I'd usually post items like this over on the 'Noted Elsewhere' section of this blog, but this is too appealing not to reproduce here. Part of series of posts at Dr Andrew Hudson-Smith's Digitally Distributed Environments blog, concerning visualisations of cities in video games, such as Half-Life's 'City 17'. Here, the Half-Life engine has been used to create a walk-through of Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater:
In no way will such visualisations ever provide a true experience of physical architecture - whatever that means - but it's certainly interesting how video game engines seem to be providing the most fluid, rich environments for exploring buildings, short of being there, outpacing much traditional architectural software. Multiply these engines by open-source screen capture software, to the power of YouTube, and you have a pretty rich formula for translating and transporting learning about architecture.
Of course, virtual environments, especially those in games, are as much part of the contemporary architectural experience as 'the real Fallingwater', as noted by Geoff Manaugh's fabulous blast theory on such matters of a few months back. If not more. Sadly, this may be as close as I ever get to the actual Fallingwater. Yet we shouldn't fool ourselves that this is a replacement for physical experience - it's an additional architectural space.
The sensual textures of these representations are interesting too. Experienced without smell, taste and touch, this 'Fallingwater' in sound and vision only would be well short of the rich physical experience - that dank, damp stone, wood and glass, scented with pine trees and rampant fungus, in this case. Visually, the game engines have an unreality of their own, which is immediately attractive yet quite unlike an actual interplay of light on material. In terms of the movement, it's a fantastical, non-physical dream, as the final few seconds of the walkthrough above suddenly become an impossible fly-by, in which Fallingwater is revealed to be floating in space, a castle in the air, devoid of its geographical context, existing only as architectural or cultural form.
It would be interesting to consider how these virtual representations are affecting physical architectural form though, by altering the practice and sensibilities of architects, much as the black and white photography of the early modernist masters affected the form of late-modernist architecture. The highly contrasted shadows and light of monochrome photography actually shaped architectural form - and created a slew of pure white buildings - in a fascinating symbiotic process.
It's a bit glib to look at the work of Hadid, Libeskind, Gehry and others, and infer that a later symbiosis is taking place - between architecture and video games - as I suspect those architects are too old to have inculcated this aesthetic into their work. (Yes, their teams may have done, but the head of the studio still has a fairly defining role.) So, given the harnessed narrative propulsion of YouTube, how will the intrinsic aesthetic of game engines and Flash video encoding affect contemporary architecture?