The ARCH


On Physical Replication in Virtual Environments
July 13, 2007, 7:14 pm
Filed under: architectural resources, architecture, virtual architecture

Among the most frequently debated topics related to architecture in virtual reality is the fact that the majority of the content replicates real life. It may initially seem absurd to replicate physical architecture of any kind in a virtual environment, since no amount of effort to recreate physical reality could ever be totally successful. Avatars can see through walls, are free of gravity, and there are no weather elements to protect from.

While most of the people I talk to tend to write off this phenomenon as mundane and unimaginative, I think architects and designers might consider taking it more seriously. There is significant value in understanding and embracing the multitude of psychological and visually functional reasons for recreating familiar replicas based on real life architecture.. In fact, I think these observations could form the underpinnings of the new virtual pattern language.

Real-world replication is certainly not indicative of a lack of imagination on behalf of the virtual builder. While I have no background or training in psychology, I think it points to the fact that we learn to organize the world around us through the understanding of familiar patterns and visual cues from early childhood. As a result, it is only natural that the first layers of content in this co-created virtual world utilize these familiar patterns we depend upon to organize and understand our real world environment.

So, instead of disregarding the replication of physical architecture as an unnecessary crutch, I think we should strive to more fully understand the function of the core patterns and behaviors they represent. It is through these observations that we can begin defining the fundamental components of the next generation 3D virtual interface, and our best chance at developing the most efficient methodology in defining avatar navigation and behavior.

There is definitely a metaphoric value certain replicated creations can provide in translating identity. For example, a gable roof over a small parcel of land in Second Life can be visually translated as ‘home’ to many people. However, the metaphor of symbolism is only effective insofar as the audience is able to universally perceive and understand it. This practical limitation of symbolic interpretation should be carefully considered. Nevertheless, establishing visual metaphors to aid in describing and understanding a phenomenon is a potent opportunity in virtual worlds.

The virtual roof has yet another value beyond the metaphor associated with its shape alone. It can also serve to define boundary. It can help visitors understand and perceive the limit and extents of a ‘place’, outside of which the parcel’s content does not extend. It also suggests a vertical, or z-axis plane of boundary. The space above and below the roof plane are suddenly defined and bounded. Even after removing the physical and symbolic functions of a roof, it still retains an essential value in defining boundary.

While our virtual legs may not grow tired, the visual cue of sitting in a circle has a persistent psychological value and creates a visual impression that suggests ‘we’re together in a group talking’, even though the same communicative process could have been exchanged remotely through instant messages. The presence of our avatars indicates ‘we are here’, and has value toward that end.

So, while the recreation of physical reality in cyberspace may at first seem unimaginative, I think it plays a very important role in the functionality of virtual spaces. By distilling these behaviors down to their core function, I think we can idenitfy universal patterns and characteristics to inform the next generation of virtual architecture capable of transcending literal replication.

Advertisements

10 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Hi am going ot have to humbly agree with you here Keystone. Although my stance on this issue has always been strongly that virtual architecture is its own entity, the human aspect of design still applies. I think your strongest statement was

“Nevertheless, establishing visual metaphors to aid in describing and understanding a phenomenon is a potent opportunity in virtual worlds.”

Whereas I agree with several points you make, I also have to counter with my own thoughts. I feel as though 3D environments are condusive to creating elements that we see in the real world. For example, Second Life has ground, sky, trees, everything that the real world has just with different rules of physics. Therefore, you cannot discredit alot of the elements from real world design.
However, I do think that the design alphabet differs greatly in 3D worlds. Just taking the building methods into example, in Second Life we design with geometries, textures, and scripts. This lack of purity and detail does not come close to real world construction or materiality and therefore the use of such becomes a novelty, or a replicant…

just some thoughts.

Comment by The Tracer

“…I also have to counter with my own thoughts. I feel as though 3D environments are conducive to creating elements that we see in the real world. For example, Second Life has ground, sky, trees, everything that the real world has…”

This doesn’t really seem to counter my thoughts, it sounds more supportive. But the only point I would add is that while those elements may seem to be default in SL, they’re not at all requisite.

Lots of builds are entirely avian, with no land in sight. Every tree and plant in SL is placed at the discretion of the landowner, not a requirement. Avatars don’t have to be human, scale is relative, and even the sky isn’t necessarily ‘sky’ in the traditional sense. If we want, we could exist as a mere squiggle of color in a pitch black vacuum. But even after we realize these alternative modes, the majority of us still choose to build on land, and plant trees with our humanoid avatars. It’s the fundamental psychological and functional essence behind that choice that I’m interested in distilling.

Will we continue building virtual environments to look and act physical forever? If not, what will that new interface look like? How will it be defined? Who will define it? How will it depart from existing fundamentals of architecture, and in what ways will it be different?

“…you cannot discredit alot of the elements from real world design.”

I’m definitely not discrediting any elements from real world design. I’m suggesting that we should be embracing and learning from those builds, not disregarding them.

“However, I do think that the design alphabet differs greatly in 3D worlds. Just taking the building methods into example, in Second Life we design with geometries, textures, and scripts. This lack of purity and detail does not come close to real world construction or materiality and therefore the use of such becomes a novelty, or a replicant…”

Sure, there are differences between physical reality and virtual reality, no arguments there!

You’re right – it’s definitely built with a different toolbox, and uses different alphabet. But what I want to know is what new words and subsequent language can we assemble with this new alphabet?

Comment by keystonesl

I think both of you make some valid points, although if we are concentrating on a new virtual architectual language we need to identify all aspects of the virtual as well as its causal relations to the physical (be it metaphoric or literal).

I’m stuck on question of what informs the typical virtual design. For example, we have projects based upon building limitations within SL, which seem appropriate as they test limitations of the local virtual context. An example is the recent ’10 prim’ contest to see what is possible with 10 prim construction in SL. Other virtual designs allow us to experience information in different ways and seem to push the boundaries of the virtual. Still other builds are political/social animals and rely on RL cultural or political institutions to exist.

As we try to find a common architectural language of the virtual, all of this must be taken into account. The virtual space of SL is used for many diffent reasons ranging from sex to architecture to commercial frontage. This common virtual language must take into account the activities for which the virtual serves its purpose.

I believe strongly in the bottom-up approach where the phonomena is studied and rules derived from it. What we really need are some statistics and examples. I wonder if anyone has done a census or survey of properties in SL. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see statistics on types of environments created and what that means for our virtual self-organizing society?

Comment by Far Link

Great point Far. Understanding the sociological dimension of this, and the core motivation and impetus behind a virtual build are definitely as important as the psychological or behavioral aspects. Assembilng a new language really does need to be a a cross disciplinary effort.

But I wonder if a core set of fundamentals for this new language could be derived that are universally applicable, regardless of program or causal effect?

There are profound sociological, political forces at play in real life architecture, but those forces don’t take anything away from the effectiveness of the fundamental principles of architecture we see in something like Dr. Ching’s ‘Form, Space and Order’.

Could we distill a similar set of principles for virtual architecture? I suppose this scale of consideration might be considered the alphabet.

At a more holistic scale, the actual language and associated grammar will definitely need to consider the core impetus and causal effects that bring certain functions to virtual worlds, and how they end up being translated there.

You’re absolutely right the results of research, census, and surveys wrt to this phenomenon would definitely bring some traction to this effort.

Comment by keystonesl

[…] in Second Life and OpenSim is to replicate real-life buildings. While I’ve written a lot (here, and here) about the potential for a new (non-replica) language of purely virtual architecture, […]

Pingback by Tutorial: How to Replicate a Real Life Building in Second Life « The ARCH

[…] of virtual space is very inspiring; emphasizing a kind of virtual architecture not tethered to physical replication, yet navigationally familiar enough to prevent […]

Pingback by UNIT 13 « The ARCH

[…] Still need to build on familiar patterns and visual cues – not just floating in space unreferenced (read: ‘On Physical Replication…‘) […]

Pingback by Machinima Manifesto: *WE* Shape our Virtual Buildings « The ARCH

[…] Still need to build on familiar patterns and visual cues – not just floating in space unreferenced (read: ‘On Physical Replication…‘) […]

Pingback by The ARCH Network » Blog Archive » Machinima Manifesto: *WE* Shape our Virtual Buildings

[…] space is very inspiring; emphasizing a kind of virtual architecture not exclusively tethered to physical replication, yet navigationally familiar enough to prevent […]

Pingback by UNIT 13 | The ARCH Network

[…] and consultant in Second Life is to replicate real-life buildings. While I’ve written a lot (here, and here) about the potential for a new (non-replica) language of purely virtual architecture, […]

Pingback by Tutorial: How to Replicate a Real Life Building in Second Life or OpenSim | The ARCH Network




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s



%d bloggers like this: