Pokémon Go & Virtual Reality in Architecture

Sorry Grandma. I need to apologize. I have not blogged recently, and since you’re my only reader left, you need to understand – I installed Pokémon Go on my phone. This shouldn’t be a priority over my daily life and habits. I mean, I should probably get work done, and clean the kitchen or make some dinner before my wife gets home. And yes, I realize I’m 31 years old and shouldn’t be meandering around in the real world staring at my iPhone screen like a perplexed zombie because the app says there are brains nearby. However, unlike farmed salmon – these are wild Pokémon! And wild Pokémon are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids. OK, I lied; I actually don’t know what the health benefits of Pokémon are – all I know is that I can’t just catch one or two, but I GOTTA CATCH ‘EM ALL!

IMG_0537I apparently missed my opportunity, once again, to buy stock in Nintendo – since everyone outside of New York who can’t afford to buy Hamilton tickets just discovered the next craze – Pokémon Go.

This augmented reality where a digital Squirtle appears on the sidewalk in front you needs to be the next evolution of architectural renderings. Sure, architectural renderings are glitzy and glamorous, but are mostly used as a marketing technique – as they seldom provide internal design modifications by the architects. Indeed, most architects believe that the next digital transgression to sweep the industry, and that titillates their technological inclinations, will be virtual reality – but architects need to learn from Nintendo and back-track to augmented reality.

Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard, and Virtual Reality sound like an amazing added value architects could provide their clients. Before being constructed – the client could put on a clumsy headset and interactively tour their building. They could enter into the laundry room and see the stacked washer/dryer. Recommend making the plastic laminate countertop a darker shade of white. And notice the two electrical outlets rotated horizontally 4” above the countertop. Until… the building is finally completed, and they notice the awful rubber doorstop on the wall, and complain to the architect that the doorstops weren’t modeled in their 3D walkthrough!

Virtual Reality has its benefits, but this sort of usage of Virtual Reality will only increase the project’s timeline, schedule, and budget. Virtual Reality won’t make architecture better, it will only make architecture more expensive. Architecture is, oftentimes, only available for the wealthy; and Virtual Reality (as an expected service) incorporated into architectural practices will push architectural fees further away from the reaches of the middle and lower classes.

If I had unlimited funds I would make a similar architectural app to Pokémon Go. Unfortunately, my funds are the opposite of unlimited, so I’m going to trademark this idea. And since everyone else always claims to share the same ideas, I wrote this idea down first! So if you actually create the app, you will be forced to share your billions of dollars with me – for doing nothing but writing about a similar idea.

Pokémon Go might be the greatest patron of the arts - providing a free walking tour of every insignificant painting and sculpture in town.

Pokémon Go might be the greatest patron of the arts – providing a free walking tour of every insignificant painting and sculpture in town.

Thus, instead of spending countless hours 3D modeling every beveled inch of your interior countertops in Virtual Reality – you just need the building in an augmented Reality. Just like Pokémon Go, you look through your phone. You see the buildings and sidewalks and dog walking through your camera, but instead of the vacant parking lot there is a massing model of your building. However, unlike Pokémon Go, your building isn’t bouncing down the sidewalk, and you can’t throw a red & white fishing bobber at it. It just sits there. But if you go two blocks away you can see exactly where it would be in reality, peeking up over the adjacent building. And if you go 7 blocks away, it’s still there even behind the Aspen trees you’re walking through.

Further updates of the app would have all future and proposed projects located within the city. So a leisurely stroll down the street would also reveal, “Oh. so that’s the new Law & Justice Center I was going to vote NO against on the bond initiative in November.” Or, “Wow! That ugly-ass Verizon store is going to block my view of the mountains.”

But most of all, this would actually be a helpful and informative tool for the architects. Actually viewing your project in the landscape will create more site-specific projects – and better architecture overall. A geo-located survey point in your Revit or BIM model would automatically locate the building in augmented space.

Back in the day when architects actually built physical models, they probably had a better sense of scale and relationship to the surrounding environment. 3D modeling aided in emulating photo-realistic materiality, but I must admit, still often distorts the final outcome for architects. On the physical model, you could move around and interact with it. There was a tactility, and you could intuitively get down to eye-level to view the streetscapes. A 3D animation can provide a panoramic tour around the building, but Revit’s camera distorts and stretches the edges of the nearby buildings when the aperture is too wide – so how tall is the actual building?

Don’t get me wrong, I love architectural renderings.1 But architecture needs to take a chapter out of Nintendo’s playbook. The Wii was a giant success even though it’s limited graphics were inferior to other highly-realistic video games. But swinging a paddle and pretending it was a tennis racket was actually more realistic, intuitive, and thus fun, than pushing a tiny joystick with your thumb while depressing the yellow Y button and the left trigger. And even though Pokémon Go servers have been crashing due to unrealized load demands, the graphics in Pokémon Go are barely improved beyond Nintendo Gameboy’s 8-bit Pokémon games from the 1990’s.

Pokémon Go is a already a giant success, and has allowed people to want to get outdoors and interact with their surroundings. Sure, they are staring at their phone while being surrounded by architecture, but what if there was a similar app that allowed you to interact with architecture while being immersed in architecture. The AIA’s campaign of #ilookup would seem pretty dumb when people are actually looking down into their phones – but they would actually be looking at architecture.

I feel like I’m quoting the extremely unlikable baseball player Bryce Harper, but we should “Make Architecture Fun Again.” America’s National Pastime and architecture have many parallels. Just like architecture, baseball is seemingly there every day. But you just flip right past it because it’s always on, and it’s usually boring. Perhaps the architecture app wouldn’t be quite as entertaining as Pokémon Go, but it’d still make you want to get a dog – so you could take a walk to view the “new building” that won’t be under construction for another year.

IMG_0538Unfortunately, I only have a cat. So when I just saw there were 9 Pokémon in my area I got really excited; until I realized I have a cat. How am I going to walk around my neighborhood when my autistic cat who needs extreme supervision, and thinks she is a goat because she’s eating grass, is outside? I could put a leash on her, but cats don’t walk on leashes. So I could put a leash on her and pull her downtrodden and sluggish body down the sidewalk, but this would probably put too much force on her grass-fed stomach. And since she actually isn’t a goat, and doesn’t have four compartments in her stomach to break down grasses into nutrients, she will just throw up a clump of grass every day – and never learn.

So now I have to carry my cat aimlessly around the sidewalks while viewing my phone in the other hand. “Whoa, Bambi! Stop wriggling. There is a Pokémon right there!”

I can’t tell if my cat’s autistic because she can’t see the 6.5kg Cubone through my phone, or if she just has to throw up her grasses. But now she’s getting really agitated. You would think that a Poké ball thrown at the feet of Cubone would still catch him – but no. You have to flick it high enough to apparently snatch him out of the air. But wait! Cubone has a bat (made of bone) and swats my ball away. Now my cat is getting really agitated. She’s definitely autistic, and doesn’t understand that I have to catch ‘em all. But she is just being melodramatic. I realize she was rescued as a dirty kitty kitten wandering aimlessly around Spokane and found in a gutter. But Cubone is a “Lonely Pokémon” and pines for the mother it will never see again. Also, seeing a likeness of its mother in the full moon, it cries.

“Now Bambi, those are REAL issues.”

Cubone even has stains on his skull mask made by the tears it sheds.

“Your only issues are you think you’re a goat.”

Sorry. I don’t really have a conclusion to this blog post. Cubone somehow just broke out of his Poké ball. I’m never gonna catch ‘em all at this rate…



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1 But mostly I just love adding lense flares.

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