“…long after current VR headsets become the 8-track of immersive technology.”

Thomas Hirschmann Press

8 track player with Kraftwerk Autobahn

We were recently featured on The Elektric (you can read the article here); if you don’t know The Elektric, it’s a new online magazine that focuses on technology and culture).

We discussed virtual preservation; our project in collaboration with BIG Bjarke Ingels Group and the National Building Museum; how we want to create new interactions between people and place; and what happens after today’s VR becomes obsolete.

Image by Clemens v. Vogelsang, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr

The Multiverse

Thomas Hirschmann Proposals

New York skyline

Our cityscapes are defined by the elevator; they reach skyward because of we have the means to rise rapidly. The faster they rise, the higher we build (or vice versa). But what if there were an elevator that moved horizontally as well as vertically? Well, ThyssenKrupp has designed one. And they just topped out a test tower in Rottweil, Germany (though how they will test horizontal movement in a rather narrow vertical tower is a bit of a mystery).

So, how will the Multi redefine buildings, cities?

Earlier this year we reached out to ThyssenKrupp, proposing to envision the experience of the Multi using virtual reality. How would it feel to ride the Multi looking out over Rottweil, or – with a gesture – London, Shanghai, New York, or Sao Paolo? What if we re-imagined the experience of travel within iconic structures such as the CCTV building in Beijing or the Willis Tower in Chicago. Or travel both within and between adjacent buildings, or across city blocks?

It would have been an extraordinary experience, providing a glimpse of future cities and buildings as reshaped by omni-directional elevators. However, it was a proposal that failed to get off the ground.

Image by Clemens v. Vogelsang, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr

What is the Render-to-Real Ratio?

Thomas Hirschmann Process

BIG West 57 render and construction

Most of the time we’re interested in reality. Sometimes we’ll create a surreal experience or tell a highly fictionalized story, but typically we’re striving to mirror reality as closely as possible as part of our preservation or activation work. This is why we try to do as little rendering as possible, working with 360 capture as a baseline on most projects.

We’ve stumbled across something we refer to as the Render-to-Real Ratio (R:R R?; 3R?). This ratio describes the amount of rendering in a given image relative to the amount of real information captured in a photograph, film or video (our minds have been trained to read these constructs as real). You can see this phenomenon in architectural renderings most clearly. Take any rendered building: where the building is featured quite prominently, the render is apparent – the mind is not fooled; yet when we see a photo that places the building in the distance, the rendering appears almost perfect – it’s hard to differentiate it from the other buildings. Why is this? We believe, rather unscientifically, that the smaller the Render-to-Real Ratio, the more likely the brain will believe the render to be real. In other words, we do not perceive a render that comprises 75% of a photo to be as real as a render of similar quality that comprises 25% of a photo. You can see some examples of this with recent projects by Bjarke Ingels Group and Herzog & de Meuron posted on Dezeen.

Which brings us to virtual reality. When one is completely immersed in a scene, the traditional rectangle that frames an image, still or moving, is exploded. Even a relatively narrow breadth of field in VR is far broader than standard rectangular formats. This reduces the Render-to-Real Ratio even further, making the render appear much more lifelike in VR. The ability to change the vantage point by moving the head increases the effect. We have seen this even with the same piece of 360 footage – viewed in a browser it looks good but viewed in a headset it looks that much better.

So, in sum: more real, less render, go VR.

Image of BIG Bjarke Ingels Group’s West 57 “courtscraper” under construction and with inserted render (based on model by BIG) by The Third Fate


Thomas Hirschmann Press

The Third Fate featured on Archinect Sessions, Session 36

We are excited to have been featured on the July 2 Archinect Sessions podcast, following on the heels of such recent interviewees as Patrik Schumacher from Zaha Hadid Architects and Thomas Heatherwick.

You can listen to us wax poetic here. We discuss: using virtual reality for documentation, preservation, and information; pushing the boundaries of the tech; and creating immersive experiences and stories in – and about – the built environment.

Image of Archinect Sessions 36 by Archinect

How to carry a building in your pocket

Thomas Hirschmann Products

Foster British Museum

Architects, what if you could put one of your buildings in your pocket without creating an unsightly bulge? What if you could invite your prospective clients to travel the world, visiting your structures, without leaving their chairs? What if you could distribute your constructed designs as easily as you hand out a business card?

When we do a 360 capture of a structure it becomes instantly portable. Anyone, anywhere can experience a project as if they were there. We call this a portfolio in the pocket. All you need is a decent smartphone and some fancy folded cardboard.

Image of Foster + Partners’ British Museum addition by The Third Fate

Ghost Serpentine Pavilions

Thomas Hirschmann Proposals

Sou Fujimoto Sperpentine Pavilion 2013

In a Guardian piece last week, Olly Wainwright revealed the afterlives of many of the preceding 15 Serpentine Pavilions. Most are in the hands of private collectors though the first, by Zaha Hadid, is in the hands of wedding guests and fancy dress ball goers as a dilapidated theme park sideshow.

We approached the Serpentine late last year with an idea. We asked: After 15 years and 15 pavilions, what if the question were not so much who’s next, but rather what’s next? How could we create new experiences around the pavilion?

We proposed to capture this year’s Serpentine Pavilion by SalgasCano – which opened to the public today – as an immersive experience; when the pavilion would move on to its next life, its unique spirit would float around the world, as a ghost. The pavilion might pop up at the PS1 courtyard in New York next year or at Ibirapuera Park in Sāo Paulo the following year. Each year we would capture the new pavilion and set it roaming as a virtual experience, until there would be virtual pavilions all over the globe.

As Serpentine Director Julia Peyton-Jone says in the Guardian article: “We like to think the pavilions explore this idea of temporariness and permanence, with each building having an ongoing afterlife in a very different way.”

For now the only way to see many of the old pavilions is by trespassing on private property (not recommended) or throwing a fancy dress ball (also not recommended).

Image of Sou Fujimoto’s 2013 Serpentine Pavilion by Laurance Mackman, CC BY 2.0 via Flickr

All Realities Considered

Thomas Hirschmann Press

NPR Headquarters Washington DC

It was probably inevitable that we’d eventually be featured on NPR’s All Things Considered given the title of the radio program. We just didn’t expect it to be so soon.

The segment aired on June 1 as part of All Tech Considered and was called Tech Startup Harnesses Virtual Reality For Use in Architecture. You can listen to it here. It was part of a larger segment that begins here if you want to listen to the whole thing.

Though we’re described as a tech startup, it’s probably better to think of us as a design studio or creative agency that leverages emerging technologies to tell immersive stories and create immersive experiences. We wrote in a previous post how we’re tech agnostic, leveraging whatever technologies best serve to generate the desired experience.

Still, nice to be considered.

Image of NPR Headquarters in Washington DC by Ted Eytan, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Tech is dead. Long live tech.

Thomas Hirschmann Process


Or, rather: tech in specific is dead; long live tech in general.

Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee at MIT’s Center for Digital Business suggest that we’re in a race against the machine; we’ve crossed a threshold into a new paradigm where technology is expanding exponentially.

The pace of change is so fast now that technology can be outdated in a matter of months (sometimes weeks) rather than years. This speeding up means that while technology is becoming more relevant in general, specific technologies are becoming less so. And the more specific, the less relevant – the iPhone 6 is less relevant than the iPhone in general as it will be replaced by a newer, better iPhone 7 in short order.

We are, in one sense, a tech company as we rely on tech to tell our stories. In another sense, we’re not about tech at all – we’re about content. When we look at people across the world doing interesting experiments with emerging technologies, we find they generally seem to start with the tech and work backward. We work in the opposite direction; we start with the notion of creating really compelling immersive stories and experiences in and about the built environment and work back to the tech, first generally then more specifically.

That’s why we refer to ourselves as technology agnostics. We explore new technologies with a kind of wide-eyed wonder, avoiding easy biases and quick judgements, imagining new storytelling possibilities.

Image of BIG Maze Redux VR experience at the National Building Museum by The Third Fate

Welcome to (ruined) Miami

Thomas Hirschmann Proposals

Miami Marine Stadium, ruin and graffiti

The city of Miami recently announced plans to restore its iconic Marine Stadium. The history of this structure is a tale of two stadiums.

Designed by Hilario Candela, and built in 1963, Miami Marine Stadium became a thriving sports and entertainment venue and an embodiment of the idea and the spirit of Miami. For nearly 30 years, people would flock to watch water sports but also concerts and boxing events staged on floating barges. Hurricane Andrew put an end to all that frivolity. The storm violently struck Florida in 1992 and in the aftermath the structure was declared unsafe.

During the ensuing 23 years, the stadium has fallen into neglect, offering a rather elegant canvas for graffiti artists. We feel that this second stage of its life is relevant, important (we discussed the concept of preserving ruin in a previous post).

We approached the Friends of Miami Marine Stadium with the notion of virtually preserving the stadium as it stands today, capturing the graffitied ruin as an immersive experience.

We suggested that we could construct a time-lapse depicting the transformation from neglected icon to rejuvenated events palace, as well as the reverse. The idea was to create a lighting scheme using projection mapping where the stadium would slowly revert back to a state of beautiful ruin during the course of the night until its lights were extinguished, with daylight again revealing the restored structure.

We also explored the emerging field of immersive livestreaming. We envisioned people in Helsinki, Tokyo, or Mumbai experiencing a live event at Miami Marine Stadium as if they were sitting in the stands, enjoying a regatta or a show, the iconic canopy shading them from the hot Florida sun.

Image by Ines Hegedus-Garcia, CC BY 2.0 via Flickr

Is immersive information the next frontier of data presentation?

Thomas Hirschmann Projects

Cement used in China 5 minutes

Last year, Bill Gates blew some minds with a Tweet about how much cement China used in a 3-year period. The number was 6.6 gigatons which was more – almost 50% more – than the United States used in the previous century (the original source of the data was the book Making the Modern World by Vaclav Smil). Wired even did a quick visualization.

We’ve been thinking a lot about how information relates to the built environment – much of the quantitative information we’re served up on a daily basis has some relationship, especially data that requires scale for understanding. What if we could put that data back into the built environment? What if we could create immersive information?

Scale is often an abstract concept. How much is 6.6. gigatons of cement? Wired rendered it as a giant block against the Chicago skyline but it is so out of human scale that it defies interpretation. So we took the Chinese cement data and made it more bite-sized:

6.6 gigatons = 3 years of cement consumption in China (2011-2013)
1 year = 2.2 gigatons
1 day = 602.2 million tons
1 hour = 250,920 tons
1 minute = 4182 tons

We have designed an immersive information experience of 20,910 tons or 5 minutes worth of cement in one-ton blocks (the still above is just a section of the immersive video which features people walking through the park for scale; 1 block = 1 metric ton or 0.42m squared). It’s a work in progress, but already it’s stunning to experience in virtual reality.

Imagine standing in an urban park for 5 minutes as over 20,000 tons of cement block rain down around you. Heavy.

Render of 20,000+ one-ton cement blocks inserted in image of Toronto’s Downsview Park by The Third Fate

Preserving ruin: the Glasgow School of Art fire

Thomas Hirschmann Proposals

Glasgow School of Art Fire

Earlier today, Guardian architecture critic Olly Wainwright posted photographs of the library and hen run of the Mackintosh building at the Glasgow School of Art as part of #BuildOnMack. After fire tore through the structure last year, the spaces were blackened and charred. Now, while there are still vestiges of the burn, they are mostly just empty. Page\Park Architects has been hired to lead the restoration work.

Last December, when we were working in London, we reached out to the GSA with an idea that we’ve since had more time to think about: preserving ruin. The notion of preserving our significant strutures, or restoring those that have decayed or been damaged, is well entrenched. But what of the idea of preserving structures in a state of decay or ruin? It’s a challenging concept in the real world but virtual technology makes it entirely possible.

The idea at the GSA was to give a 360 video capture rig to the team of forensic archaeologists who were attempting to rescue what they could. The resulting immersive film would have allowed future visitors to stand in the middle of the library or hen run, experiencing the aftermath of the fire – the blackened, charred ruin.

Virtual reality is being touted as a way of generating empathy. Could it also help us connect emotionally with buildings? Or in the case of the Mack to grieve what has been lost? Or is it just the next evolution in our fascination with ruin porn?

Image of Mackintosh’s Glasgow School of Art building by John a s, CC BY-AS 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons