New London Architecture

Five minutes with...Jules Coke

Monday 21 November 2022

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

David Taylor meets Squint Opera CEO and founder Jules Coke to talk through the creative studio’s work, merger with Journey and thoughts on how buildings will be affected by digital and game technologies in future years.

David Taylor  
Hi, Jules. How are you doing?
 
Jules Coke  
Very well, thanks. 
 
David Taylor  
Good! I thought we could talk about your recent merger with Journey. For those who are uninitiated in what you do as a firm, perhaps you could outline that, and what Journey does and why this is a good fit. And what can come out of this?
 
Jules Coke  
Sure, well, we have been going as Squint Opera for the last 20 years. We started off making films, for architects, and for the built environment. And then, over the years, we've branched out. And now we probably do more of what we're calling immersive experiences, which means exhibitions, attractions, and mixing physical spaces with digital media. So that's what we're mainly working on at the moment.
 
David Taylor  
And Journey? Tell me about Journey.
 
Jules Coke  
So: Journey is a new agency, based in the US, that has been put together to explore opportunities, wider opportunities within the next generation of the internet, and 3d immersive experiences. I don't really want to drop the M word, the 'metaverse' word, because it's poorly understood, or it means lots of different things to different people. But in general, it's looking at opportunities within the new 3d version of the internet.
 
David Taylor  
I'm always fascinated with mergers – about how these things come about and are discussed and progressed. Was it all cloak and dagger? How did it all come about, and what was the process? How long was the process? Where did you meet, etc.?
 
Jules Coke  
Well, we were approached by them in probably December 2021. And then we had various discussions and met the key people involved. The CEO and the CFO of Journey both came from Frog Design. We kind of talked about what they wanted to do and what we wanted to do as well. And it became more formal in roundabout May, but then it took until late October to actually get the deal done.
 
David Taylor  
And the first approach – sorry to go down this route more – but the first approach was by phone by email, by text? How does one approach a firm?
 
Jules Coke  
It was via email, via sort of mutual contacts. 
 
David Taylor  
Yeah. Great. So, in terms of the collective now, what will you now be able to do that you weren't able to do beforehand?
 
Jules Coke  
Yeah. So, there are five firms now within the Journey umbrella. One of them is specialized in voice, and how to use voice and conversational AI, within real-time environments. Another one is a gaming studio. So, it's come sort of expressly from the world of video games, video game design and production. And that's the way that we see all of this going, very much. Another one is physical, an interior design firm, which has specialized in everything from nightclubs, to hotels, to healthcare. And then the last one is a specialist in gaming platforms and more generally, the metaverse, which is a woman called Cathy Hackl.
 
David Taylor  
Right. Could you enlarge upon what you just said about how you think this is going down the gaming route? I mean, you use Unreal Engine, don't you, and Epic Games? What's the future here? And how does Joe Public get involved in learning about buildings and exploring buildings through gaming mechanisms?
 
Jules Coke  
Well, we see the design process changing to incorporate real-time technologies like the Unreal Engine. And what that will do is make it more accessible for everyone. So that you can see the effects of particular design ideas, more or less immediately, and communicate them much quicker and more effectively, to open them up to a non-professional audience in a much more profound way.
 
David Taylor  
So, it's a form of democratizing design, essentially, is it?
 
Jules Coke  
I think it will have that effect. But it will also speed up decision-making; it will allow for hopefully a broader bunch of opinions and stakeholders to feed into the process.
 
David Taylor  
But does this world naturally fit with a new build rather than retrofit, for example? Or is there a blending of those two things?
 
Jules Coke  
There's definitely a blending because using all these things, what we've talked about – what we call experience twins and virtual twins – you can essentially prototype all of this in a virtual environment by mixing these real-time engines potentially with immersive gear, like the new Apple goggles or the Oculus that has just come out. And that will allow retrofit and options to be reviewed and experienced and decided upon very quickly by a wide range of stakeholders.
 
David Taylor  
Do you think with the greater use of this kind of technology, the aesthetics of our built environment – our buildings essentially – will change markedly? And if so, are we likely to see a stylistic shift?
 
Jules Coke  
Not due to what we're doing. I think probably the biggest stylistic shift, I would guess, will be due to sustainability goals. But what we will see is an ability to look at options and make choices much, much quicker; much more effectively.
 
David Taylor  
Brilliant. Lastly, the name of Squint Opera remains, I presume, within the Journey family?
 
Jules Coke  
Yeah, we just become ‘Squint Opera, part of the Journey group’.
 
David Taylor  
How did that name come about in the first place, by the way?
 
Jules Coke  
Squint Opera?
 
David Taylor  
Yeah. 
 
Jules Coke  
It's mired in mystery. No one can remember. (laughs)
 
David Taylor  
(laughs) That's the way it should be! Brilliant. Well, thank you very much for your time and for explaining all of what you do and about the merger. It's great. 
 
Jules Coke  
All right, thanks, David. 
 
David Taylor  
Thanks a lot, Jules!


David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly



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