When designing a building or a space, some of the first questions that need to be answered include: How is this space intended to be used? How will people first enter the space? What direction should people flow going in and out? How will natural light help to illuminate various areas and will that change the experience depending on the time of day?

What’s interesting is that these questions are the same whether designing a space in the physical world—IRL (in real life), as the kids say—or in a virtual one.

As video game technology continues to advance at blinding speeds, so too is the need for in-game environments to become more engaging, and to look as real as possible. That’s where architects and designers come in. They are increasingly called upon to provide insights into how physical beings interact with spaces. Although real-world projects have their contextual environments already pre-built, architects and designers still design elements that are aesthetically pleasing as well as functional for their end users—just like what video game designers strive to achieve.

Architects and designers are also expanding their works and representations of work into virtual environments—a space that video game designers have well occupied and crafted into immersive and highly interactive experiences. In the last 25 years, they have developed gaming into one of the top revenue and growth industries in the world, in part, because the virtual/gaming industry continues to advance the look, realism and fidelity of these environments year over year. (Perhaps one day, they will nearly equal the experience of the physical world!)

Lessons learned and technology developed from video game infrastructure can provide a valuable expansion of the skills and capabilities architects and designers use to produce content in the virtual space. Designers in both industries employ similar logic, reasoning, problem-solving, tools, and creative skills in the execution of their crafts.

Words like form, function, entry, exit, promenade, circulation, line of sight, perspective and plan are common words architects and designers use in the thought and organization of their works. Yet the ideas behind these terms are not unique to physical spaces. In video games, the plan becomes a level, the perspective becomes a vista, promenade and circulation become, lanes and field of view (FOV).

When it comes to educational spaces, in particular, creating a realistic 3D representation of classrooms could have a huge impact on how students feel when engaging in remote learning or nontraditional instruction. Instead of sitting and staring at a computer screen, each student could wear a set of 3D goggles that allow them to engage with the classroom from all angles.

Consider this hypothetical situation: What does a physical classroom space actually need, if 30% of students attending are virtual? What does the virtual classroom need in order to maximize the student’s ability to engage with their physical counterparts? What tools can be made available to teachers to help them customize that experience for their students?

This simple but forward line of thinking is an exciting question for me as a designer, as it broadens the scope, flexibility, and individuality of both student and teacher. It expands the boundaries of what designers can do and it adds value to our education system. Learnings and key takeaways from scenarios like this can help future clients in any of SHP’s studios: education, workplace and community. For example, thanks to the lingering COVID-19 pandemic, the need for virtual meeting spaces is as important as ever. Even in a future state where the need to socially distance isn’t as great, the new “normal” for many office workers has become a hybrid of virtual and in-person work.

As the need and usefulness of virtual spaces continue to grow, architects and designers must expand our ability to make these environments as interactive and flexible as their IRL counterparts. We must look towards the future and continue to bridge the gap between the virtual and the physical in our project delivery. A marriage of architects and designers and video game developers could usher in a new way of interacting whether at work, in school or at play.

While it’s uncertain what the future will hold in terms of how we interact with one another, our deepening relationship with the gaming industry will only increase our ability to leverage the best aspects of both disciplines for the ultimate benefit of our clients and the world at large. That future in the field of architecture and design is one that I am very excited to be a part of.