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‘Portals will be as important as the car’: the architects exploring gateways to new dimensions | Art and design

With its hidden doors, folding walls and clever optical tricks with mirrors and light-wells, Sir John Soane’s Museum feels like just the kind of place you might stumble across a portal to another dimension. Moving from one room to the next in this wildly reimagined London townhouse is never as straightforward as stepping through a simple doorway. The eponymous neoclassical architect and collector saw to it that the thresholds between the different parts of his house-museum were elaborate spaces in themselves, topped with lanterns and lined with mirrors and windows, offering views up, down and through his multi-levelled maze of antique treasures.

Step through one opening, expecting another stately drawing room, and you find yourself standing on a bridge, suspended in a three-storey “sepulchral chamber”, where a glazed dome brings light down to an Egyptian sarcophagus in the basement. Pull back the folding panels in the picture room, and you discover a statue of a nymph in a hidden recess, floating above a void that plunges into another sculpture-encrusted nook below the floor. Each carefully choreographed transition, each theatrical reveal, is designed to transport the visitor to a parallel universe, whether it be the ancient ruins of Giambattista Piranesi’s Paestum, the demonic halls of John Milton’s Pandemonium, or the drawings of imaginary cities made up of fragments of Soane’s own buildings.

Lara Lesmes and Fredrik Hellberg of Space Popular.
Lara Lesmes and Fredrik Hellberg of Space Popular. Photograph: Anna Huix

Two hundred years later, Soane’s richly layered labyrinth has been extended with a whole new virtual dimension. Following a period of intensive research during the pandemic, experimental architectural duo Space Popular have unveiled the Portal Galleries, a beguiling immersive exhibition that explores the history and future of portals – a topic for which there could be no better setting. Using a combination of virtual reality films and physical exhibits, alongside drawings from the collection, the show charts the role of magical thresholds in fiction, film, television and gaming, and speculates on the fundamental role they will play in the coming virtual world.

“Portals are going to be everywhere,” says Fredrik Hellberg, co-founder of Space Popular with Lara Lesmes. “We are convinced they will be the main infrastructure of the rest of this century, just as ubiquitous as the car was to the last. To avoid future mistakes, we should start to get prepared now.”

The concept of virtual transport infrastructure might be quite a challenge to get your head around. But Hellberg and Lesmes are adamant that it is the next pressing design challenge, as our “scrolls become strolls”, and the internet takes on an ever more spatial dimension.

Mind-boggling … Space Popular at Sir John Soane’s Museum.
Mind-boggling … Space Popular at Sir John Soane’s Museum. Photograph: Space Popular

Think of the portal like the three-dimensional version of clicking on a link. Just as hyperlinks take you from one web page to another, portals are becoming the primary way to travel around the immersive internet (also known as the metaverse), taking you from one virtual space to the next. Who is designing these portals, they argue, and with what purpose in mind, will define how we all come to navigate the virtual world.

“They are very rudimentary at the moment,” says Lesmes, who spent much of the pandemic teaching with Hellberg in virtual environments, using social VR to meet with their students, who were often back home in different countries. “Someone ‘drops a portal’, and your avatars go through some kind of ring or frame together, but then there is often a black screen, or you have to close down the platform and find another app, and go through pages of links. It’s a horrific experience.”

Operating like time-travelling motorway engineers at the launch of the Model T Ford, Space Popular want to pre-empt the coming chaos of metaverse navigation by proposing a common civic infrastructure for virtual teleportation. “Portals will be the vessels to sail across the immersive internet,” they say in one of the films. “The way in which they operate will define the fairness of virtual environments and infrastructure.”

To imagine what form these vessels might take, the architects have mined the history of teleportation devices in fiction over the last 150 years, compiling a database of more than 900 examples, organised into 18 different categories. These are elegantly displayed on a multi-levelled table, upholstered with printed fabric, in the middle of one of the Soane galleries – in a similar manner to their information-rich printed carpet at the Riba – and explained in a couple of accompanying VR films.

The examples range from the rabbit-hole in Alice in Wonderland and the wardrobe in the Narnia books, to Dr Who’s Tardis, Back to the Future’s DeLorean and Platform 9¾ in Harry Potter, via all manner of holes, mirrors, cracks, bridges and “energy frames” found in sci-fi and fantasy fiction. Their timeline tells an eye-opening story, charting the explosion of portals after the second world war, marked by the likes of The Sentinel by Arthur C Clarke (which formed the basis of the film 2001: A Space Odyssey), the Wayback Machine in Peabody’s Improbable History, and the tollbooth from the 1961 book The Phantom Tollbooth, written by architect Norton Juster.

Maps to another dimension … Space Popular at Sir John Soane’s Museum.
Maps to another dimension … Space Popular at Sir John Soane’s Museum. Photograph: Space Popular

The following period, leading up to the cold war and the space race, saw portals take the form of massive energy-intensive machines and weapons built in the battle for world domination. They highlight the 1960s TV series The Time Tunnel, where thousands of people work under the desert surface on a secret megastructure, which would allow the US military to travel in time, noting how its iconic spiral design went on to inspire countless portals in future stories. The period after the cold war, meanwhile, saw portals serve more satirical and comical roles in lowbrow sci-fi and family movies – such as the phone booth in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, or the people-eating television in the 1980s body horror film Videodrome.

They found one of the most recurring types of portal to be the “portable hole”, first featured in the Looney Toons cartoon The Hole Idea in 1955, in which a scientist demonstrates his device for rescuing a baby from a safe, cheating at golf and escaping from housework. It later appears in the Beatles’ film Yellow Submarine, in the form of the Sea of Holes, as well as in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, reaching a hole-studded peak in the 1985 Marvel cartoon character, Spot – whose body is covered in portals.

For each of the 900 examples, they have catalogued how each portal works, where it leads, and who can use it, revealing that more recent examples often discriminate on grounds of class, status and ethnicity. In the Harry Potter franchise, for example, those who are born into a certain group can run through the wall into a future of power and privilege, while mere mortals smash their faces against the bricks.

While some of their charts and diagrams can be a little impenetrable, Space Popular’s overarching message is clear. As tech giants such as Facebook (now Meta) and Microsoft bid for domination of the metaverse, and the crypto community embraces it as a way to peddle further NFTs and flog virtual real estate, Lesmes and Hellberg are calling for a more equitable virtual future. “In the coming 15 years,” they write, “we must create a civic infrastructure for virtual teleportation that breaks with the discriminatory and opaque nature of locked doors, hidden vigilance, privacy breaches and concealed discrimination.”

They don’t pretend to have all the answers, but their mind-boggling archive of portals provides a hint of some of the directions the brave new virtual world might take. As they conclude in one of the films: “It is now the time to mind the doors we open, and to carefully consider the ones we close.” Personally, I’ll be taking the first flying phone booth out of the metaverse, and trying not to fall through one of the slippery holes to Zucker-land.

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Top 10 Florida Cities Dominate The Business Startup Landscape In The U.S.

Top 10 Florida Cities And Business Startup Landscape In The U.S.

The Voice Of EU | Florida emerges as a hub for entrepreneurial endeavors, with its vibrant business landscape and conducive environment for startups. Renowned for its low corporate tax rates and a high concentration of investors, the Sunshine State beckons aspiring entrepreneurs seeking fertile grounds to launch and grow their businesses.

In a recent report by WalletHub, Florida cities dominate the list of the top 10 best destinations for business startups, showcasing their resilience and economic vitality amidst challenging times.

From Orlando’s thriving market to Miami’s dynamic ecosystem, each city offers unique advantages and opportunities for entrepreneurial success. Let’s delve into the chronologically listed cities that exemplify Florida’s prominence in the business startup arena.

1. Orlando Leads the Way: Orlando emerges as the most attractive market in the U.S. for business startups, with a remarkable surge in small business establishments. WalletHub’s latest report highlights Orlando’s robust ecosystem, fostering the survival and growth of startups, buoyed by a high concentration of investors per capita.

2. Tampa Takes Second Place: Securing the second spot among large cities for business startups, Tampa boasts a favorable business environment attributed to its low corporate tax rates. The city’s ample investor presence further fortifies startups, providing essential resources for navigating the initial years of business operations.

3. Charlotte’s Diverse Industries: Claiming the third position, Charlotte stands out for its diverse industrial landscape and exceptionally low corporate taxes, enticing companies to reinvest capital. This conducive environment propels entrepreneurial endeavors, contributing to sustained economic growth.

4. Jacksonville’s Rising Profile: Jacksonville emerges as a promising destination for startups, bolstered by its favorable business climate. The city’s strategic positioning fosters entrepreneurial ventures, attracting aspiring business owners seeking growth opportunities.

5. Miami’s Entrepreneurial Hub: Miami solidifies its position as a thriving entrepreneurial hub, attracting businesses with its dynamic ecosystem and strategic location. The city’s vibrant startup culture and supportive infrastructure make it an appealing destination for ventures of all sizes.

6. Atlanta’s Economic Momentum: Atlanta’s ascent in the business startup landscape underscores its economic momentum and favorable business conditions. The city’s strategic advantages and conducive policies provide a fertile ground for entrepreneurial ventures to flourish.

7. Fort Worth’s Business-Friendly Environment: Fort Worth emerges as a prime destination for startups, offering a business-friendly environment characterized by low corporate taxes. The city’s supportive ecosystem and strategic initiatives facilitate the growth and success of new ventures.

8. Austin’s Innovation Hub: Austin cements its status as an innovation hub, attracting startups with its vibrant entrepreneurial community and progressive policies. The city’s robust infrastructure and access to capital foster a conducive environment for business growth and innovation.

9. Durham’s Emerging Entrepreneurship Scene: Durham’s burgeoning entrepreneurship scene positions it as a promising destination for startups, fueled by its supportive ecosystem and strategic initiatives. The city’s collaborative culture and access to resources contribute to the success of new ventures.

10. St. Petersburg’s Thriving Business Community: St. Petersburg rounds off the top 10 with its thriving business community and supportive ecosystem for startups. The city’s strategic advantages and favorable business climate make it an attractive destination for entrepreneurial endeavors.

Despite unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Great Resignation, and high inflation, these top Florida cities remain resilient and well-equipped to overcome obstacles, offering promising opportunities for business owners and entrepreneurs alike.

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European Startup Ecosystems Awash With Gulf Investment – Here Are Some Of The Top Investors

European Startup Ecosystem Getting Flooded With Gulf Investments

The Voice Of EU | In recent years, European entrepreneurs seeking capital infusion have widened their horizons beyond the traditional American investors, increasingly turning their gaze towards the lucrative investment landscape of the Gulf region. With substantial capital reservoirs nestled within sovereign wealth funds and corporate venture capital entities, Gulf nations have emerged as compelling investors for European startups and scaleups.

According to comprehensive data from Dealroom, the influx of investment from Gulf countries into European startups soared to a staggering $3 billion in 2023, marking a remarkable 5x surge from the $627 million recorded in 2018.

This substantial injection of capital, accounting for approximately 5% of the total funding raised in the region, underscores the growing prominence of Gulf investors in European markets.

Particularly noteworthy is the significant support extended to growth-stage companies, with over two-thirds of Gulf investments in 2023 being directed towards funding rounds exceeding $100 million. This influx of capital provides a welcome boost to European companies grappling with the challenge of securing well-capitalized investors locally.

Delving deeper into the landscape, Sifted has identified the most active Gulf investors in European startups over the past two years.

Leading the pack is Aramco Ventures, headquartered in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Bolstered by a substantial commitment, Aramco Ventures boasts a $1.5 billion sustainability fund, alongside an additional $4 billion allocated to its venture capital arm, positioning it as a formidable player with a total investment capacity of $7 billion by 2027. With a notable presence in 17 funding rounds, Aramco Ventures has strategically invested in ventures such as Carbon Clean Solutions and ANYbotics, aligning with its focus on businesses that offer strategic value.

Following closely is Mubadala Capital, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, UAE, with an impressive tally of 13 investments in European startups over the past two years. Backed by the sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company, Mubadala Capital’s diverse investment portfolio spans private equity, venture capital, and alternative solutions. Notable investments include Klarna, TIER, and Juni, reflecting its global investment strategy across various sectors.

Ventura Capital, based in Dubai, UAE, secured its position as a key player with nine investments in European startups. With a presence in Dubai, London, and Tokyo, Ventura Capital boasts an international network of limited partners and a sector-agnostic investment approach, contributing to its noteworthy investments in companies such as Coursera and Spotify.

Qatar Investment Authority, headquartered in Doha, Qatar, has made significant inroads into the European startup ecosystem with six notable investments. As the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, QIA’s diversified portfolio spans private and public equity, infrastructure, and real estate, with strategic investments in tech startups across healthcare, consumer, and industrial sectors.

MetaVision Dubai, a newcomer to the scene, has swiftly garnered attention with six investments in European startups. Focusing on seed to Series A startups in the metaverse and Web3 space, MetaVision raised an undisclosed fund in 2022, affirming its commitment to emerging technologies and innovative ventures.

Investcorp, headquartered in Manama, Bahrain, has solidified its presence with six investments in European startups. With a focus on mid-sized B2B businesses, Investcorp’s diverse investment strategies encompass private equity, real estate, infrastructure, and credit management, contributing to its notable investments in companies such as Terra Quantum and TruKKer.

Chimera Capital, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, rounds off the list with four strategic investments in European startups. As part of a prominent business conglomerate, Chimera Capital leverages its global reach and sector-agnostic approach to drive investments in ventures such as CMR Surgical and Neat Burger.

In conclusion, the burgeoning influx of capital from Gulf investors into European startups underscores the region’s growing appeal as a vibrant hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. With key players such as Aramco Ventures, Mubadala Capital, and Ventura Capital leading the charge, European startups are poised to benefit from the strategic investments and partnerships forged with Gulf investors, propelling them towards sustained growth and success in the global market landscape.

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China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending ‘Taikonauts’ To The Moon From 2030 Onwards

China Reveals Lunar Mission

The Voice Of EU | In a bold stride towards lunar exploration, the Chinese Space Agency has unveiled its ambitious plans for a moon landing set to unfold in the 2030s. While exact timelines remain uncertain, this endeavor signals a potential resurgence of the historic space race reminiscent of the 1960s rivalry between the United States and the USSR.

China’s recent strides in lunar exploration include the deployment of three devices on the moon’s surface, coupled with the successful launch of the Queqiao-2 satellite. This satellite serves as a crucial communication link, bolstering connectivity between Earth and forthcoming missions to the moon’s far side and south pole.

Unlike the secretive approach of the Soviet Union in the past, China’s strategy leans towards transparency, albeit with a hint of mystery surrounding the finer details. Recent revelations showcase the naming and models of lunar spacecraft, steeped in cultural significance. The Mengzhou, translating to “dream ship,” will ferry three astronauts to and from the moon, while the Lanyue, meaning “embrace the moon,” will descend to the lunar surface.

Drawing inspiration from both Russian and American precedents, China’s lunar endeavor presents a novel approach. Unlike its predecessors, China will employ separate launches for the manned module and lunar lander due to the absence of colossal space shuttles. This modular approach bears semblance to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, reflecting a contemporary adaptation of past achievements.

Upon reaching lunar orbit, astronauts, known as “taikonauts” in Chinese, will rendezvous with the lunar lander, reminiscent of the Apollo program’s maneuvers. However, distinct engineering choices mark China’s departure from traditional lunar landing methods.

The Chinese lunar lander, while reminiscent of the Apollo Lunar Module, introduces novel features such as a single set of engines and potential reusability and advance technology. Unlike past missions where lunar modules were discarded, China’s design hints at the possibility of refueling and reuse, opening avenues for sustained lunar exploration.

China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending 'Taikonauts' To The Moon From 2030 Onwards
A re-creation of the two Chinese spacecraft that will put ‘taikonauts’ on the moon.CSM

Despite these advancements, experts have flagged potential weaknesses, particularly regarding engine protection during landing. Nevertheless, China’s lunar aspirations remain steadfast, with plans for extensive testing and site selection underway.

Beyond planting flags and collecting rocks, China envisions establishing a permanent lunar base, the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), ushering in a new era of international collaboration in space exploration.

While the Artemis agreements spearheaded by NASA have garnered global support, China’s lunar ambitions stand as a formidable contender in shaping the future of space exploration. In conclusion, China’s unveiling of its lunar ambitions not only marks a significant milestone in space exploration but also sets the stage for a new chapter in the ongoing saga of humanity’s quest for the cosmos. As nations vie for supremacy in space, collaboration and innovation emerge as the cornerstones of future lunar endeavors.

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