VR living in the Wielewaal (WIP)

The project, titled “VR living in the Wielewaal“, employs Virtual Reality to create an interactive archive of people, stories and places that were uprooted and removed from their physical location in the name of further developing the city of Rotterdam. The goal is to engage audiences on a personal level and reframe policy- and decision-making around housing with a focus on the very human experiences of those communities displaced from their homes in order to bring about a future vision for the city that is incompatible with their presence there.

This approach of digitally (re)building cityscapes serves as a base for an interactive VR experience revolving around the interplay between personal (hi)stories and real estate development. Audiences will be able to explore extant locations in the Wielewaal as well as stories from current and past residents presented within these above-mentioned environments and spaces connected to the personal experiences of the people that (used to) live there. This is based on a process of recording and archiving residents’ homes and stories through a mix of LiDAR scanning, photogrammetry, audio and volumetric 2.5D recording of interviews to then embed together within the recreated environments.

Through this I aim to highlight the direct connection between these physical places and people’s identities, and better contextualize opinion forming and decision making around housing policies and development plans towards a thought process that goes deeper than the macro and financial perspectives so often touted in municipality plans, and speaks more about the personal needs and struggles of those affected.

By recreating this neighborhood in such a fashion and embedding personal stories therein I wish to engender in audiences a more direct connection with the struggle for a responsible and inclusive discussion over housing: the universality of the need for a home, and the many different views on what that entails, provides a foundation to extend a broader, shared understanding through the (oftentimes polarizing) views of the current situation in the neighborhood, the expectations and rights surrounding it, and connect a broader swath of people to these highly personal perspectives on what homes are – specifically the ones already existing and inhabited in the Wielewaal – as a means to counterbalance the narrative around future real-estate developments in this (and other) neighborhood(s).

Furthermore, this virtual recreation is also partially based off of publicly accessible resources and repurposed data collected without residents’ explicit consent – think Google Maps, topographic scans and satellite imagery. This also provides a utility for these pools of data and information that serves a completely different purpose than that envisioned on their creation, and highlights ways to look at them in conjecture to the neighborhoods they reflect on, all with a personal and human perspective in mind.

My hope is that this project can be part of a more comprehensive approach, one that includes public events and that allows the subject matter to be re-framed once more into a shape and environment facilitating actual change. I feel that this provides an opportunity to use my project not as a mediator but rather, to put it bluntly, a fulcrum to put pressure on those responsible for addressing these conditions in a way that is visible and accountable for, and having a broad local public aware of the this story and the neighborhood is instrumental here.

My goal lies now in finding local partners in mid-to-late April, and from there putting the finishing touches on the project and transferring it to public showcases locally. An early iteration was showcased as an interactive VR experience at ArsElectronica ’22 with great feedback and much interest in the approach, both from a technical perspective in terms of the tools and methodology used as well as looking at the concept and goals, being described as a mix of documentary, urban archeology and digital ethnography. This presentation opportunity has, in term, had a impact on my future plans and possibilities through some of the international interest in the project and this type of approach, opening doors also for potential research and collaborations outside of the Netherlands next to the initial, local scope of the project.

Above and below: early VR tests