Space Popular presents Search History exhibition at MAXXI

Architecture and design studio Space Popular has unveiled Search History, an exhibition at the MAXXI museum in Rome that applies the writings of Italian architect Aldo Rossi to virtual worlds.

The installation features bold and colourful images envisioning a metaverse city, with doorways that appear to be gateways between different virtual spaces.

Space Popular installation of a circular multilayered curtain
Search History features a physical installation exploring virtual architecture

The aim of Space Popular founders Lara Lesmes and Fredrik Hellberg was to show how Rossi’s ideas about the experience of real-world cities can be reflected in the immersive spaces of the metaverse.

“The project Search History began as part of our research on issues of the virtual city,” says Lesmes in a video about the project.

Layers of a curtain in Space Popular: Search History exhibition at MAXXI
The project draws parallels with the urbanism theories of Italian architect Aldo Rossi

“We have been studying how we move between virtual environments, basically places on the internet that are three-dimensional,” Lesmes said.

“We found a lot of connections to theories of Aldo Rossi,” she added. “Even though he didn’t develop them thinking about the virtual realm or virtual worlds, we feel they are extremely applicable.”

Layers of a curtain showing different elements of a city
Multilayered images of virtual environments are printed on overlapping curtains

Search History is the fifth edition of MAXXI‘s Studio Visit, a programme that invites contemporary designers to reinterpret the work of iconic architects from the museum’s collections.

The starting point for the project was Rossi’s seminal text The Architecture of the City, which describes urban areas as a multilayered sequence of spatial experiences.

Street bench and light surrounded by colourful curtains
The colourful imagery suggests gateways between different virtual spaces

Space Popular believes that virtual environments should be equally multilayered, and that special attention should be paid to the way people move from one space to another.

“What does it mean to click on a hyperlink? Do we open a door or do we slide something up?” Hellberg says in the video.

Space Popular: Search History exhibition at MAXXI
A Rossi-designed lamp within the installation is reflected in the printed imagery

The exhibition comprises a doughnut-shaped pavilion formed of overlapping curtains, each printed with multilayered imagery.

Inside, Space Popular created the feeling of standing in a city plaza by adding a circular bench topped by a light designed by Rossi in 1991, called Artlarmer, which has the feel of a street lamp.

The light is also is depicted on one of the curtains, alongside other pieces of street furniture that include a litter bin and a drain cover.

The curtains also depict architectural elements like roof profiles and columns, as well as references to computing such as a keyboard and a search window.

“This piece is a sort of simulator, a representation of what it could be like, the experience of browsing through immersive, digital environments,” said Lesmes.

Search History images by Space Popular
The images also depict architectural elements like roof profiles and columns

The project builds on the manifesto that Space Popular presented for the Dezeen 15 online festival, which proposed using portals made of digital textiles to navigate virtual worlds.

The duo have also created other works that explore the design of the metaverse, which they call the immersive internet. These include Value in the Virtual at ArkDes and The Venn Room at the Tallinn Architecture Biennale.

Search History images by Space Popular
The images also show virtual interfaces like search windows

Space Popular: Search History is curated by Domitilla Dardi, senior design curator at MAXXI, and is sponsored by textile manufacturer Alcantara, which provided the material for the curtains.

Previous editions of Studio Visit have seen Neri&Hu explore the world of Carlo Scarpa and Formafantasma examine Pier Luigi Nervi.

The exhibition photography is by Matthew Blunderfield.

Space Popular: Search History is on show at MAXXI from 7 December 2022 to 15 January 2023. See Dezeen Events Guide for an up-to-date list of architecture and design events taking place around the world.

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