“Since I notice that the uneducated rather than the educated gain favour, I have decided not to compete with the pushiness of ignoramuses, but rather to demonstrate the great value of our discipline by publishing this body of instructions”.
(De Architectura, Bk. 3 Introduction)
Minecraft is a block-building game. In such game, the complexity of architecture and the built environment is reduced to a 1m³ block logic. Remember when all of your problems seemed easy to solve with Lego bricks? Think about a digital Lego. There you have the Minecraft sandbox game, released in 2011 by Swedish game publisher Mojang and now the highest-selling game of all time with over 200 million copies sold worldwide. Mine + craft puts players in a virtual landscape where they can explore and create structures out of cubes with different materials. The “Games Monitor: The Netherlands 1028” reports that the Dutch video game industry is a fast-growing industry, which is becoming more mature and competitive. Dutch consumers are the most active online gaming market in Europe. By the end of 2018 the Dutch game industry consisted of 575 companies and 3,850 jobs. A significant part lies in developing educational games according to Lenting (2019). Overall, there was a total turnover of approximately € 225-300 million in 2018.
Recently the GeocraftNL project modelled the whole Netherlands in Minecraft and invited young people to detail their own streets and houses, and Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Centre for Education and is modelling TU Delft Campus for virtual exploration and meetings. Minecraft now has an educational version for schools and universities, which allows teachers worldwide to use range of different gaming environments in their classrooms. A couple of weeks ago, on November 11th, I conducted a Values-based design Minecraft workshop using the gaming model of the City of Florence for Bachelor students to reach a consensus and redesign the church and museum of Orsanmichele in a role-playing dynamic (Fig. 1). The values and attributes matrix are based on Pereira Roders and Tarrafa Silva and Veldpaus and Pereira Roders. A student gave a feedback by email: “I really enjoyed the workshop this afternoon. Something completely different than all 'usual' Bouwkunde things, but very useful! Thank you for that”.
Gaming is an experimental method to foster creativity and intuition in design thinking process. Gaming is also an inclusive platform that brings together stakeholders into the process of design and decision-making. Moreover, this is what students from the master graduation studio “Heritage4All” are doing in three different locations in the city of Delft: Gele Scheikunde, Kabelfabriek and Prinsenhof. They are being prepared to co-facilitate Minecraft workshops in the first week of December 2020 with real stakeholders facing real architectural and urban heritage problems (Fig. 2).
“Archimedes ecstatically jumped out of the bath without a moment's delay and rushed off home, stark naked, announcing at the top of his voice that he had found what he was looking for, since as he ran along, he shouted repeatedly in Greek 'Heureka, heureka'”.
(Bk. 9 Introduction)
But wait, let’s rewind. There is still a challenge right there. Even today we are still using Nolli’s figure-ground drawings, Lynch’s five elements of imageability and Cullen’s sequential scenes to analyse the city and its transformations. There’s nothing wrong with this, however, there is another layer to the city that seems to have not yet arrived into the way we teach architecture – the cybercity, cyberspace and cyberculture (Lemos, 2004 and 2005; Bell, 2009, Levy, 2001), and a cyberheritage? We ‘check in’ our special places using Foursquare, we measure distances and routings in Google Maps to get there, we post and geo-locate our favourite buildings and public spaces on Instagram, we share it on Facebook and Twitter, we show our new ways of moving (and dancing) around the city on TikTok, we play multiplayer online games with people from all over the world, and we play geo-games such as Pokémon GO, Harry Potter or Ingress on our mobile phones to augment our reality with virtual fictional architectures. How are those being translated in architectural and urban analysis?
“Ropes are tightened up in the same way by means of hand-spikes and windlasses until they sound the same. In this way, by keeping the device taut with wedges, the catapults are 'tuned' to the proper pitch by musical testing”.
(Bk. 10, Ch. 12.2)
Interestingly, Cultural Geography has been including discussions of the impacts of cyberspace on ideas about community, identity, and the public sphere. A new transdisciplinary research agenda has grown up around cyberculture studies with a particular interest in digital ethnography and material-culture analyses. What about the fate of cities? Studies in this field (Bell, 2009) have been proving that new technologies will not lead to the death of cities but are boosting sustainability. Besides Cultural Geography, Landscape Architecture has been experimenting with GIS, for instance through Geodesign (Steinitz, 2012) using spatial layering logic of classics such as Ian McHarg’s “Design with Nature” (1969) and Richard Neutra’s “Survival through Design” (1954).
“The ancient architects, taking their lead from nature, designed the tiers of seats in theatres on the basis of their investigations into the rising of the voice, and tried, with the help of the mathematician's principles and musical theory, to devise ways in which any voice uttered onstage would arrive more clearly and pleasantly at the ears of the spectators”.
(Bk. V, Ch. 4.8)
What about the field of Architecture? It seems like we still teach the same theories, methods and tools as 50 years ago although we are living in the era of digital revolution. In particular, how are we innovating means and methods of teaching and researching heritage? Are we considering and further developing the concept of Digital Heritage? Recently one bright group of students wrote a song as a critique of current museum exhibitions and tourism in Delft that seem to be reducing the complexity of Delft’s heritage into an image. Another equally bright group created a geo-game concept for people to discover the hidden heritage of Delft using their mobile phones. This group went to Sofia's Smuggling: Cross-Border Hunt game testing event which connected eight museums in the Netherlands and Germany, and ended up stealing the show when they shared our method of gaming architecture.
“There is a spring on the island of Cea and those who unwisely drink from it lose their minds; an epigram is inscribed there which says that a drink from the spring is delightful but that whoever drinks from it will end up with the brain of a stone”.
(Bk. 8, Ch. 3.22)
Such examples, and the previous ones discussed, are part of my tenure-track career plan (2020-2026) for education and research on developing the concept of Historic/Heritage Games and applying it for Heritage Planning and Management. I’m developing heritage gaming architecture as experimental design, which relies on two parts: varying design, and assessing its impacts. By the way, Heritage Futures (sustainable use of built heritage, including preservation, conservation and heritage management) is one of the six BK’s research themes for the upcoming years. Hence, we cannot predict heritage futures, but we can co-create them… with games!
“Consequently, since such a wide discipline should be enriched, and overflow with many different kinds of expertise, I do not think that people can justifiably profess themselves architects at the drop of a hat”.
(Bk. 1, Ch. 1.11)
If Vitruvius played Minecraft he probably would say what he already said before (Fig. 3). Architects should develop a range and depth of knowledge and skills that are needed to face complex problems and exercise their profession. We live in the digital era, new languages such as gaming are spoken by millions of youngsters around the world. Until when can we deny that? Until when are we going to underestimate gaming technologies in training new architects?