Forget all that concrete and steel, all that expensive construction. As the designs for key buildings for the millennium show, the future may be virtual

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The Independent Culture
`Virtual Buildings: The Secret of Millennium Success". This is the headline of a press release from Hayes Davidson Ltd, a company that, since it was founded in 1989, has "built over 1,000 virtual buildings". What is a virtual building and why is it the secret of "Millennium Success"? In simple terms, it is a building still on the drawing board brought to life by "state-of-the-art 3D computer software". It offers architects, clients and the public a chance to see a building, and even to walk through it, long before the foundations are laid. Hayes Davidson have used the technique very effectively to show us what certain key buildings planned for the millennium will look like, among them Richard Rogers' new-look South Bank Centre, the space-capsule-style media stand at Lord's cricket ground designed by Future Systems, the British Airways' Millennium Wheel which will turn in sight of the Houses of Parliament and - another Rogers project - the Millennium Dome at Greenwich.

Without doubt, the design of these virtual buildings has helped them win Lottery funding. Say farewell to reading-difficult-architects'-plan misery with the arrival of the Hayes Davidson virtual building. The best architects have long suffered by being unable to present their ideas convincingly to visually illiterate commissioning and planning committees or to the public at large. Many have railed against commissioning artists to draw perspectives of proposed buildings because they feel this is to demean their work. Of course, it isn't: it's simply how architects feel. The problem has long been compounded by an inability, or unwillingness, to explain plans for new buildings in clear-cut English. Many architects still hide behind an impenetrable facade of pseudo-academic jargon, believing perhaps that the more intellectual a proposal sounds, the more sophisticated the design.

This is nonsense and always has been. Truly successful architects have the ability to think arcane thoughts about a new design in private and to present simple ones in public. They make their designs appear natural and inevitable. No one is asking them to behave like sales reps or to make slick presentations. They are often at their worst when they do so. But if they can excite and woo their audience with the right words and images, their domes and stands, wheels and centres may well get built.

The Hayes Davidson technique has clearly worked. Perhaps it could now be taken a stage further and used to create full-scale 3D images of proposed buildings. Perhaps it could be used to change the facades of existing buildings, so that a dull block of perfectly sound offices or flats might appear to us in the guise of a Moorish palace one week, a Bladerunner fantasy the next. After all, many architects are employed to do little more than design the wallpaper-thin facades of new commercial buildings. Why not take this a stage further and have them work with computer software designers on programs that will let a thousand styles bloom?

The final step would be to create a virtual building in lieu of the real thing, to build a millennium dome of air and light and not to bother at all with concrete and steel. This way we could make mistakes without having to live with themn

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