The word "virtual" appears from a pre-historic term, from a language extinct thousands of years ago: its root is *wiros, which meant "man".

The transformations of this word along the centuries seem, in some way, to illuminate somewhat the human metamorphosis' nature. It was transformed into the primitive Latin vir, which meant "man, husband, hero, warrior". From that it produced virilis - virility, "a thing proper of man". Also virtus - virtue, power of the soul. Vir also could designate the magistrate - who has the competence of judgement.

Scholastic Latin would introduce, in Mediaeval Ages, the virtualis - who has in himself the power to do, to make something.

Cicerus defended that virtus was to soul, what health and beauty would be to body. To Saint Augustin virtus was the right use of freedom of choice. Virtus, potentiality and free will.

In his beautiful De Magistro, Saint Augustin practically reveals the sign as virtus - opening a gigantic passage to the virtualis which would appear some time later. To describe God, he even affirmed that it wouldn't be a duality between to be or not to be, but a totality; as if we would remind Lupasco and his principle of the third included. This would be, certainly, the very first nature of the Scholastic virtus.

To Saint Thomas Aquinas, virtus was the power in its utmost expression - reaching Francis Bacon, in later times, for whom knowledge was the power. To Bacon, virtue was in knowledge. A thing that, afterwards, would be translated as "information and power" by Foucault.

Virtus, knowledge and communication.

So many times understood as "absent", as a "parallel reality", the virtual revolution in the passage of the millennium represents a most profound metamorphosis. "Virtual architecture" is not necessarily that which is created or aided by computers, nor is it exclusively that made for cyberspace.

For the first time, in the history of humanity, we take as ours all traditions of the planet. We disintegrate frontiers in space and time. We pass to assume the condition of the transnationality, of the transdisciplinarity and of the trans-sensoriality.

Architecture's "raw material" is no longer an exclusively local ethos. So, human relationships jumped from car scale - responsible for the redesign of the family in the 20th century - to the tele-proxemic scale: starting from Edward Hall to arrive at the expression coined by René Berger. The intimate, human space, no longer extended by media, but amplified by intelligent prosthesis characterised by real time telecommunication systems - the distant turned near, the near transported to the maximum distance, without time, immediately.

Local ethos passed to give place to planetary ethos and, contrarily to what was imagined by many people, the global homogenisation did not occur. Questions as ethics were thrown to first plan. Ancient languages and cultures - as Sanskrit, Yiddish, Catalan, American aboriginal peoples - knew a formidable renaissance and exuberance.

Linear-A and Linear-B unveiled lost cultures. By other routes, not only the Ancient Egypt, Babylon, India or China - but also Aztecs, Mayas, from Mali and so many other peoples - became a heritage common to everyone.

But this scale did not only "explode" in the sense of the great measures of time and space. The birth of nanotechnology was a reflex of a world constituted by nanodecisions and, by its way, each individual unveiled a non linear informational complex, more commonly known as DNA.

In architecture, this complex web - firstly feared as representing a new international movement - provoked exactly the contrary: the emergence of the invention as the very first sign of this revolution. It is as if, plunged into the turbulent tissue of the most diverse singularities, the reverse of the stereotype would produce a culture of creativity.

In a hypercommunication system the valid is the path, the track, the "flight plan" into information - as if recovering the Osiris initiatic method in Ancient Egypt. That is to say: the encyclopaedic being, strong in memorisation, was substituted by the articulator, by the person skilled in combination, in effecting new relations, in invention.

On the other hand, questions related to Law, to crime, to control and to surveillance emerge as fundamental elements, unstable moments, that also compose this new architecture.

Another observation: architecture pass to establish an alive scene of cultural critic, as non verbal system, logic at the level of the structure - art.

This was the spirit of this Virtual Architecture Project, with the edition of Architécti, the CD-ROM, the exhibition at the Belém Cultural Centre in Lisbon and this site on the 'net. Only a few texts will be found - the main orientation of this project was, always, faced to the metamorphosis of space and representation, to the mutation of the non verbal universe. A project that could not have been possible without the intensive use of the Internet - images and information in real time from several parts of the planet.

From Japan, Akio Hizume catches Fibonacci, the Ancient Greece, the masonry secrets crossing centuries. With simple bamboos Hizume elaborates complex dynamic structures. He projects between the most ancient Japanese and the Western traditions all links, all nets, all relations.

In Paris, Ammar Eloueini operates the process. In a certain sense recovering Jules-Ettiene Marey, Eloueini uses digital resources as a type of dynamic translation of everything that is process - fluxus, topology, orientation. For him, everything is transformed into a living organism in permanent mutation - what Hizume means as the interlace of cultures, times and spaces, in Eloueini it is the bundle of the process in all its faces, everywhere.

On the other side of the planet, Dennis Holloway submerges into North American pre-historical civilisations to - through an intense archaeological work - project a new idea of space. Holloway breaks the barrier of time travelling through lost civilisations which are reconstructed inside virtual environments - learning their secrets before they were erased by barbarism.

Essentially, since the beginning of the 80s, my work has been to understand the plastic formation of synaptic patterns from sensorial inputs and outputs - architecture as a living intelligence. A challenge which not only implicates a transcultural as well as a trans-sensorial approach.

Returning to France, Fiona Meadows and Frédéric Nantois, with the @rchimedia, developed an intense work of reflection on the exercise of architecture as non verbal medium of communication. All cultures, all ages, all spaces as languages.

Immediately, we give a new jump to Japan - Katsuhito Atake: his strange and fascinating mutant structures reveal molecular strategies. Everything in permanent transformation. For Atake, mathematics, aesthetics, chemicals, biology and physics are parts of the same discipline.

Suddenly, we meet Lars Spuybroek, and NOX, with his liquid architecture - space made by touch, lights, sounds, colours, all senses organised as fluid. To penetrate inside one of his projects is like to experiment with our own body, as sensorial looking-glass.

To find Archimation - a German company dedicated to transport ideas to virtual reality. Like an interface, Archimation not only recreates complete virtual landscapes for architects all over the world but also creates virtual environments for public spaces, which are experimented by hundreds of people.

So, we go back to the United States, where we meet Mark Lawton - in the Construct Internet Design - who makes architecture for cyberspace: the space of the city wonderfully and definitively transformed in phantom for tourists. The space of mind projected into lines and movement - as if we would have Merce Cunningham on architecture.

From Columbia, Marcos Novak appears at our face. Creator of the concept "liquid architecture" used by Lars Spuybroek, moving himself from music to architecture - like Hizume, Atake, myself and many others - Novak uses algorithms, originally created for music, elaborating a "liquid and navigable" transarchitecture. Novak is not only a brilliant architect, he is also a philosopher of space and time.

To arrive to Stephen Perrella, from New York. With him, architecture is a deep reflection on morphogenetics' nature. A magnetic point between geometry and chaos, the frontier of the frontier.

Inside all these works we can find from Turner to René Thom, from Catilus to John Cage, from Vyasa to Edgar Allan Poe. As if an affirmation by Henry Focillon in his classical Vie des Formes could tell not about Turner, but about this new approach for which, "the world is an unstable combination of fluids, the form is a flash in movement, non defined spot inside a vanishing universe". To remember Saint Augustin - not to be or not to be, but simultaneously both: to be and not to be.

Virtuality of a universe in permanent vanish, in permanent mutation.

From the most varied points of the planet, sensorial data are what imports, the potentiality of everything, the interlacing of the most distant places, times, cultures, atoms, the "flight plans" in the middle of information, the bundle of phenomena, the turbulent combination of different disciplines reminding us the pre-historical *wiros and our marvellous human condition.

It is enough to think on the new nature of power in face to the cyberspace to imagine the dimension of the metamorphosis that incorporates in a single coup des dés the whole path of humanity.

emanuel dimas de melo pimenta, lisbon 1997

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