Barbecana is a speculative project exploring the radically transformative potential of augmented reality on the built environment. Set in the Barbican Estate, it was made by Bartlett School of Architecture student Ed Mascarenhas as part of his work for Unit 24, a module seeking a critically and politically engaged role for the architect. An immersive augmented reality game, it destabilises and blurs the spatial temporal nature of the site, questioning the relationship between play and architecture. The project also focused on the effect hyper-real computer games have on the experience and design of cities.
Why did you choose to locate your game in the Barbican Estate?
The Barbican Estate was part of a grander 1960s scheme to connect the entire of London via elevated walkways. This was a romantic idea that the city could be formed into levels, ground level for all vehicle movement and a raised level for pedestrians. The area directly surrounding the Barbican itself has these elevated walkways, which are very underused for a central London location. It is a very unique space that is completely undervalued, and is suited to re-appropriation without physically transforming it. That is the essence of the project, the ability for augmented reality to be more then a simple graphical overlay, to speculate on how such technologies could be used to radically transform the atmosphere of the built environment without physically altering the space.
How does Barbecana comment on contemporary design and construction trends?
Barbecana is a game about conquest, the basic rules are to use your architectural elements pack to control the board by building the longest bridges. This is also a metaphor for how current building trends are in the city of London. Architects battle it out everyday for their visions of the built environment to be made reality. These battles produce areas which are saturated with architectural language as each architect produces and designs forms and idioms that attempt to stand out on their own rather then sing together.
What's the potential of augmented reality in architecture?
In its current condition as shown through equipment like 'Google Glass', augmented reality is just an informative graphical overlay. I believe that with the advancements in hyper-real computer generated imagery; augmented reality has the potential to completely transform the atmosphere of a built space without physically altering it. It could add a hidden and highly personalised layer to the city, causing people to move through and view it in entirely different ways. A simple example could be that it can also open up completely unused areas by re-appropriating the spaces.
Do you think computer games influence the design and experience of built architecture?
There is no exact answer, because it is a highly personal and subjective experience. The best way to explain would be to say that it is similar to the way films and literature have influenced the experience and design of the built environment. In the coming decades, the influence of computer games is set to become more and more prominent, which is clear by simply seeing how in recent years the computer games industry has eclipsed movie and literature industries in size, worth and popularity.
Video by Ed Mascarenhas
Text by Lowenna Waters