If the word “cybertecture” calls to mind high-tech architecture that looks like it would be at home on a distant planet, you’ve already grasped about half of James Law’s unusual design philosophy. The other half focuses on making that cutting-edge architecture as sustainable and useful as it can possibly be. He coined the word back in 2000 after becoming disillusioned with the “very empty, ego-centric” world of high-profile architectural projects.
As the founder of his eponymous firm James Law Cybertecture, the architect, technologist, and entrepreneur wanted to focus on ways innovative design could improve our quality of life. He shifted the focus of his firm to his new concept, expanding beyond buildings into artistic sculptures, interior design, technology, and master planning, making use of technologies like virtual reality, augmented reality, 3D printing, and an intelligent 3D modeling process called Building Information Modeling.
Since then, Law and his firm have created prefab pod housing, futuristic large-scale developments, the world-renowned OPod Tube House affordable housing concept in Hong Kong, the “Cybertecture Mirror” with a digital display, the design and development of the “Hyperloop” electromagnetically propelled transportation system, and much, much more. And if you think his work looks like something out of a sci-fi movie, you’re 100 percent right. He also collaborated with director Wong Kar Wai on the design of the 2005 film 2046.
Each project in the James Law Cybertecture portfolio is clearly ahead of its time. Law might just help usher in a new era of extremely technology-connected architecture that we’ve only begun to imagine as a tangible possibility. Take, for instance, his “Technosphere,” a 10 million-square-foot mini city project for Dubai designed as a micro-planet comprising residential, retail, commercial, entertainment, and hotel complexes complete with its own system of roads, solar power, water and waste recycling, and compact agriculture. It looks a bit like the Death Star.
Law is careful to note that he’s not interested in gimmicks that grab attention on the internet but never go anywhere. As he explained in a 2019 interview with StirWorld, bringing change to the industry will be a slow process requiring a lot of dedication.
“Whenever you are doing something new, the society/client/users do not know how to accept or understand it; the actual execution is also challenging the construction industry, which is experienced with building the conventional way [and is suddenly] asked to do something totally different,” he says. “In both cases, there is a lot of friction and inertia to accept this newness. One must put in effort and time to educate and explain from their point of view and take them carefully and patiently through the rationale and benefits of doing any innovation; highlighting that ultimately doing this has immediate and long-term benefits as compared to the conventional way.”
Fantastical as they may seem, the firm’s projects aren’t just concepts. Many have actually been built, including The Capital in Mumbai, a commercial building with 1.5 million square feet of multi-use space, a sculptural curtain wall, a sky lobby, automated robotic car parking, and a LEED Gold rating for sustainable design.
“Cybertecture is the design of all things for a more intelligent world through new pieces of architecture, interior space, artwork, technology, and strategy,” says the firm. “We see humanity undergoing a new renaissance of rapid change on this planet, so we believe that every product we design and build should contribute to a sustainable and better world for all people. We believe our work can alleviate suffering for all segments of society. We work only on projects we feel we can add value to, and will have a positive impact for the world through designing into them an X-Factor of creativity, original thinking, and technology.”