The Design Museum in Kensington has launched a virtual experience that it hopes will bring the consequences of extreme climate change to Londoners and other visitors much closer to home. The so-called Landmarker project has been put together with Snap Inc, an American technology firm that is behind the social media platform Snapchat. It invites visitors to view the museum’s building – formerly the Commonwealth Institute – via a Snapchat filter. This electronic experience is designed to show what an apocalyptic reality awaits West London in the years to come if nothing is done to prevent catastrophic climate change.
An architect named Mariam Issoufou Kamara worked on delivering the project alongside Snap’s artificial reality (AR) technology team. Kamara is a French-born architect of Nigerien descent. Explaining her involvement in the project, she said that for someone whose work usually entail designing for a predominantly desert landscape country, like Niger, the effects of the ongoing climate crisis can already be seen. “We are already [seeing its effects]… all around us with increased droughts, floods and even with the upturn in climate refugees,” she said.
“This collaboration with Snap and the Design Museum has meant that I have been able to explore a future where the climate has altered dramatically,” she said. Referring to what she has designed as ‘a new normal’ in a virtual world, she said that she had initially been drawn to the facade of the museum. “This helped me to explore how the built environment might respond to worsening conditions,” she said. Kamara also said that it also gave her the chance to exemplify how buildings might be put to use in the future so that they could ‘serve new needs’ under fast-changing climatic weather conditions.
As for the AR experience, the app’s filter shows the museum under various conditions. It is possible to see it completely snow-covered, for example, while being pelted by blizzard-like conditions. There again, the filter can also be set to show the West London site in an extreme drought. In this view, the software depicts the museum standing in an arid desert alongside trees that are barely surviving. In this sense, the Landmarker software echoes similar AR projects undertaken in recent times by the Ethnological Museum Of Berlin among other forward-thinking institutions.
The chief curator of the Design Museum, Justin McGuirk, echoed Kamara’s sentiments, stating that her imaginative reimagining of the site’s existing structures ought to be at the heart of any design work that is conscious of the climate crisis, especially in architecture. To help explain this concept better, the virtual filter allows the museum’s visitors to see how building materials may also need to transform to meet the requirements of a changing global environment. The idea was to offer an optimistic insight into how existing buildings and designs can be adapted to the changing demands of their local conditions.
New Design Questions
According to McGuirk, the Snap filter provides a thought-provoking chance to explore how existing structures can feature in the ongoing need for an adequate climate change response. “The imaginative use of existing structures in new ways must be at the heart of a climate-conscious architecture,” he said. The chief curator also added that he thought augmented reality represented a truly engaging way for buildings to be reimagined and to show off what new design ideas might look like.
“We are pleased to… find out more about how the museum’s home might need to be adapted in the future,” McGuirk said. He also said that it was a fine way to celebrate the Design Museum’s anniversary which moved to its Kensington home five years ago. McGuirk also added that the imagined revival of a much-loved landmark building in West London, albeit in a virtual sense, was a great way to keep people focused on what to do about climate change and to visualise alternative futures around it.
About the author – Manuel Charr
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.