a foundation under private law, it is still recognized as being for public benefit. Since 2017, the national foundation Cité internationale universitaire de Paris has been led by Jean-Marc Sauvé, who is also honorary vice-president of the Council of State. This great machine, of historical humanist inspiration, had no choice but to direct its gaze at the designer of a Putin ode in the heart of Paris* to build wind around a Maison de l’Ukraine that does not exist? And who will never exist?

The agency envisioned a reminiscence of constructivist architecture whose volumes and use of materials recall the Ukrainian flag. ” This digital work is also a way to highlight art and culture as a response to the noise and destruction of war. “, the press kit adds. Some people suspect that a virtual constructivist pavilion imagined in 2022 is a beautiful quote from Ukrainian culture!

@Jean-Michel Wilmotte

The constructivist pavilion project consists of three drawings, it was probably necessary to move quickly with the facade, a bedroom and a collective room with a piano. The degree of involvement of details leaves speechless. These works were then converted into NFT to be sold to finance the arrival of students from September. The starting price is 0.05 ETH (Ethereum is another bitcoin-like virtual currency) or about $86. Code architecture is not that difficult.

In addition to the cynicism and incredible lack of culture shown here by the contracting authority, how can the state support this initiative? If the coffers are empty, why throw money away by working on virtual projects? Does Cité U no longer have the financial and intellectual means to get architects to work with the architectures of their time? Yes, for Ukrainian students, time is running out. Since they will be accommodated in different houses on campus, what is the use of virtual architecture? Would the auction of the drawings for the project that took place this summer with Sotheby’s not have been enough?

Another question, altogether very simple, is the definition of architecture. Should it be designed to claim the title? In absolute numbers, we can say that the buyers offered themselves a house, or rather a facade, a bedroom and a room with a piano, signed Jean-Michel Wilmotte, to be implanted in a virtual reality, without any technical limitations ? , contextual or even constructive?

If geeks like to imagine that the metaverse is the world of tomorrow, flesh and blood humans will always need architects to design even the premises useful for manufacturing and housing related technologies for this in a particular reality.

And then there is what falls within the scope of the opportunist at a time when the profession is facing one crisis after another: material crisis, recruitment crisis, remuneration crisis, recognition crisis… Architecture must increasingly take on challenges. , environmental, constructive, social at a time when the planet is suffocating, resources are becoming scarce and billions of people in the world remain without a protective roof. Couldn’t the time of architects who have the opportunity be more usefully spent confronting reality instead of simply becoming aimless content creators?

@Jean-Michel Wilmotte

The temptation is great to flirt with the metaverse as it sells a city to be designed contrary to our current way of life. Without norm, without belief, without law, in all individuality, without time limit, without constructive limit. A world without rules, on the other hand, could offer a playground to rediscover the taste for experimentation, testing or even the preliminary project model. Looking at the work for sale, nothing is less certain.

The experiment carried out by the Cité internationale de Paris has no consequences for the architectural profession. But the metaverse now warns of other dangers that threaten the profession and the relationship that the general public may have with the image of the built environment.

In fact, it was already necessary to compose with the madness of the return of the owners of private work, who, in the name of a sacred financial balance, participate in the property speculation with the complicity of the city’s policies. They had already fully understood the usefulness of virtual reality in a marketing spirit to help future buyers better visualize the possible layout of the room with enough flashes to avoid misfires in the room.

These same promoters already abound in the virtual space by proposing systems of opaque property speculation and without legal protection. With NFTs, even placements of ” sheep rock-paper way also find their equivalent in the void.

Should architects be complicit in a new way of designing that increasingly lacks meaning?

Leah Muller

*Read our article Poutine project manager, it rocks

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