The Metaverse as an urban experimental field
Digital tools, parametric design, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) have become almost indispensable in the context of today's architecture, urban planning and mobility - they are now part of the standard repertoire. Above all, they play a central role in terms of innovation and progress - after all, these tools open up almost limitless possibilities for experimentation. With the Liberland Metaverse, Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA) is currently designing and developing a new project that deliberately focuses on the field of VR. It is a digital twin on a 1:1 scale: The land mass - in this case the fallow no-man's land Liberland, located on the Danube between Serbia and Croatia - forms the basis for the planning as a geographical area, but the architecture itself is located exclusively in the metaverse, i.e. as a digital mass in virtual space.
Liberland Metaverse Master Plan
The design is characterized by a parametric design language: undulating, curved contours form a digital city structure, 4.3 km long, composed of buildings, green spaces and infrastructure. Essential to the Liberland Metaverse's master plan are seven key buildings, among others: a city hall with associated plaza, a DeFi (Decentralized Finance) center with plaza, an NFT center with plaza, and an exhibition center. The buildings are designed as modular variants so that the virtual world can be flexibly adapted to the changing social needs of the visitors:inside. These social necessities and needs also include human-compatible mobility. The digital city is well known in crypto circles and already has over 600,000 inhabitants.
With their master plan for the Liberland Metaverse, Zaha Hadid Architects are developing an impressive virtual world that is striking in terms of its parametric design and futuristic feel. © Render by ZHA
City analogy in virtual reality
ZHA partner and architect Patrick Schumacher is leading the implementation. He is convinced that the metaverse opens up promising new possibilities for the discipline of architecture - and not only in terms of design. Even if physical environments would never become obsolete, virtual environments are equally real, because a social reality exists here as well, according to Schumacher. "The key advantages of virtual environments are their global accessibility and adaptive, parametric malleability. We strive to interweave virtual and physical spaces - and this is also the case with our concept for the Liberland Metaverse," explains Schumacher. Visitors can enter the Liberland Metaverse via the cloud-based Mytaverse platform. As avatars, they can then move spontaneously and freely in the virtual world, for example to exchange ideas, visit an exhibition or develop joint ideas.
A lot has happened since scientists and researchers first developed concepts and technologies to create immersive, computer-generated environments in the 1960s: people can interact in VR with each other as well as with virtual objects and their virtual environment - and the Liberland Metaverse is no exception. "Every design is about designing social interactions. The Metaverse I want to contribute to supports and becomes part of productive social life and an integral part of social production and social reproduction. It enriches society and enables a fulfilling, productive life," Schumacher emphasizes. To generate an analogy to the city, a virtual world would therefore also have to be use-oriented, i.e., geared to innate and learned intuitive cognitive abilities in terms of orientation, wayfinding, and reading subtle aesthetic social atmospheres and situations.
The visitors can move freely as avatars in the Liberland Metaverse and thus explore the versatile places in the digital space - here, for example, the exhibition center can be seen. © Render by ZHA
Virtual sphere as a catalyst for better urban design
Projects like the Liberland Metaverse enable planners to critically question the built construct of the city and its infrastructure. In short, the virtual sphere can contribute to making our cities more future-oriented, more innovative, more sustainable, more needs-oriented and, in the best case, more socially just.