Urban/image: Conceptualizing Amsterdam as urban environment in virtual renderings

Linda Kopitz in European Journal of Cultural Studies

This article proposes that virtual renderings of speculative architectural projects provide a crucial entry point into the reimagination of sustainable urban life through the production of nature(s) within the city. Drawing on case studies of ‘sustainable’ building projects in and around Amsterdam, The Netherlands, I aim to trace the entanglement of virtual and real environments in imagining green futures. With the concept of the ‘render ghost’, James Bridle situates the people inhabiting virtual renderings ‘in the liminal space between the present and the future, the real and the virtual, the physical and the digital’ (2013). Similarly, the imaginations of nature within virtual renderings of sustainable buildings are situated at a point of in-between, a constant state of becoming. More than just visualizing their respective architectural design, the virtual renderings visualize these designs in a specific space, a specific environment – and how that environment could and would change through the spatial presence of these buildings. What makes these immaterial elements – ranging from computer-generated images to virtual renderings and augmented reality applications – particularly productive as research objects is the subjective nature of the atmosphere created in and through them, an atmospheric imagination of sustainable futures embedded in what Degen et al. call a ‘field of negotiation, tension and ambivalence’ (2017). Atmospheric in their imagination of urban environments, contingent in their temporality between the past, the present and the future, and ambiguous in their spatial grounding in simultaneously specific and generic surroundings, virtual renderings arguably allow for an engagement with the possibilities of alternative urban futures.

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