Space Popular virtual portal exhibition

Space Popular designs virtual portal for Sir John Soane's museum exhibition

Architecture studio Space Popular has teamed up with Sir John Soane's Museum in London to create an exhibition that looks at "the magics and mechanics" of virtual travel.

The exhibition, called Space Popular: The Portal Galleries, opens in June 2022 and will present a history of portals in fiction, as well as studies of physical portals in the museum itself and a virtual reality portal.

Space Popular is offering a teaser of the exhibition today as part of its guest editorship for Dezeen 15, a digital festival celebrating Dezeen's 15th birthday.

As part of the festival the studio's takeover, founders Lara Lesmes and Fredrik Hellberg are talking to Dezeen's editor-in-chief Marcus Fairs in a live interview about the increasingly important role of textiles in virtual spaces, which was the focus of a manifesto written by the duo.

Virtual reality portal
A virtual reality portal by Space Popular

Space Popular has worked with the museum on the exhibition since 2018, and the design and layout of the space informed the studio's approach to the project.

"Our understanding of virtual space finds its precedents well before any form of electronic media, going back all the way to frescoes and tapestries," Lesmes and Hellberg told Dezeen.

"We see the Soane as a device that enables the virtual experience of space, not only because of the objects we can find there but how they are contained and displayed," it added.

"Folding walls, reflections, or thresholds full of artefacts, are just some of the numerous types of portals we find in the house museum."

Visitors can "enter a new portal" through museum 

The exhibition will feature a new spatial film that visitors will experience through virtual reality headsets, which will allow them to "enter a new portal" through the museum – though the studio can't yet reveal where this will lead.

According to the studio, the history of the museum, which is located in the house of 18th-century architect Sir John Soane and showcases his belongings and collections, also had an influence on the exhibition subject.

"As an immensely privileged person's private home turned free-museum-open-to-all, the Sir John Soane Museum is also a fitting setting to think about the kind of exclusion and elitism so often seen in fiction, where portals are often used as narrative devices to separate the people who can pass through the portal, and those who cannot," Lesmes and Hellberg added.

Accompanying the virtual portal will be a historical study looking at close to 1,000 examples of portals in fiction, including the wardrobe from The Chronicles of Narnia and the front door of Howl's Moving Castle.

"Many of our most beloved portals are actually used to enable very problematic narratives"

Lesmes and Hellberg said the research for the exhibition made them change their minds about some former favourite fictional gateways.

"Perhaps the most surprising discovery in our study of portals in fiction is that many of our most beloved portals are actually used to enable very problematic narratives of elitism, egomania, racism and colonialism," the studio explained.

"Hence some of our favorites are not our favorites anymore. The majority of portals are, however, incredible makers of blissful magic that are a true joy to imagine."

Though it can only be experienced digitally, the virtual portal that Space Popular is designing for the exhibition has its roots in physical gateways that the studio has come across.

Hellberg and Lesmes believe that referencing existing doorways can help enhance the virtual reality experience.

"The doors, thresholds, portals, et cetera, that we have physically experienced form the basis for any means to move between virtual spaces," the studio said.

"The more we tap into the collective expectation of what a portal might be, the more comfortable and meaningful the virtual experience will be."

Space Popular is one of 15 contributors to the Dezeen 15 festival, which features 15 manifestos presenting ideas that can change the world over the next 15 years.

See the line-up of contributors here and watch the video interview here.

The image is courtesy of Space Popular.

Space Popular: The Portal Galleries will be on show at Sir John Soane's Museum from 29 June til 25 September 2022. See Dezeen Events Guide for an up-to-date list of architecture and design events taking place around the world.