“Our designers are not just architects; they’re also film designers, game designers, lore and storytelling designers,” says Architect Director of Wilder World and metaverse designer, Mariana Cabugueira. “Engineers are no longer construction engineers; they are software engineers, game developers and film producers. This means explaining architecture and the role of architects to a team that is unfamiliar with the profession. Designing beyond just buildings requires more explanation, and the workflows have to be modified on all sides to meet the needs of our uniquely diverse team.”
When Teulo last sat down with Mariana in 2021, she was busy with the Design Research Lab at London’s Architectural Association and was working as a competition designer with top-tier firm, Zaha Hadid, while also crafting her own brand. “I was already working as a solo artist through social media architectural content and classes, and it was that exposure that encouraged Wider World – a metaverse development company on web3 – to reach out and ask me to join them.”
4 months later, Mariana completed her final Zaha Hadid project and began work with Wider Web the same day. “Before starting my new position at Wilder, I decided to open a studio with Parametric Architecture for students that question and design on metaverse, using 2 specific software platforms for creation: Maya and Unreal Engine. The studio, Meta-Fluid Studio, has been so successful that we are starting another one this month: Meta-Fluid Studio 2.0.”
Mariana says her new metaverse explorations are both challenging and exciting due to the momentum that’s quickly building behind this technology, and the diverse range of professional skill-sets it attracts. “My role is to re-design architecture for a cyberspace environment from the perspective and experience of an architect. One criteria within that is to ensure that all metaverse buildings stay within the real of realism in order to enhance the immersive nature of the space. The more links you have with reality, the more intense your immersion in a different reality will be. Metaverse needs to prove realism before being a fantasy land only.
“Studies of utopian architecture have shown it to be unsuccessful for a reason, and architects can’t fall into that trap on metaverse. So, when I design, I challenge concepts like gravity and architectural vocabulary – what is a door or a window, for example – moderately. I challenge the meaning and function of space a little more than the other criteria because, although we will still behave like humans in virtual environments, our activities will slightly change. We will navigate space differently and with new purpose.”
Mariana is primarily challenging archetypes, she says, but with respect for our memory and historical experience of spaces and practices. “We have the same responsibilities in metaverse as we do in creating new buildings and cities. It is our duty to evolve design whenever we are given new tools. We don’t copy cities with a new set of rules and possibilities, we re-invent them.”
A range of disruptive technologies are supporting this metaverse reinvention including Ethereum, Unreal Engine and ZERO, Mariana says. “Ethereum is the largest ecosystem in blockchain; it is not only a crypto currency, but it also runs smart-contracts and other activities that don’t rely on third parties. It is also less dependent on poisonous resources from our environment [than other blockchain technologies]. Unreal Engine is, without a doubt, the next platform for Virtual Environments to happen, powered by the advances made on NVIDIA graphic cards. These virtual environments we now call metaverse are unfortunately linked to the company Meta currently, but will not be in the long-term. Virtual Environments will keep developing at the speed of light in web3, just like 2-dimensional social environments such as Twitter, Discord and Instagram happened in web2. 3D, 4D and 5D environments are finding their space on web3, with Unreal Engine being the stage for the users, creators and developers of these environments.”
Mariana is excited to keep on exploring metaverse, and leading the change for architecture offices to thrive on running virtual projects and real projects simultaneously. “I am very convinced that this will be the future of professional architecture practice. Virtual projects present a considerable financial opportunity and the reward of immediate production time. Real-world architecture, while slower and often badly paid, will still be our passion and responsibility. So, I remain focused on learning both and, in the future, coordinating both as well.”
Never one to move at a leisurely pace, Mariana has recently had her first week off in nearly a year, but reflects that this last sprint has been atypically busy, even for her. “I went straight from an Architectural Designer at Zaha Hadid to the Director of a new company, with 10 times more responsibilities and 10 times more to prove. My work as a metaverse architect is certainly both ground-breaking and high-pressure, but I’m striving to find balance and very happy to have the time now to come to New Zealand and reconnect with the Teulo community. “I can honestly say that the events I’ve done with Teulo have been the most memorable talks I’ve done. There’s a different dynamic and energy; the respect and admiration they have for their guests are qualities that keep me coming back whenever I am invited to join.”
Mariana will soon brave 30 hours of travel to join Teulo in person at the upcoming ArchiPro Commercial Expo where, she says, attendees can expect to learn how she has transitioned from real-world design to virtual design. “I’ll be talking about the criteria, the tools, the workflow and why is this an important chance for the industry. I feel at home when talking with architects. We speak the same language. At Teulo events, I find that the excitement is contagious and that makes this invitation not just another professional event, but a fully charged one with great positive energy.”
To see Mariana in person in NZ, please register for the upcoming ArchiPro Commercial Expo on the 1st and 2nd November, 2022.