Re-Imagining Coral Reefs

John Zhang, Ben Williams (UCL/ZSL), and Jason Lynch (UCL/ZSL)

Funded by Quentin Hogg Trust

RE-IMAGINING CORAL REEFS is a cross-disciplinary collaboration between architecture researchers, design students and marine biologists to explore VR and the metaverse as critical design tools to communicate vital climate science to a wider audience.

As vital ecosystems that sustain 30% of all ocean species, efforts to understand and preserve coral reefs constitute a critical endeavour that brings together scientists, designers, local communities, NGOs and governments. However, these viscerally rich environments and the multi-sensory data gathered from them are typically represented through conventional media. Consequently, the emotive and uplifting efforts to protect coral habitats are lost to the public, under the dominant climate narrative of doom and gloom. Meanwhile, discourse in virtual reality (VR) and the metaverse – the very tools and environments that are capable of creating multi-sensory experiences – are dominated by conversations around gaming and social networking.

Using digital tools typically deployed in architectural practice and spatial design, this project bridges this gap. Field data collected from coral reefs in Indonesia is transformed into an immersive and interactive VR environment, through which the public can experience healthy, degraded and re-imagined coral reefs. Co-created by architecture researchers, marine biologists and students, these digital and virtual investigations are accompanied by explorations in 3D-printed prototypes, with the project development process captured on film.

In exploring VR and the metaverse as a new medium to represent climate data, the project aims to bring different strands of coral research together in a single accessible scientific call for action. As a creative practice, the project investigates the capacity of the metaverse as a space to explore non-human perspectives in the representation of climate science, from where designers and scientists can collaborate and co-create, giving form to the emotive impetuses that underscore scientific endeavours.

MORE is a part of Open Studio project run by the School of Architecture + Cities at the University of Westminster to make its design, research and practice-based work available online while it is happening.

University of Westminster is a charity and a company limited by guarantee. Reg no. 977818 England.