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”).

Microsoft Surface Computer & Architecture

Microsoft released their new Surface Computer this week to much press attention. This technology has been around a while, and I suppose it takes the 80 ton gorilla to make it come to the marketplace. I’ve been eager for this technology to make its appearance to the masses since I first saw the Fakespace Systems’ VR desk back in 2001. While that application is a bit different than this, I’m still very interested in the notion of eliminating the computer as we know it from the architectural profession, and moving back toward a drafting table style of interaction. While it may one day be more interesting to compose architecture in a 3D CAVE (old tech, but maybe something new on the horizon) I would, at this point, settle for a thoroughly interactive drafting table of an appreciable size that allows me to sculpt the design with my hands, rather that engineer it via point-and-click. The mouse is a terrible interface when you get down to it, restrictive and cumbersome. The unity of free hand sketching and the precision and modeling capabilities of 3D softwares on something larger than a Wacom “monitor turned flat”. Good times…

New Contemporary Spaces

First became aware of fabric at the 2004 conference in which the firm presented their project, a design for a museum, both physical and virtual, that presented the user with navigation tools to experience an exhibit where some of the works were physical and others virtual. I encourage you to view that presentation, which you can find here. It is a firm interested in blurring the lines between the physical and the virtual and sees architecture (and architectural design) as the vehicle to that end.

I am a fervent supporter of design that facilitates buildings with an intelligence, and the theory behind the “Real Rooms” is something that needs to spread. For myriad reasons, environmental, physical, economic, it makes good sense for architecture to have an artificial intelligence that optimizes its own performance. We have this in every new car we drive, sophisticated sensors that note consumption, calculate wear, automate shifting, and inform the user when a problem occurs. I don’t see why every building doesn’t have this basic level of event feedback. That said, I’m not sure I understand the “Terrestrial Spaces” he refers to at the Headquarters building, and why mapping the light/time movements over the earth across the face of the building is relevant. If anyone can explain the significance to me, please do. I do like that Guignard freely admits this is a fiction, and actually enjoys the play between reality and fiction in the function of the building.

The Perpetual (Tropical) Sunshine project does push this fiction even further. Using the built form as a simulacrum or a foreign environment to where it itself resides, challenges the traditional notion of architecture as a built form, exclusively. It, in fact, suggest that architecture constructs environments, more than simply forms – environments that facilitate and enhance experiences for the individual. I really enjoy how it engages this notion, and experiments with the use of technology to manipulate our experiences. I’m eager to see more.

Architecture Connects the World

This is a couple years old, but it is still a good presentation by Thom. He’s not speaking specifically to an architecture audience, which I think is when he’s at his best. His focus on connectivity is very important I think, and, in tandem with green building, will be the next big shift in architecture. While he might be able to successfully argue that most of his architecture symbolizes this philosophy morphological with his ’science’ of bending, curving, and offering transparency, I’m not sure it achieves the same with it’s function. That said, I love some of the ways his buildings are coming alive with an intelligence that accommodates the inhabitants both functionally and ecologically. I do agree that nature, in the traditional sense, barely exists and is only a “cultural edifice” for us. Architecture isn’t just building or shelter, it is “constructing reality” and must become and facilitate a nature, an ecology, and a community.

San Fernando Cathedral Center

This is a fun little building I stumbled on to during a recent trip to San Antonio. Designed by Fisher Heck Architects, and situated directly adjacent to the historic San Fernando Cathedral, it manifests in a very simple and well executed building with hisorical & contextual materials coupled with a contemporary design. The proportions are nice and the gided bris-soleil bring a welcome touch of wood to street level while providing a functional element to help shield against the Texas sun. I didn’t get a chance to go inside, but from the street one could see quite a bit of activity.