Virtual Develoutopia on Google Maps

In November, I created these absurd 3D virtual collages based on 360° panoramas taken from currently most-discussed building locations in Bratislava. The collages were designed to be experienced in virtual reality during site-specific public happenings, but since the StreetView App tempted me to contribute my panoramas to Google Maps, I couldn’t resist. One was immediately rejected and didn’t make it to public StreetView, but the other one depicting Bratislava Bus Station somehow passed the approval process. Last week the panorama reached over 10k views, and the number is still growing! It’s both beautiful and surreal, how the fiction and reality share the same pin on the map and how also virtual tourists exploring cities via Google Streetview can experience the absurd version of this location.

The public happenings these panoramas were designed for – The Virtual Develoutopia – invited locals to dive in the virtual reality and experience Bratislava “as it should always have been” according to developers. The 360° panoramas are synthesising the visual and verbal language that Bratislava real estate companies use – including specific citations from architectural visualisations, promo videos and slogans of PR texts. The original developer vision deliberately excludes the diversity of the population or urban culture in the new districts and replaces it with cheap attractions such as street food festivals and circus art.

We decided to reverse-engineer the promoted vision and combine the collected symbols and meanings in grotesque 3D collages as obvious parody – as a critical design argumentum ad absurdum. The logic of the argument to absurdity is used here as an accessible form of dystopian speculative design, which manifests a negatively defined vision of a preferable future by positively defining (typically in an amplified way) a future that might be possible but which would be decidedly not preferable. In other words, it hints at preferable future by conversely exposing undesirable futures that might be possible, plausible or even probable. The surreal collage, the juxtaposition of images and the tactics of ambiguity and absurdity aim to disrupt the prevailing narrative of current architecture development, which still presents the vision of non-sustainable progressive growth, out-dated futuristic concepts of luxury and human-centred individualism.