Rubix by
Chris Kelly


This conceptual technology by architecture graduate Chris Kelly would allow individuals to project digital imagery over their perception of reality and then manipulate it like the layers of a Rubik's Cube (+ movie).

Rubix by Chris Kelly

Chris Kelly developed the concept for his graduation project at the University of Greenwich, exploring how flaws in human perception can cause contradictions with reality and how virtual environments can be used to reveal more about a person's surroundings.

Rubix by Chris Kelly

"Our understanding of space is not always a direct function of the sensory input but a perceptual undertaking in the brain where we are constantly making subconscious judgements that accept or reject possibilities supplied to us from our sensory receptors," he says. "This process can lead to illusions or manipulations of space that the brain perceives to be reality."

Rubix by Chris Kelly

The idea is based around the science that the senses gather various streams of data every second, which are then selected or rejected by the human brain. Kelly proposes a digital device that could compile all of these pieces of information and relay them back to the individual within the limits of their physical space.

Rubix by Chris Kelly

"The redirection techniques and the use of overlapping architecture allow the same physical space to hold a much larger virtual space," he told Dezeen.

Rubix by Chris Kelly

Referencing existing virtual reality technologies such as bionic contact lenses and the voice-controlled Google Glass headset, Kelly explains that the technology could be used in endless scenarios.

Rubix by Chris Kelly

"One of the more obvious uses is in the gaming industry. Another possible use is in the architectural design process, where rather than creating fly throughs or models that can be viewed on a screen it would be possible to actually move through a virtual mock up of a design or even work from inside a virtual model whilst editing it in real time," he says.

Rubix by Chris Kelly

Chris Kelly completed the project for Unit 15 of the architecture diploma course at the University of Greenwich, now led by the Bartlett School of Architecture's former Vice Dean Neil Spiller. The unit is a reincarnation of the Bartlett's successful film and animation module, which boasts Kibwe Tavares' award-winning Robots of Brixton project as one of its products.

See more of this year's graduation projects, including a series of towering seaside structures and a shape-shifting ballet school.

Here's a short description from Chris Kelly:


The project was conceived as a complementary exercise to the written architectural thesis Time and Relative Dimensions in Space: The Possibilities of Utilising Virtual[ly Impossible] Environments in Architecture that explores the way in which virtual environments could be deployed within the physical world to expand or compress space. The thesis investigated existing research in neuroscience, psychology and philosophy, which was added to with empirical primary tests, to identify gaps in our perception that lead to a contradiction between our perception and reality. It was found that when moving with natural locomotion, such as walking in a physical space our perception of distance and orientation is incredibly malleable and can be manipulated by replacing the visual sense with a virtual stimulus that differs from what we would experience in reality. This manipulation can take the form of redirection techniques, such as rotation and translation gains and overlapping architecture which result in a stretching or compressing of distances in the virtual environment we see whilst moving through a physical space. This effect creates a TARDIS space which allows vast expanses of virtual worlds to be explored within a small physical space without ever reaching the limits of that space.

The aim of the rubix project was to develop an animation that described a conceptual tool for deploying these malleable virtual environments that could be used by their creators to shift space around us. The rubix concept stemmed from the need for an algorithmic formula for controlling the use of redirection techniques; it allows for many different spatial combinations whilst a level of control is constantly maintained. In the animation the initial Escher-esque space is a representation of our perceptual system where huge amounts of information arrive in the brain from multiple streams. The process of perception involves the brain selecting and rejecting contradicting pieces of information leading to a perception of reality that only gives us glimpses into the world we are in.

The animation represents a journey through the chosen site that was explored during an earlier project which was a stretch of the Docklands Light Railway between Beckton and East India stations. The virtual journey is compressed into 5 minutes using transitional spaces that enclose the explorer whilst the environment shifts around them. The redirection techniques deployed in the film have been exaggerated in some parts to make them more identifiable but as explored in the thesis it is also possible to deploy them subtly so the shifts in the environment would not be perceived. The development of products such as Google Glass and bionic contact lenses at the University of Washington mean it is becoming increasingly possible to overlay virtual information on the physical world. In the future this information could be overlaid so subtly and convincingly that it is possible that distance and space will become increasingly malleable and cavernous virtual spaces could exist within a small physical space, with Doctor Who's TARDIS becoming a perceived reality.

  • Marco Lammers

    I suppose this is the sort of unconvincing utopies by unconvincing utopists that made Oliver Wainwright declare the English school system out of date and sealed off from the reality?

    But I suppose there are people that go wild over this kind of thing.

  • Nick Simpson

    Before it all kicks off here, let’s just remember two things before posting:

    1. This isn’t meant as a normal piece of architecture. This won’t be built. It won’t have made the student any better at designing window details or understanding space and light. It’s a theoretical piece aimed at changing perceptions and looking at the interplay between architecture and virtual technology.

    2. This is the pride and joy of a young architecture student, who’ll be proud as punch to have seen his (very impressive) piece of work on one of the best known design sites on the internet. There’s no need to ruin it for him by posting narky “but you couldn’t build this!!!1!!!one!!” comments.

    • Sam

      Two things:

      1. This is a normal piece of architecture, that won’t be built. Therefore is should be criticised on both its formal and theoretical attributes, given the claims it makes on both counts.

      2. This is the pride and joy of a young architecture student, who voluntarily placed their work in the public domain of snarky comments. To pretend that it should remain safe from criticism because it is a student work is very much on the nose, particularly given the ongoing discussion of architectural education in England. It is a polemical project, it is an aggressive project, it is intended to cause offence to a whole range of practitioners within the architectural profession.

      Sure it’s a half decent animation and whether or not it could be built or not is insignificant, I’ll give you that. However, from what is presented here, and noting that I have a way of judging the neuro-perceptual content, the project itself is conceptually passé and technologically inept. An interesting idea with potential wasted in light caching…

      • Nick Simpson

        No one said that you couldn’t pass comment on it. Feel free. I just thought it might be worth skipping past the usual digs you find in the comments on this sort of project.

        For what it’s worth I’m definitely in the “let’s design things that work in the real world” camp – as my particularly buildable thesis project a few years ago would prove – however that doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate a range of work.

        PS Oooooh, get you and your “way of judging the neuro-perceptual content”. Aren’t you clever?

      • Matt

        Ug – neuro-perceptual? What? I’m sure you’re making a point, but there’s so much unnecessary pseudo-intellectual language thrown around the comments section here, masking insubstantial or at best just very basic arguments.

        I agree about the polemic bit though – at least in the context of architectural education. I’d rather just experience it as a cool piece of work though, rather than getting all negative-like.

  • copycat

    So like inception but no action.

  • Tyler

    Would be a lot cooler if Inception hadn’t come out a few years back.

  • James

    I can understand both arguments being posted in these comments but have taken the time to look at the thesis that backs up this work which is actually a really adept piece of writing, drawing from a range of current sources of research. The written part of the project seems much more convincing than the glossy images or animation which itself seems very abstract when viewed in conjunction with the thesis. Maybe this is a function of our education system and architecture in general that a project is purely judged on its visual merit before people take the time to fully understand the deeper concepts behind it.

    It is clearly not a project that is conceived as buildable in the conventional sense but is a forward looking piece of work (at least in the written form) that challenges the architects that still believe in the current world, saturated by the virtual internet that architecture should be confined to that which is just bricks and mortar. I have to disagree with Sam that it is intended to cause offence however, it seems more like it is projecting an idea of where the virtual could compliment the existing practice of architecture in the future.

  • Colonel Pancake

    On behalf of many I suppose, I’d like to invite Chris to utilise his obvious talents in reality, if he fancies the design challenges it offers in abundance.

  • RDempster

    Haters Gon’ Hate, Potato’s Gon’ Potat.

  • ash

    If the debate is whether these talented, creative and hardworking students can perform in practice then, from firsthand experience I can say that this and other high performing students are equally well performing in a “real” work environment.

    I would suggest that highly motivated students, who produce work to this standard, have done so partly due to the tutorage and environment they are working in. If the worry is that architecture students do not understand the reality of a built project, then maybe we need to look at ourselves as mentors and the environments of our offices?

  • Solie

    Anyone who judges a thesis project based on “buildability” is already off on the wrong foot.

    • dromberg

      …says who? (apart from you that is)

  • Jones

    The problem with this sort of project is that a quick skimming of the abstracts of a couple of research papers is used to provide a flimsy intellectual foundation for a paper-thin “concept” on which to hang some pretty but irrelevant visualisations.

    This is the basic model for a lot of thesis projects, though the word thesis is something of a misnomer, as it would imply something more than a level of intellectual depth that would make a GCSE student blush.

  • john

    So have you actually read the full thesis or just skimmed the abstract yourself to come to that conclusion?