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Towards an Architecture of Collaborative Objects

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Towards an Architecture of Collaborative Objects, explores the potential of playing with Collaborative Objects in real, augmented and mixed realities. A multi-player game platform App: VoxelCO, developed by the author, provides a speculative playground to research, the interaction with objects, things and people, as well as provokes new opportunities to engage deeply with its content and context. Furthermore, VoxelCO, reveals new modes of participation, to design and collaborate in real-time with augmented reality, using millennial tools: mobile devices. A case study project, the VoxelStage, offered an opportunity to apply VoxelCO to design a stage together with a group of students. To merge the collaboratively aggregated virtual objects of VoxelCO with reality, real WireCubes were augmented and assembled, proposing an architecture of socially augmented fuzzy formations.
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Towards an Architecture of Collaborative Objects
Alexander Grasser1
1Institute of Architecture and Media, Graz University of Technology
1contact@alexandergrasser.com
Towards an Architecture of Collaborative Objects, explores the potential of
playing with Collaborative Objects in real, augmented and mixed realities. A
multi-player game platform App: VoxelCO, developed by the author, provides a
speculative playground to research, the interaction with objects, things and
people, as well as provokes new opportunities to engage deeply with its content
and context. Furthermore, VoxelCO, reveals new modes of participation, to
design and collaborate in real-time with augmented reality, using millennial
tools: mobile devices. A case study project, the VoxelStage, offered an
opportunity to apply VoxelCO to design a stage together with a group of students.
To merge the collaboratively aggregated virtual objects of VoxelCO with reality,
real WireCubes were augmented and assembled, proposing an architecture of
socially augmented fuzzy formations.
Keywords: Collaborative Objects, Augmented Reality, Realtime, Fuzzy, Play
Introduction to Collaborative Objects
“Technology has already transformed our lives, bring-
ing together people, ideas, and information in unimag-
inable ways. We’re hard at work in a new technolog-
ical chapter that connects the digital world with real-
ity”(Niantic 2019), a statement by Niantic, a company
that recently blurred the boundary of what is digi-
tal or real on a massive scale. The expertise of Ni-
antic, developed among others from being involved
in creating project Keyhole, which later evolved to
Google Earth. Further on they developed their first
geo-location based mobile game Ingress which al-
lowed the users to claim virtual territories in the real
world as well as enabled them to create content, doc-
umenting and mapping the real world and merging
it with the virtual game. Building up on the collected
data of Ingress, in 2016, Pokemon GO launched like
a rocket, leading in the app charts for the follow-
ing years. Besides the geo-location implemented
in the game, advanced social concepts to collabo-
rate, trade and raid, as well as augmented reality
were introduced, mixing the realities of the game
content. As Mario Carpo suggests, “Every technology
is a social construction: innovation only occurs when
technical supply matches cultural demand, and when a
new technology and new social practices are congruent
within the same techno-social feedback loop.”(Carpo
2017, p.159)
I argue that social network platforms, enabling
interaction with digital or real content, objects and
people, as well as a technology like augmented real-
ity allow for new forms of collaboration in architec-
ture to emerge. It’s time for architecture to inves-
tigate those ‘unimaginable ways’ to bring together
people, ideas, information and objects. Therefore
Collaborative Objects are introduced as conceptual
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Figure 1
Millennial Tools to
play VoxelCO at
Augmented
Playground
framework for the interaction between human to ob-
ject, as well as object to object, in real or virtual envi-
ronments and playgrounds towards an architecture
of socially augmented fuzzy formations.
Being Collaborative
When Nicholas Negroponte portrayed our near fu-
ture as, “The middle ground between work and play will
be enlarged dramatically. The crisp line between love
and duty will blur by virtue of a common denomina-
tor - being digital”(Negroponte 1996, p.220), we have
to admit that we are not yet ‘digital’, but I would
suggest we are close to ‘Being Collaborative’. En-
abled by the Internet and diffuse mobile devices, so-
cial network platforms and other forms of peer to
peer production, together, empowered a culture of
collaboration. As we recently learned again with
Pokemon GO, a massively multi-player online game
(MMO), “play is the central element through which cul-
tures enact itself.”(Bogost 2016, p76) MMO’s enable
players to connect to a main server, to get access
to the game’s digital playground. The server pro-
vides what’s called a persistent game environment,
a mechanism to ensure that the digital world map,
all the changes a user makes to it, as well as the
progress a player makes, is stored properly. This al-
lows the digital playground to be a collaborative en-
vironment where users can interact with each other,
with objects and their environment. Furthermore
those open world games, with non linear play, enable
in-game culture to emerge. Critically regarding con-
temporary production of architecture, there might
be a shift towards social collaboration in the design
process, as Jose Sanchez puts forward, from “growing
form and producing differentiation by a omnipresent
designer, the democratization of tools and the collab-
orative commons searches for massive social recombi-
nation, allowing differentiation not to be designed but
to emerge from the interplay of resources and social in-
novation.”(Sanchez 2014)
Playing with Collaborative Objects
Galit Ariel, offers some basic principles to explore our
current reality:“We learn about our reality through ex-
ploration observation and play. (Ariel 2017, p.170) Ex-
ploration and observation are quite familiar in our re-
ality of efficient architectural design and education,
but usually there is not much serious or non-serious
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Figure 2
Virtual Voxel-
Formations at
Augmented
Playground, mobile
phone gameplay
screenrecordings
@VoxelCO
play involved. To collaborate and to play with clients,
colleagues, students, objects and discrete units of-
fers a huge potential as soon as we look at it, the
way Ian Bogost is looking at play:“Play is in things,
not in you.”(Bogost 2016, p.91) To play with Collabo-
rative Objects in real, augmented and mixed realities
we need to engage with them deeply until they re-
veal their capacities, potentials and something new.
A familiar platform enabling interaction, collabora-
tion and play: the playground, offers the potential
to re-frame architecture in a speculative way. As Ian
Bogost mentions “it’s content is real - but the frame
of a playground helps make the real world partly fic-
tional. It wraps an imagined boundary around some-
thing, allowing us to suspend temporarily our ordinary
relationship with it as ground and to see it new as fig-
ure.”(Bogost 2016, p.87)
By deliberately working and engaging with ob-
jects and things on a playground we might encounter
some of their hidden capacities, as Bogost puts it:
“Fun is the feeling of finding something new in a famil-
iar situation.”(Bogost 2016, p.6) Collaborative Objects
are trying to find those moments of fun in a familiar
architecture.
VoxelCO
Toresearch the potential of engaging with Collabora-
tive Objects, the App ‘VoxelCO’ was developed by the
author. A collaborative multi-player platform, trans-
reality game, cross-platform suitable for PC, IOS and
Android. VoxelCO is based on a simple game logic
of allowing players to place or remove virtual voxels
to a persistent game environment. Furthermore Vox-
elCO allows for collaborativelyplaying and displaying
the interaction with objects in real-time using aug-
mented reality on mobile devices. As described by
Galit Ariel: “As consequence of applying Augmented
Reality our physical environment (and reality) would
become a Sandbox platform - allowing users to freely
manipulate and apply digital content within it.”(Ariel
2017, p.125) , VoxelCo’s social augmented reality pro-
vides a playground for intensive collaborative inter-
action with real and virtual content and players. As
well as provides a tool to deeply engage with Collab-
orative Objects. The potential that Negroponte iden-
tified in the pixel, “The real power of the pixel comes
from its molecular nature, in that a pixel can be part of
anything,”(Negroponte 1996, p.125) shifts in VoxelCO
from 2D to 3D, from pixel to voxel. The voxel, a dis-
Design - COLLABORATION AND PARTICIPATION - Volume 1 - eCAADe 37 / SIGraDi 23 |327
Figure 3
Virtual Voxel-
Formations at
Digital Playground
@VoxelCO
crete unit, or simply the box is a familiar object in
architecture to play with, to aggregate socially aug-
mented fuzzy formations.
Collaborative Playgrounds
To play the game, players start the app VoxelCO,
choose a player-name, and by pressing ‘collaborate’
they connect to the server and join a design session
‘the digital playground’. At the digital playground,
players can always instantiate new voxel by placing
them in close proximity of visible faces of other vox-
els, immediately becoming the owner of that voxel.
Players can only destroy their own voxels, but as
soon as a player gets offline the ownership of his
voxels get transferred to all the other players cur-
rently online, allowing them to rearrange or remove
those voxels. It is possible for players to re-join a
design session. Players can save the current Voxel-
Formations, share them, as well as load and animate
the instantiation sequence of previously saved Voxel-
Formations to further rearrange, add or remove vox-
els. A game mode challenging ownership as Cathy
Casserly wrote, “People used to think of reuse as
stealing: today, not letting others use your work can
mean irrelevance.”(Ratti 2015, p.86) To further open
up the collaborative digital design process, the game
uses augmented reality to blur the digital and the
real. In order to place a new voxel at a desired po-
sition, the players have to move around the virtu-
ally placed voxels, displayed on their mobile devices.
A sense of scale, by interacting locally with parts as
well as the whole gets real, as well as reveals the
constraints of the game, a limitation of the height
of the Voxel- Formation, as you can’t place a voxel
if you can’t see the voxel- surface you want to ac-
cess. Furthermore social collaboration of real world
players gets meta-interactive, as its turn based game
design evokes reflection, as Ian Bogost mentions on
abstract games, “The player must always intervene
to make the next move, offering an opportunity to
reflect on the enormity of the task, a requirement
of sublimity.”(Bogost 2009) The trans-medial fluidity
of the collaborative design session becomes visible
when a player is leaving the digital playground, but
is still visible in the real playground able to reflect,
interact and collaborate with the other participating
players.
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Figure 4
Virtual
Voxel-Formations +
Augmented
WireCube-
Formations at
Augmented
Playground
@VoxelCO
Design - COLLABORATION AND PARTICIPATION - Volume 1 - eCAADe 37 / SIGraDi 23 |329
Figure 5
VoxelStage at
Augmented
Playground
VoxelStage
To apply the research of Collaborative Objects, a five
day workshop with 20 bachelor students and the
commission to design a modular stage for a festi-
val offered a great opportunity to develop collabo-
ratively a case study project, the ‘VoxelStage’. The
workshop explored the potential to merge the digital
game of VoxelCO with our physical environment, as
Carlo Ratti proposed “The kernel of architecture exists
as data, is honed by a distributed sequence of adding
and editing, and finally culminates in a physical struc-
ture - the execution of code in space.”(Ratti 2015, p.109)
The workshop was designed to teach the concept
of developing a real-time multi-player platform with
it’s simple design logic, as well as to teach how to
deploy the app on their mobile phones in an effi-
cient way. Focusing on enabling the students to start
playing with VoxelCO and to develop collaboratively
virtual design proposals for the VoxelStage. Groups
of 5 to 20 students designed at the real-time digital
playground, as well as at the augmented playground,
moving around to add or remove voxels, debating,
arguing, designing and instantiating between 100 to
1000 voxels per design session. A Metaverse of Col-
laborative Objects emerged. To execute the code
in space, transferring the virtual VoxelStage to the
real, students had to place real voxels, in our case
WireCubes(40*40*40 cm) were provided. By using
VoxelCO’s function to load a instantiation sequence
of a Voxel- Formation, loading one voxel after an-
other, augmented reality provided a virtual overlay
guiding mechanism to place the Wirecubes in our
physical world, accelerating the assembly of stack-
ing and connecting. The design sessions, alternated
between playing with and aggregating virtual vox-
els in augmented reality, testing design options at
the augmented playground, as well as analogue de-
sign sessions collectively aggregating the WireCubes
to test their limits at the real playground. While play-
ing and testing the platform VoxelCO to design the
VoxelStage, adaptations and revisions of the applica-
tion where made if needed. For example, disabling
the ability to remove a voxel in design sessions was
necessary, as it was sometimes not possible to re-
move a WireCube easily from a real WireCube- For-
mation without removing some neighboring Wire-
Cubes. Which as a side effect gave the instantia-
tion of the virtual voxels more relevance and value.
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Figure 6
VoxelStage
Design - COLLABORATION AND PARTICIPATION - Volume 1 - eCAADe 37 / SIGraDi 23 |331
Furthermore, multiple design sessions with different
constraints provoked different game strategies and
modes of collaboration to emerge. From the fist ac-
cess to the multi-player digital playground where the
students came up immediately with 6000 instanti-
ated virtual voxels, to design sessions with the goal
of instantiating 400 virtual voxels, to design Meta-
Voxel-Formations of 20-40 virtual voxels as well as to
build their related real WireCube- Formations.
VoxelCO framed a playground to mix and blend
reality to deeply engage with Collaborative Objects.
A collaborative design process similar to what Ian Bo-
gost describes “Most often, puzzles are entirely concep-
tual in form, with concreteness a mere accident of pre-
sentation.”(Bogost 2009)
Notes on the Metaverse
of Collaborative Objects
As the range of skills involved in setting up the game
platform, deploying it to the phones, as well as to
play the game, to connect the WireCubes and socially
collaborate, with the goal of ending up with a sub-
lime VoxelStage, I quote again Nicholas Negroponte
describing a child being interviewed during a Lego
Mindstorms Hackathon at MIT saying:“Yes, this is fun,
but it’s hard fun.”(Negroponte 1996, p.196), along with
a response to the introduction quote by Niantic I re-
ply, as architect, “We’re hard at work in a new techno-
logical chapter that connects the digital world with re-
ality.”(Niantic 2019)
Acknowledgments
VoxelCO Design, Development: Alexander Grasser
VoxelStage Collaborators: Alexandra Parger
(NanaDesign), Anna Brunner (Fifteen Seconds)
VoxelStage Tutors: Alexander Grasser, Alexandra
Parger, Eszter Katona, Kristijan Ristoski
VoxelStage Students: Nadina Bajric, Emir Dos-
tovic, Dijana Imsirovic, Jelena Josic, Larisa Kolasinac,
Anela Mikic, Inas Dizarevic, Fabian Jäger, Matea
Kelava, Bianka Marjanovic, Sali Ren, Sarah Salkovic,
Anela Smajlovoic, Mirna Vujovic, Fabian Rigler, Cor-
nelis Backenköhler
REFERENCES
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332 |eCAADe 37 / SIGraDi 23 - Design - COLLABORATION AND PARTICIPATION - Volume 1
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This project proposes a realtime architecture platform. It's based on previous research on collaborative architecture (Grasser 2019) as well as research on combinatorial design (Sanchez 2016), digital architecture (Carpo 2013), and discrete mereologies (Koehler 2019). The platform was applied in a design studio at the Institute of Architecture and Media at Graz University of Technology with 20 Masters students. Due to restrictions of the global pandemic, we worked in a distributed mode of telepresent teaching. The implementation of this new working method further accelerated the focus on digital collaboration in architecture. Using the platform to collaborate in real time, the Collab Wood prototype was designed and realized.
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This year's conference theme`Towards a new configurable architecture`, provides a good starting point for reappraising and reapplying previous concepts of Configuration' in architectural design. The concept reappears often, but was particularly powerful whenever new computational tools and architectural concepts emerged and revealed strong synergies. In the 1960ties there was such a moment when configuration's pluralistic properties embraced architectural concepts of structuralism and early computing. Therefore this paper looks back at previous concepts of configuration to identify capacities that could inform current synergies of computational tools, such as open platforms, and architectural concepts of the second digital turn in architecture. The way we communicate, access, and exchange information recently accelerated towards realtime sharing of data, bits & pieces, and experiences. Open platforms that enable user-generated content and collective production of value are becoming more common in design. This paper discusses ways in which this collective content production can enable a computational and human-centric architecture, by reappraising previous concepts of configuration such as: open configurations, latent structures and variable infills.
Augmenting Alice: the future of identity, experience and reality
Ariel, Galit 2017, Augmenting Alice: the future of identity, experience and reality, BIS Publishers Bogost, Ian 2009, 'Puzzling the Sublime', Accessed December 10. tinyurl.com/y6x8saot
Play Anything: the pleasure of limits, the uses of boredom, and the secret of games, Basic Books Carpo
  • Ian Bogost
Bogost, Ian 2016, Play Anything: the pleasure of limits, the uses of boredom, and the secret of games, Basic Books Carpo, Mario 2017, The Second Digital Turn: Design Beyond Intelligence, MIT Press Negroponte, Nicholas 1996, Being Digital, Vintage Books Niantic, Inc. 2019, 'The Niantic Story', Accessed January 20. www.nianticlabs.com/about
  • Carlo Ratti
Ratti, Carlo 2015, Open Source Architecture, Thames & Hudson Ltd
Post-Capitalist Design: Design in the age of access
  • Jose Sanchez
Sanchez, Jose 2014, 'Post-Capitalist Design: Design in the age of access', in Gerber, David Janson and Ibañez, Mariana (eds) 2014, Paradigms in Computing: Making, Machines, and Models for Design Agency in Architecture., eVolo Press