Punto de Inflexión 
(Turning Point) VII Festival arquia/próxima 2020

Punto de inflexión (Turning Point) designed by Space Popular and curated by Gonzalo Herrero Delicado for The Arquia Foundation is the first-ever architecture conference held in virtual reality.

LocationThe Internet  https://espaciofq.com// Mozilla Hubs Clouds / AWS Server
TypeVirtual Festival and Exhibition
SPOPeople Lara Lesmes, Fredrik Hellberg
CuratorGonzalo Herrero Delicado
ClientFundación arquia
Team: Sol Candela, Alicia Padilla, Maria Garcia Codina, Javier Peña Ibáñez
VR CoderRoman Miletitch

Overview of the virtual festival space with the Arena in the center.

Arquia/Próxima is an architecture festival that celebrates and awards the work of young emergent practices from Portugal and Spain. Every year the festival gathers architects, critics and architecture lovers for a series of lectures and discussions that start in a formal setting, often spilling out to the local bars and restaurants, providing an opportunity for other forms of involvement and conversation. Arquia/Próxima is as much a celebration of completed works as it is the germinating ground for new projects and partnerships, building a sense of community among each generation of “Próxim@s”. To overcome the barriers and restrictions of 2020 the organisers and curator commissioned Space Popular to create a virtual city for the festival where lectures, debates and ceremonies could be held and new communities could form.

Virtual Festival day one in the Arena with discussion between Peter Cook and Gonzalo Herrero Delicado.

Curated by Gonzalo Herrero Delicado under the theme Punto de inflexión (Turning Point) and designed by Space Popular, the VII Festival arquia/próxima 2020 consists of 9 virtual rooms organised on a grid reminiscent of Barcelona’s Ensanche - where this edition of the festival was originally planned for. The rooms are custom designed to fulfill different purposes: the central Arena has an amphitheatre layout to host different kinds of events such as roundtable discussions, lectures, and award ceremonies; Galería Próxima consists of 4 rooms according to the 4 sections in which the Próxima nominated projects have been curated; the competition projects awarded with scholarships are shown in Galería Becas; and the documentary by Javier Peña commissioned by Fundacion Arquia for this edition of the festival is shown in Galería Documental, together with portraits of highlighted practices. Each room takes the shape of a urban block of the Ensanche at half of its original size, with the outside forming a street featuring abstracted versions of building typologies common in the area, and the inside displaying exhibition content in elements inspired by digital rather than physical space. 

Award ceromony in the Arean at on the final day of the festival with live video feeds from all award recipients.

The decisions for this inside-outside shift responds to the nature of the material shown: two-dimensional representations of architectural projects - which 8 of out 9 rooms are dedicated to, and two-dimensional presentations and video-calls - which the 9th room hosts. Counting on most visitors accessing via screens rather than headsets, digital versions of photographs and drawings are best accessed in a conventional two-dimensional website format where they can be seen in full screen. However such a format would not allow for the representation of others in the space which is fundamental for building a sense of togetherness. With these almost conflicting aims in mind the rooms took shape based on the point of view, framing, and navigation of an avatar accessing via screen. 

All spaces can be accessed from the website map by clicking the room name and the button “Entrar” to enter the room. 

The platform selected for building the festival is Mozilla HUBS, an open source project developed by a non-profit organization that allows anyone to create social virtual spaces accessible from virtually any device connected to the internet (from smartphones to headsets). Their product HUBS Cloud goes a step further allowing users to download their stack and host their space privately, making possible a decentralised model of the metaverse which we fully support. This allowed us to completely customise the interface and ensure that it will be comfortable and accessible by all visitors.

All 3D assets respond to the constraint of accessibility, which means they must be as optimised (simple) as possible. In the virtual realm bytes are the currency and, in that sense, all rooms designed for the festival are very cheap so that every device and connection can afford them. This applies also to the avatars that visitors can select from. Having people moving and talking around the space is expensive and yet a priority for the event. In order to be able to afford having as many visitors as possible, the avatars are designed to be a single plane that contains two images (back and front). Even though they are quite abstract, avatars are given basic body language such as moving their eyes, heads and bodies in response to different audio and navigation inputs. Achieving this balance between fidelity and accessibility is a key element of virtual architecture and avatar design today. While this might change considerably with ever more powerful devices and the spread of 5G, understanding the logic that makes these spaces possible is a form of craft not dissimilar to that of bricks and mortar.  

Avatars designed by Space Popular  worn by participants on day one of the festival. 

Galería Próxima - Block Two seen from above

The VII Festival arquia/próxima 2020 consists of 9 virtual rooms organised on a grid reminiscent of Barcelona’s Ensanche.

Galería Próxima can be described as walking into a conventional two-dimensional website, where we can walk through the pages that we usually click through. Between pages you may bump into a friend who is also visiting and take a few steps down to the side gardens for a chat.     

All four Galería Próxima blocks seen from above

Galería Próxima - Block One seen from above

Galería Becas

Galería Becas provides a two-step view of each project, with the project data and links accessible from each of the four central points that give access to three projects each, and the full image visible once you descend the steps and stand on the doorway. Taking advantage of the possibility of single-sided materials in the virtual realm (materials that are transparent on one side), this room is entered through an image allowing for a completely isotropic space.

Galería Becas

Galería Becas

Galería Documental has two distinct areas. Upon entrance visitors are led directly into a steep theatre space in which the documentary is shown. From here one can take the side exits to the portrait gallery at the top of the octahedron. 

The three galleries follow graphic themes according to the overall colour scheme of the project and, in contrast to the streets and the Arena, take cues from the world of graphics rather than the world of architecture which makes them a sort of three-dimensional web space - a natural evolution of the internet as we know it and its three-dimensional version: the immersive internet. 

Galería Documental, entrance. 

Galería Documental, cinema room. 

Galería Documental, exhibition space. 

Galería Documental, exhibition space. 

The Arena

The Arena is an amphitheatre space that takes us into another area of Barcelona: Barrio Gótico. Following the Ensanche block shape as all other rooms, the Arena is organised along the diagonal axis with the stage platform fanning out from one of its corners. Different presentation formats were accommodated, including screen and webcam share possibilities for participants located in niches contained within the buildings. The Arena acts as the main gathering space for larger groups and it is where all live events took place with a mixture of on-site (avatars in the room) and off-site (video-call broadcasted into the room) participation. Speakers included Peter Cook, Carme Pinós, Anupama Kundoo, and Iñaqui Carnicero as speakers, as well as young practices such as awardees AMAO estudio and Pareid.

The Arena -  Anupama Kundoo giving a lecture during the festival. 

The Arena -  Paula Vilaplana de Miguel giving a lecture during the festival. 

The Arena -  Iñaqui Carnicero speaking during the festival. 

The Arena - Carme Pinós speaking during the festival. 

The Arena - Gonzalo Herrero Delicado and Peter Cook live discussion during the festival. 

The Arena 

The Arena

The Arena