Immersion : a framework for architectural research

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Carter, J. Parkman
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Electronic thesis
Architectural sciences
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Architecture represents the quintessential art and science of immersion. But what exactly is meant by the term immersion has become broadly diffused. Today, anything capable of holding our attention long enough to stall a scroll or swipe might be described as immersive. Proponents of recent media platforms such as VR/AR/MR/XR would have us believe that immersion simply refers to mediated envelopment, to the extent that the technologies placed between our perception and the world can stand in for reality itself. But there are other forms of immersion with deeper history and relevance to architecture, such as language education and cultural immersion programs where direct engagement with others, with site, and with genius loci provide far more meaningful and lasting experiences than those produced by the typically brief and isolated experiences conjured within head-mounted displays. This research sets out to establish a theoretical framework for immersion which is productive specifically for architectural research purposes. Interaction in this context refers to the discursive potentials for shared experience among research and design collaborators, rather than to the tethering between humans and devices. The architectural epistemologies entrenched in various modes of representation will be explored and evolved, with the goal of putting full 1:1 scale multimodal simulations within reach of designers and researchers. There are a number of technical issues to understand and resolve in order to make immersive research effective, and a core tenet of this project is to focus on “performative research” strategies, whereby tools and skills already familiar to architecture practitioners and students are used to optimize systems for immersion. In this way, discipline-specific techniques are leveraged and extended, accelerating researchers’ technical grasp and, most importantly, allowing them to focus on content – the issues of space and place addressed in the practice of architecture. The theoretical framework and technical methods developed here are deployed in two specific research applications involving sites with significant sonic histories, but which have become inaccessible to the public. Immersive representations of these culturally important sites provide a means for multiple participants to experience and under-stand the unique formal and environmental qualities, thus demonstrating the value and urgent need to evolve our conventions of architectural representation.
August 2019
School of Architecture
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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY
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