The ARCH


Fragility of Spaces: French Architecture Students Present Second Life Work at VWBPE

This blog has moved!  Please read this post on our new blog location: http://archvirtual.com/?p=3295

From my studio in Madison, Wisconsin, USA, I’m listening to 3 architecture students in Paris, France presenting design concepts they developed during a week-long ‘intensive’ design studio at Paris-Malaquais using the virtual world Second Life, and I feel as though I’m participating in architecture’s best kept secret.  I’m joined by dozens of others logged in from every corner of the world as part of this <a href=”http://www.vwbpe.org/&#8221; target=”_blank”>VWBPE Conference</a> session by the newly founded European initiative ‘ARCHI21,’ and can think of no other medium, method or technology that could bridge our worlds as effectively.  As I listened carefully to their fascinating presentations, I was totally immersed and engaged, and if the quantity and thoughtfulness of the back-channel chat was any indication, the others in attendance were equally impressed.

This intensive was the first time most of these students had been exposed to Second Life for architectural design, and due to time constraints, they were given very little time to prepare for this presentation.  Not only that, but they are presenting their work in English, their second language, which is a significant part of what ARCHI21 is all about:

“A consortium of British, Danish, French and Slovenian universities has just begun its first action learning phase of ARCHI21, a two-year project as a part of the EU Education and Culture DG Lifelong Learning Programme.  Innovative approaches converge language learning, architecture and design, social media and 3D virtual worlds.   With a thematic focus on communication of  ‘respecting fragile places’ , this project explores the areas of  a) content &amp; language integrated learning in higher and vocational education sectors,  b) the inter-relationship between linguistic competence and design competence building in project-based learning and  c) the intercultural issues to be considered.”

I was in awe at the quality and theoretical sophistication of their work, and the deep thinking they had put into these projects in such a short space of time.   Having spent the past several years exploring virtual architecture, I was challenged and even a little intimidated by what these students were able to come up with in just one week.  My only criticism might be that I think they seem to have underestimated the utility of common ‘real world’ visual cues and practical function of virtual spaces – instead prioritizing pure philosophical and theoretical exploration.  I think it’s possible to achieve a balance between conceptual thinking with the more pragmatic concerns of potential end-users of these spaces – blending form and function into a seamless composition, rather than favoring one over the other.  However, they may have explored this more than I am aware, and since this was their first exposure to Second Life, with only had a single week’s development time, I can hardly fault them for not exploring every possible angle.

I am honored to be a part of this fascinating project as an associate partner as ARCH Virtual, and will be sharing much more of their work as it is made public.  Congratulations and thanks to these 3 students for sharing their work!

This blog has moved!  Please read this post on our new blog location: http://archvirtual.com/?p=3295



Machinima Manifesto: *WE* Shape our Virtual Buildings

In this podcast, I review some of the reasons I remain so optimistic about the future of virtual worlds, and describe the fundamental characteristics I believe make user-generated 3D worlds a game changing new standard every organization should be exploring – with or without a budget.

I also touch on another point I intend to write more about, which is the failing premise of expensive, polished, static and exclusive content creation handed down by professional developers as the only means for organizations to build a presence in Second Life.  If you want strictly developer-controlled content, buy an X-Box.  I think we need to focus more on enabling the community of people we hope will actually use these places in a more participatory, dynamic and ongoing design development process.  It’s about being less fearful of change, and more about creating architecture that is dynamic and reflexive, in a sense, to the community or organization’s ever-evolving needs.  It’s a tremendous opportunity we have yet to fully explore.

I’ll admit to the hypocrisy of that challenge, given that I’m a content developer myself, and frequently take on assignments to do the same.  For the most part, we haven’t seen a clear alternative (yet).  But I think there are emerging opportunities on the horizon, and I think we need to move away from this familiar tune:

  1. build it once (pay a developer big bucks – build something way too big, on way too much land)
  2. hope like hell that it works and people visit (calculating success using archaic ROI models)
  3. stand idly by as it stagnates (because the money’s gone…)
  4. shut it down or let it sit vacant, then blame the platform (or even the community) for that failure

This is a mentality we’re naturally dragging into virtual worlds from physical reality, where we have no choice but to be shaped by our buildings, simply because they’re too expensive to modify.  In sum, I think developer-centric practices ignore the fundamental paradigm-shift that user generated virtual worlds afford, and could stand to be re-considered, again and again until we finally do scratch the surface.

Allow me to digress further still, but I think the single, most significant difference between Second Life and other emerging platforms really isn’t all the stuff we hear about daily – I don’t think it will be things like ‘Nautilus‘ or Immersive Workspaces, imho, for lots of  reasons, though I do certainly respect those efforts.  It isn’t even just the idea of ‘user generated content’ – it goes deeper than that.  I think the killer app for Second Life and OpenSIM is lying in wait beneath that deceptively simply little ‘Modify’ button we so often take for granted.

You won’t find a button that works quite like this one in any other immersive, virtual world platform, and it is a significant point of differentiation that needs more attention.  This button is what keeps me from working in any of the competing platforms, and is certainly where the lion’s share of my future involvement with virtual worlds lies.

I hope to follow up on this meandering post and podcast with more fine-tuned thoughts, but wanted to put this out there as food for thought.  If you want to talk more about what I think this all means, how I think it can be done, or why you think I’ve got it all wrong, lets chat it up.  Leave a comment, send me an email (jbrouchoud at gmail) or meet me in-world (Keystone Bouchard).

Here is a summary of the podcast:

  • In real life, as Winston Churchill said, “We shape our buildings and afterwards, our buildings shape us” but does that remain true in a virtual environment where the community of people who actually use the buildings are able to modify them at will?
  • Second Life is the single, largest collective expression of creativity in a single location the world has ever seen – a cultural renaissance (three times the size of Boston?  five times the size of San Francisco? four times the size of Seoul?)
  • Realtime object creation, modification and sharing as a game changer – bigger than we can imagine now
  • Prototype just about anything you can imagine
  • Share those ideas with others, and see what the community thinks about it.
  • Barriers to cross disciplinary sharing and innovation eroding
  • Social component= glue transforming the creativity component from a solo experience into collaborative
  • Inverting the traditional top-down hierarchy of design development – engaging (empowering?) community – employees, or your customers, students, etc.
  • Collaborating in virtual space around 2D documents is overrated
  • 3D-Wiki technology, build the tools that will help take collaborative innovation to the next level
  • VW as arena where Wikinomics and Wisdom of the Crowds principles play out into 3D
  • Replicate physical buildings only if they have iconic value, or if you’re building it for training and orientation.  Different norms and expectations
  • Still need to build on familiar patterns and visual cues – not just floating in space unreferenced (read: ‘On Physical Replication…‘)
  • Virtual environments are more like a liquid than a solid artifact (See ‘We Shape our Virtual Buildings…’
  • Heavy up-front investment with no community input or subsequent updating leads to failure – don’t blame the platform or the community!
  • Lessons and opportunities from web 2.0 being lost in translation from 2D into 3D
  • VW feels more like architecture – habit of thinking it’s permanent, inflexible, expensive
  • Don’t drag that limitation into virtual worlds.  In Second Life, we can shape our virtual buildings and afterwards, we can keep shaping them.
  • We’re only dimly aware we are of the potential virtual worlds hold both now and into the future.
  • We’re just getting started…


Wikitecture Progress Video, and a Call for Sponsors

Hello everyone! As you may already know, the third Wikitecture experiment using our new 3D-Wiki technology will be wrapping up in the next few weeks, and we are already looking forward to the next experiment. If you are not already familiar, HERE is a demo of how the in-world interface works, and HERE is a link to the website.

Based on what we have learned from this experiment, we have developed a list of interface simplifications, features and most importantly, the ability to install the 3D Wiki on multiple sites throughout Second Life. In order to implement this phase of development, we are looking for sponsors who would be willing to provide much needed funding to carry this project forward.

In exchange for your sponsorship, you will be given liberal use of the newly developed 3D Wiki, and your logo will be prominently displayed at all in-world installations of the wiki, and on the Studio Wikitecture blog as well. We consider the current experiment to be a very valuable proof-of-concept, and will be giving lots of live demonstrations and presentations – further increasing the visibility of your sponsorship.

If you are interested, please contact us in-world (Keystone Bouchard or Theory Shaw), or via email at theoryshaw (at) yahoo (dot)com. We sincerely appreciate your support!




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