Virtual Architecture in Second Life

When I found this article my first thought was “Is Second Life still around?” Apparently so. I would have thought the hedonistic avatar cyber-orgy had played itself out ages ago.

Let me explain, when I first became aware of Second Life I found it mildly interesting. It wasn’t unit I met up with one of Linden Lab’s founding members, that I actually felt inclined to test the waters. After giving me his business card (which, incidentally did not have an email but a Second Life contact name) he wove a tale of designers and artists forging a new world of interactive spatial creativity. I tried it out. I lasted about 5 minutes the first time – got rather hung up and frustrated with the ridiculous avatar creation interface. I came back though, trudged through and got to a point where I could fly around just far enough to locate my plot of cyber dirt amidst a cacophonous trailer park of architectural aberrations constructed of brick-a-brac Platonic solids and garishly obscene texture maps. I exited and never went back.

I’m not trying to get anyone out of Second Life, if you dig it, keep having fun with it. While I’m a huge gamer, I’m not an MMORPG type of guy, and that probably didn’t help in my evaluation. I have real living breathing friends who I drink martinis, smoke cigars and philosophize with, when we’re not gunning down Locust or fragging Covenant Brutes together. I’m also a designer who doesn’t understand why most people think banks should look like Greek temples instead of crystal shards or an eruption of twisted metal. I’m complex.

What irks me about this article is the reinforcement that the constructs one runs into in Second Life are anything other than sculpture. Architecture is in itself something much more than the other arts (painting, sculpture, poetry, dance, etc.) exactly because it is something that we require. It is first, and foremost shelter (don’t forget Maslow). Because it is real, and it has to perform a function, it must conform to all those pesky, troublesome annoyances like building codes, economic and physics.

Architecture is not easy, it’s no more for the average Joe wanting to express himself than surgery is for a people that read WebMD. I’ll agree that the image above is a manifestation [credit: Bettina Tizzy and her flickr page here) of some pretty interesting work, and deserves praise, but it isn’t Architecture. To even make a speculation such as “Denton even wonders if the virtual realm will largely replace the building trades as construction and material prices continue to rise and travel remains a drag on the planet.” is beyond absurd.

Second Life is a game, and the work created in it is generally a fun distraction, and at best it may actually be legitimate art, but it will never be Architecture (with a big “A”).