From Hybrid Spaces to “Imagination Cities”
Digital and physical space are already profoundly entangled in contemporary cities due to the pervasive use of new digital technology. We explore the experiential implications of the potential next step of this development: we discuss the consequences of augmenting public urban places with immersive, large-scale digital layers realized with cutting-edge virtual reality (VR) technologies. These technologies enable experiences that are inherently spatial, immersive and visceral; therefore, they differ considerably from the digital technologies currently used in public urban places. We concentrate especially in imaginative aspect of VR as a medium.The empirical context for the study is provided by a novel digital design artefact, the Virtual Library, whose design process was guided by a design anthropological approach and executed with methods drawn especially from Participatory Design (PD). The design of the application was a long-term collaborative process executed with the Oulu City Library in 2016–2018. As the final design outcome, the physical library building was modelled into a detailed 3D virtual mirror world that was extended with a virtual fantasy layer having no direct counterpart in the real world. With research data collected from the use of Virtual Library, we explore the experiential implications of interlacing public urban places with imaginary digital layers.The Chapter arrives at the notion of “imagination city”, based on the concept of “imagination age”. The latter refers to a period that supposedly follows the information age; in this period, creativity and imagination become the central drivers of economic value. The notion is also connected to the promises of emerging technology, such as VR, which is forecast to change the ways of human beings interacting with each other and with their environment. Extending from our findings with Virtual Library, we discuss the experiential and also societal implications of imaginary digital layers such as the fantasy layer of our Virtual Library becoming more commonplace in future cities. Could the smart city, often understood as a result of the information age, be heading towards becoming an “imagination city”? We also point out some limitations and potential future directions of this speculative development.