Fast-Moving Architecture, Slow-Moving Games

21 November 2012 | 0 comments

Last week, we decided to have a think about games and time. This is one of a collection of posts that came from that thinking – Alex’s thoughts on the relationship between game design and architecture.

Hide&Seek’s central concern as a studio is with the creation of games for public spaces. As our practice has developed, we have sought out ways that our designs can support public play without the need for human intervention in the form of an event. Projects such as Tate Trumps (Tate Modern, 2009) and The Building Is… (Gâité Lyrique, 2012) create experiences where play is mediated by technology, while retaining the live, human, social qualities of festivals. Our work situates video game design in the public realm, claiming it as a form of civic culture.

In doing so, we seem to have arrived at a point that aligns closely with the goals of landscape urbanism, a movement in part defined by the lead architect of the Highline in New York (and the forthcoming transformation of the south end of the Olympic Park, James Corner.

In his landmark essay “Terra Fluxus”, Corner argues for the definition of urban infrastructure as “an ecology of various systems and elements that set in motion a diverse network of interaction”. That definition could as easily describe the iPhone, the Steam platform or a game like League of Legends – and suddenly, excitingly, architecture and game design slide on to the same spectrum, their goals and concerns aligned.

To develop the ecological metaphor a little, I feel that buildings are the giant, slow-moving, apex creatures of urban ecology, and games are the zippy, buzzing insects – each performing essential functions for the sustaining of culture, but on completely different timescales. They live, function, die and evolve at completely different rates. But they share a very great deal.

Especially, I think, now that the digital is permeating the surface of our urban landscape. Screens are getting cheaper, more networked, more robust, and consequently are starting to be installed in ever more unlikely places. Alfie Dennen’s pioneering Bus Tops project situated beautiful LED screens around London, with content that could be populated by the public. And the recently installed screen-bins in the City of London put news and recycling into a single unlikely but handy format. And of course, there’s the screens we all carry with us - Seb Lee-Delisle’s PixelPhones project is doing some very smart and exciting things with real-time networking of massive numbers of smartphones, turning them into a single display.

What this says to me is that architects need to find new ways of collaborating with designers from other disciplines. I find it really interesting that playground design, for example, tends to be the exclusive province of architects, although there are a number of exciting exceptions that Holly switched me on to: set designers, product designers, Peruvian artist collectives and (best of all I think) Japanese crochet artists have all made playgrounds, with what appear to be spectacular results… (and Keita Takahashi’s sadly thwarted plans for a playground in Nottingham – what happened to that? Can we resurrect it?). I foresee a time in the near future where video game design, playground design & architecture have smooshed together into one interesting new space, generating games and play experiences that mix slowly-changing landscapes with a digital infrastructure for play,  co-owned and co-authored by the communities who participate in them.


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