Since April 2022, the Cité internationale de Paris has been selling 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, in recent years the rise of the metaverse, a very augmented reality, has been pushing architects and actors of the design of space to question the possible interactions between the reality of architecture and its digital avatar.
Until now, thinking had remained forward-looking for architects-designers. For many, the digital model is not yet a fundamental daily thing, although BIM offers possibilities which, if it could be used to its full power, would be a fantastic maintenance management tool for complex buildings, the living memory of the tripaille to anticipate in time the evolution of the life of the buildings.
The project of La Maison de l’Ukraine, designed by Jean-Michel Wilmotte, on 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 farandole 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 person skilled in the art to imagine a virtual house ” but highly rooted in reality to unite Ukrainian nationals as the statement explained. This is a first surprise since it would have seemed logical for the project, even in an emergency, to be 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 would need was the starting point. Concretely, no construction in sight but a virtual project. However, since its creation at the end of the First World War, the Cité internationale has not lacked references in architectural terms with the works of Prouvé, Le Corbusier, Foujita… in this regard, the heritage belongs to the Universities of Paris, represented by the chancellery.
Let’s move quickly on the choice of the architect selected to participate in such a project. The Cité internationale is a private law foundation, it remains recognized as being of public utility. Since 2017, the national foundation Cité internationale universitaire de Paris has been chaired by Jean-Marc Sauvé, incidentally honorary vice-president of the Council of State. This great machine, of historically humanist inspiration, had no choice but to set its sights on the designer of a Poutinian 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 imagined a reminiscence of constructivist architecture, whose volumes and use of materials recall the Ukrainian flag. ” This digital work is also a way of highlighting art and culture as a response to the din and destruction of war. “, adds the press kit. Some people suspect that a virtual constructivist pavilion imagined in 2022 is a beautiful quote from Ukrainian culture!
The constructivist pavilion project consists of three drawings, it was probably necessary to go quickly with the facade, a bedroom and a collective space with a piano. The degree of involvement of details leaves speechless. These works were then converted into NFT to be sold in order 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 onerous.
Beyond the cynicism and the 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 have architects work on architectures of their time? Yes, for Ukrainian students, time is running out. Since they have to be accommodated in various houses on campus, what is the use of virtual architecture? Wouldn’t the auction of the drawings for the project that took place this summer with Sotheby’s have been enough?
Another question, all in all very simple, is that of the definition of architecture. Should it be designed to claim the title? In absolute terms, can we 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 constraint? , climatic, contextual or even constructive?
If Geeks like to imagine that the metaverse is the world of tomorrow, humans, of flesh and bone, will always need architects to design even the premises useful for manufacturing and accommodation associated technologies, for this in a certain reality.
And then there is what falls within the scope of the opportunist at a time when the profession is undergoing crisis one after the other: crisis in materials, crisis in recruitment, crisis in remuneration, crisis in recognition… Architecture must increasingly take up 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. The time of architects who have the possibility could then not be more usefully used by confronting reality rather than becoming mere creators of content without purpose?
The temptation is great to flirt with the metaverse as it sells a city to be designed contrary to our current lifestyles. Without norm, without faith, without law, in all individuality, without time limit, without constructive limit. A world without rules could, on the other hand, offer a playground for rediscovering a 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 profession of architect. However, the metaverse is now warning of other dangers that threaten the profession and the relationship that the general public may have with the image of the built environment.
Indeed, it was already necessary to compose with the madness of return of the owners of private work which in the name of a sacrosanct financial balance sheet, take part in the real estate speculation with the complicity of the policies of the city. They had already fully understood the usefulness of virtual reality in a marketing spirit to help future buyers to better visualize the possible layout of the space with enough blinkers to avoid space misfires.
These same promoters already abound in the virtual space by proposing systems of opaque real estate speculation and without legal protection. With NFTs, even placements of “ father stone-paper way also find their equivalent in the void.
Should architects be complicit in a new way of designing that is increasingly lacking in meaning?