Dispatch from Cairo #2
May 20, 2009, 3:56 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

We are starting our fifth week of work here in Cairo. Construction proceeds in SL. We are rapidly running out of prims. The design is starting to be dictated by what looks best with the fewest prims – not an ideal situation. We anticipate a major presentation to our client About el-Enein tomorrow.

I’ve been considering using only a walk-through of the SL model and not showing any drawings at all, though it may be necessary to have a plan for orientation. His staff has had a walk-through and seems very impressed and is talking about buying two sims in order to build the entire project.

So far we have only built the interior public spaces of the shopping center for about half of the project. Thus the build viewed from the exterior looks completely chaotic. One has to walk through the interior spaces to understand it and unfortunately many of our visitors cam through the entire site and do not experience the sequence of designed spaces. The final build-out on two sims would include the exterior and the hotel and office building. Of course, we will have to come to terms on fee to construct this, not so easy.

We also are interested in exploring with Keystone Bouchard the possibility of open sims and Vray. There seem to be many advantages to this, but we will have to rebuild it in 3d max. We are going to do a test run with him in the next few days.

Meanwhile, Judith and I were guests of Zeinab’s (co-captain of the Egyptian SL building team) family at their beach house on the Red Sea, where there was no internet connection. It was good to get away from the frenzy of Cairo and to take a break from the computer. Even though, we found ourselves missing it just for 24 hours. We watched the Lebanese version of “American Idol” instead.

This trip gave us the opportunity to visit our client’s manufacturing facility, Cleopatra Ceramica. We spent some time there looking at tiles they produce that could be used on the exterior of the building. Including the tiles is a primary concept of our design. The problem with this is that even though some of these tiles are as large as 30 cm By 40 cm, they are not made for large-scale application. We are talking with the client about designing a series of tiles specifically for exterior architectural application. Should be lots of fun.

We were astounded at the size of his factory and the capability of ceramic technology to convincingly replicate almost any material. They produce many interesting things we do not see in the United States. My favorite is the new sports-themed bathroom fixtures, in particular the toilet shaped like a soccer ball.

As you will see in the attached photographs, we finally succumbed to the temptation of including a bit of the pharaonic style. It seems like every new building in Cairo (see photo of pharaonic toll booth) is in this style. And of course none of them do justice to the originals. We decided early on not to insult the great builders with our own interpretation but it was just too much to resist, so we have our own little hypostyle hall à la Temple at Karnak. I guess it would be a bit like an Egyptian architect coming to Virginia and designing Williamsburg style houses. Oh well, it was fun doing it.

At this point, we can clearly say that building in Second Life ® has been invaluable as a design tool. We will know better after tomorrow how useful it is for the client. Our work here concludes in about another week, which is okay as it’s getting hot and we’ve been having sandstorms. Those sandstorms make me realize that one cannot have any sloped surfaces on the building that are visible, because it collects this sand, which is mixed with air pollution and leaves a dirty grime on any upward-facing surface.

We are concerned about the fabric structures. We got excited about the possibility of adding decorative patterns, which is a tradition here in tent structures, even today. Just as we were about to present this to the client, someone pointed out to us that these are for funerals. Oops! Another cultural misstep.

We had dinner last night with Alexander Johnson, a former newcaster with ABC and now a consultant. He is here working with our mutual client setting up a television network. Both he and our client have expressed an interest in exploring the possibilities of interface between TV programming and the virtual world.

Everyone is excited here that Obama has announced he is coming to Egypt.

I asked Zeinab to write something about her experience with SL. This is what she had to say;

It was the very first time for me to hear about Second Life, when I was told by Architect David Denton – whom I was assigned to assist on a really big project – that I had to learn SL, understand it and actually build this whole project on there. Of course I felt really worried that I wouldn’t be able to get the hang of it, until I began reading a certain “How to” book about SL and tried out everything while reading. And to my surprise, SL wasn’t at all what I expected, it was actually very easy to build things and modify them, and in almost three hours I was building away. Amazing! That’s what I kept thinking while I was building this project, how you could do almost any object, and how you could actually walk through your project instead of just trying to imagine how a certain part on the plan looks like. Of course I have worked with other 3D design programs, but it was never this easy or this quick to build and adjust a model. I just loved it, and felt really excited whenever we had a new part built with all its details. Such a big project was virtually built in such a short time, and is looking that promising, just can’t wait to walk through it again, but in real life next time.

Cross posted from The ARCH Network.

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