How digital architecture is improving our physical reality

David Harrington
June 8, 2023
“If we create worlds showcasing these advances to improve our lives, that’s what success looks like” — Rebeca Ramos

Venezuelan-born architect Rebeca Ramos founded RARE, an experience-led phygital design studio, to showcase the limitless possibilities that emerging technology offers architecture to further enrich our lived experiences.

Architects craft the environments surrounding us, and in doing so, mould the essence of our lived experiences. But empowered by extended reality and blockchain technologies, one of the world's oldest disciplines alongside some of its youngest innovators finds itself blessed with the opportunity to use technology to transform real physical creations.

One of the architects at the vanguard of that new era is Rebeca Ramos. The Venezuelan designer is pioneering a shift in her profession from what she calls “construction-led growth” to “alternative forms of value creation.” For Rebeca, who has designed everything from healthcare centres to city parks to Google’s offices in both London and San Jose, California, that meant turning the current design paradigm on its head.

The architectural vision behind Google’s Kings Cross office in London, expected to open in 2024.

“The true potential lies not in treating web3 immersive technologies merely as simulations or representations, but in embracing them as unique experiences that foster meaningful dialogue with the real world,” Rebeca explains. After moving to London from Venezuela in 2009, she found work at the intersection of art and architecture. That synthesis has informed her design instinct ever since, mainly during her time at the prestigious design practice, Heatherwick Studio. Today, she leads Studio RARE, her own studio that involves specialists from a diverse range of fields to reshape the way we experience architecture, while also developing an innovative royalty structure that updates compensation for modern architectural creatives.

The fundamental difference between RARE and Rebeca’s previous experiences is what she identifies as a gap between contemporary culture and the long time horizons required to actually build a design. That insight emphasised to her the need for a more agile and responsive approach, an architectural philosophy that embraces the rapidly evolving nature of society and technology.

For Rebeca, that meant embracing digital. “The primary goal of our studio, born from the recognition of this gap between culture and traditional architecture, is to reimagine creative spaces and begin bridging reality,” she explains. “We operate at the intersection of immersive realities and tangible interactive technologies to harmonise various disciplines.”

Rebeca at Maggie’s cancer centre in Leeds, UK, which she designed to foster healing.

To do so, she has brought together specialists from virtual and augmented reality, digital design, and art to revolutionise architectural experiences and push the boundaries of the possible. They draw inspiration from traditional architecture, before leveraging their expertise to reimagine creative spaces and bridge the gap between reality and digital.

“Web3 has opened up new possibilities for seamlessly integrating multiple disciplines, enabling real-time interaction and data collection,” Rebeca explains, noting that many of RARE’s designs will be minted as NFTs and embedded within web3 metaverse platforms. “This allows us to showcase innovative building techniques,” she continues, “while reaching audiences that were difficult to engage with when creating traditional buildings or exceptional architectural pieces.”

It’s not just how a building looks, but how it drives the conversation. 

But what exactly does it mean for the world’s most creative designers, artists, and technologists to work together under the same roof? For Rebeca, the difference is not just in how a building looks, but how it drives the conversation forward. 

“An exceptional piece of architecture with immersive experiences not only presents an opportunity for exciting constructions but also promotes innovation and the development of a new language,” she suggests. “This helps bridge the gap between what's necessary to build in the physical world and the limitless possibilities of the virtual realm.”

“The primary goal of our studio is to reimagine creative spaces and begin bridging reality.”

— Rebeca Ramos

One example of that innovation can be found in RARE’s work to construct a digital experience for fashion brand Alexander McQueen. Studio RARE's World for McQueen merged the mercurial legacy of the brand’s eponymous founder with an immersive virtual experience by uniting the physical showroom with a magical realm. This innovative collaboration showcased the brand's heritage, inspiration, and craftsmanship through interactive workshops and captivating virtual spaces. 

“If we create worlds showcasing these advances to improve our lives, that’s what success looks like.”

— Rebeca Ramos

As we venture into a new, uncharted digital era, cultural leaders will set the tone for what it should look like. Whether our digital world will be one of imagination and diverse creativity, or an ecosystem that fails to embrace the potential of its digital orientation. Innovators like Studio RARE are critical for ensuring a bright future for digital spaces, and Rebeca is aware of the significance of her work beyond her own domain.

“If you consider the broader perspective, it's not just about architecture, but also about bringing together specialists, researchers, and inventors to collaborate on exceptional projects that can make a positive impact around the planet,” she says. “Imagine the impact of groundbreaking innovations in construction and interaction. If we create worlds showcasing these advances to improve our lives, that's the direction RARE aims for and what success looks like.”

Studio RARE brought together fashion designers, metaverse creators, and developers who collaborated to create A World for McQueen.
Studio RARE brought together fashion designers, metaverse creators, and developers who collaborated to create A World for McQueen.
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David is an independent writer working at the intersection of decentralised technology, culture, and commerce. His writing has been featured in media outlets such as Forbes Technology Council and Tech in Asia, and he loves telling unique stories about the transformative potential of web3. His current interests include decentralised science, NFT sports collectibles, and creator-owned economies.