rendering of mars house, a glass house-like structure in neon on the surface of mars
Mars House uses Zen imagery and meditative principles to create what the artist has called a digital wellness retreat. (Screenshot from SuperRare)

The first virtual house NFT just sold for more than $500,000

NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are the hottest thing in art right now; digital artist Beeple sold an aggregated collage of his work, Everydays: The First 5000 Days, for $69.3 million on March 11 (though there are questions of whether the buyer also made money on the sale), and even media companies are turning their articles into sellable NFTs. Now, Toronto-based artist Krista Kim has sold an entirely virtual home, Mars House, for $500,000 on the blockchain.

For those not following the meteoric rise of NFTs, in essence, buying an NFT places a token on the Ethereum blockchain as a record of ownership—and they can be for anything, including video clips of Youtubers reacting to opening packs of Pokémon cards to blockchain-based marijuana that doesn’t actually exist. Anyone can mint an NFT and sell it for Ether, one of the largest cryptocurrencies. Ethereum’s popularity has grown rapidly as Ether is currently easier to mine than Bitcoin and we’ve been in the middle of a cryptocurrency boom that sent prices into the stratosphere over the last year (if you can’t find a graphics card for your workstation, cryptocurrency is partially to blame).

Enter Kim, who sold Mars House for 288 Ether via the NFT platform SuperRare last week (at the time, 288 Ether was valued at $514,557.79, according to CNN; the price has since fallen to $482,000). According to Kim’s description of the project, Mars House—which is staged on Mars in the promotional video—was designed in May 2020 using what she calls “Meditative Design” principles. Jeff Schroeder, guitarist for The Smashing Pumpkins, partnered with Kim to provide a prog-rock-inspired and suitably space-y accompanying soundtrack.

The home and all of its gem-like furniture is rendered in translucent tempered glass. The underside of the home’s massive roof is embedded with MicroLEDs, capable of changing color, displaying landscapes, and creating any atmosphere the owner so chooses. The approach was intended to create a Zen garden space for contemplation, a luxury getaway for wellness accessible through the screen. To that end, the buyer will receive a set of 3D files they can use to upload the home to their virtual platform of choice (Kim described this as the Metaverse, the not-quite-there-yet virtual environment first introduced in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash). And, as Kim also pointed out on SuperRare, aside from the value of the NFT, the new owner can send the files to glass manufacturers if they’d like to fabricate the home and furniture in the real world.

Of course, if you have been keeping up with NFT news, then it’s likely you’ve heard about the massive environmental costs associated with logging transactions on a blockchain. Buying and even bidding on crypto-backed art adds, or “mints” another transaction to the Ethereum blockchain, and while quantifying how much energy each interaction specifically takes is difficult, there have been attempts at logging that data. Take SuperRare’s impact: Cryptoart-footprint, last updated March 22, placed SuperRare in the middle of the pack transaction-wise for the NFT marketplaces. The platform’s authentication of 171,967 transactions has produced 5,031,957 kilograms, or 5,000 metric tons, of carbon dioxide—an average American home produces 48 metric tons of CO2 annually. OpenSea, the largest crypto art marketplace, has produced nearly 61,000 metric tons of CO2 thus far.

Bitcoin mining alone now uses more electricity annually than the entire country of Argentina, and the network’s energy consumption, and CO2 production, will only rise. On a blockchain, mining (solving an arbitrary equation rapidly in hopes of receiving an award, at its simplest level), is baked into transactions. As the blockchain grows, so does the size of the calculations required to authenticate a sale or purchase, and building more efficient mining hardware will only normalize the difficulty (i.e. increase the energy usage required to solve an equation).