Portmanteau Worlds: Hosting Multiple Worldviews in Virtual Environments


Session Title:

  • Digital Narratives & E-Literature

Presentation Title:

  • Portmanteau Worlds: Hosting Multiple Worldviews in Virtual Environments




  • In their intention to persuade (or sell), conventional representations of architectural proposals often hide conflicting opinions, discourage participation and cull desirable possible futures. Dissatisfied with this situation, this paper considers a different approach to architectural storytelling. This approach aims to emphasize co-presence of multiple voices, disclose power relationships, demonstrate lines of resistance and present existing or possible places as politically charged networks of enacted relationships. Motivated by the capabilities of interactive narrative, cinematic mediation and role playing, the paper considers polyphonic potentials of screen-based game-like interactive virtual environments. Such environments can enforce preconceived worldviews as blatantly as any others. However, generative capabilities of computational media can also support simultaneous construction of multiple emergent interpretations. Can the co-presence of multiple reconfigurable narratives better represent multiple heterogeneous stakeholders? The paper considers this question in an innovative multi-media environment, called Virtual Braunstone, which was constructed for the Design Excellency unit of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service. This virtual environment attempted to consider a specific place – a health and community centre – as a conglomeration of embodied stories. In the case of Virtual Braunstone, these stories referred to particularly tense relationships given the location of the centre in a highly disadvantaged neighbourhood with generations of unemployment and high crime rates. The task of designing for this environment (the old centre was burnt down by the locals) brought together multiple stakeholders with different agendas that could not fit into a uniform propagandistic template. In attempting to incorporate this dynamic multiplicity of worldviews and behaviours, the Virtual Braunstone project implemented several artistic and technical innovations. While its practical implementation is just one of many possible approaches, its design and utilisation provide a fertile ground for the discussion of how power, politics, protest and resistance can (or cannot) be represented and enacted through new media.