The ARCH


Please help us build Main Street MMO!

Main Street MMO

We’re raising funds to launch Main Street MMO, and we need YOUR help as a founding supporter!      

There are so many incredible sci-fi, war games and medieval adventures available today, with amazing complexity, detail and realism.

Main Street MMO seeks to combine the fun and interactivity of video games with real cities to promote local businesses, showcase city initiatives, visualize architectural designs, and a lot more.

We need your help!

Here’s a link to our Kickstarter page where you can pledge your support for our project:
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/keystone/main-street-mmo-real-cities-in-realtime-3d

As a founding supporter of Main Street MMO, we will engrave your name in a cornerstone, add your name to the credits, name an NPC after you, or even kickstart an MMO of your city (other creative award ideas are welcome! =)

Even if you can’t afford to back the project financially, please consider sharing this within your network to help raise awareness!  Your tweets, facebook updates, and blog posts are the stuff a successful Kickstarter project is made of, so please help us spread the word!

premiere city of Dubuque Iowa

We’re just getting started! For the past year, we’ve been partnering directly with local businesses in our premiere city of Dubuque, Iowa to determine which features they feel would be most useful in a technology like this, and have compiled a list of features and functionality we believe will take this project to a new level, but we need your help!

Please consider backing Main Street MMO! Your support is very much appreciated. If you think your city would be interested in something like this, or if you have ideas for new features we should add, please get in touch with us!

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/keystone/main-street-mmo-real-cities-in-realtime-3d

Thanks SO MUCH @openingdesign @epredator  @pbroviak  Derek Barrett @samdriver and @moirah for stepping up as our first backers!  We can’t thank you enough for your support! 

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Casting Shadows

These past few months have brought about a rather exciting surge of announcements and renewed energy around the OpenSIM project, the open source virtual world platform. Though it is still alpha level code, the future potential is obvious, especially for those of us anxiously awaiting the ability to import 3D models created, textured and rendered in external applications like 3D studio, Blender, etc. This ability brings with it the promise of several game-changing opportunities, not the least of which is establishing a dynamic link between Building Information Models (BIM) and virtual environments.

Some of the most visible and promising new features cooperating with OpenSIM are coming from a Finnish group called realxtend. The actual look and feel of OpenSIM is very similar to the Second Life environment, but the realxtend client/server combo includes several enticing new items. For one thing, the File menu now contains an ‘Import 3D model’ option – and it works!  Also, under the prim-editing menu, you’ll find the ‘cast shadows’ option. Yeah, seriously… ‘cast shadows’… can you imagine?

What’s more, even a technical newbie such as myself can download their server code, and open your very own sim running on your own home computer. Better still, you can invite others into your sim to see what you’ve been up to. If you want to go beyond basic exploration, you can host the environment on a more powerful server for less lag and a smoother experience. Visitors to your personal sim can even teleport to and from the Second Life grid, and to other OpenSIM grids as well.

Within just a few hours, I had my own little world running on my computer. Shortly thereafter, I had imported my first 3D models created in 3DStudio. I suddenly had that same sense of urgency and excitement I experienced when I first started working in Second Life. My imagination ran wild!

You might think this experience would lead me away form Second Life itself, but I actually feel quite the opposite. I’ve never felt so confident and comfortable with the time and energy I’ve spent learning and promoting Second Life. It isn’t just OpenSIM either, but none of the new emerging platforms I’ve tried so far show anywhere near the same promise, in my humble opinion, as the combination of Second Life and OpenSIM.

Speaking purely in terms of professional/business applications, or as a platform for architectural practice and collaboration, I’m not convinced that Linden Lab shares the same vectors of interest as the more ‘platformist’ professionals who often think of it as a tool instead of a place, nor should they. The community, and the economy are vital, yet incredibly fragile components of Second Life – a combination that doesn’t lend itself well to liberal new-feature testing. Just like Philip Rosedale emphasized at SLCC last year, Linden Lab can only operate like a ‘lab’ for so long before they have to pull back a bit on experimentation and turn more attention to the ongoing challenges of performance and stability.

But when you combine the vital core elements of community and commerce with the features possible in OpenSIM-based grids, it seems a win-win combination. Despite the never-ending flow of criticism and complaints, I think Linden Lab is doing an outstanding job with Second Life, and I think they’ll be very hard to catch. But I’m excited and glad that the more specialized interests can now have their freedom, their privacy, their security, and any new feature they have the wherewithal to invent. I think Giff Constable said it best, “if something needs to be fixed, you can roll up your sleeves and fix it rather than crossing your fingers and waiting for someone else.”

Cory Ondrejka suggested in a great post today that “Attempts to strongly separate “play” and “work” virtual worlds will stunt the growth of both. Communities that play together work together better. And vice versa.” I think that statement reinforces the notion that the combined effort of SL and specialized OpenSIM places is a healthy mix. I might “work” in my Crescendo Design OpenSIM island, meeting with clients and bask in the greatness of prims that can ‘cast shadows,’ but it will surely get lonely in there. I’d be constantly checking my mini-map for green dots, and missing out on all the great stuff Second Life has to offer as a place, and not just a tool. When its time for a break, I can teleport back to SL, and enjoy the best of both worlds.

The combination of features I think are requisite for a virtual world explosion in professional practice are a tricky, yet inseparable kit of parts. For this reason, I don’t have a lot of faith in the other platforms aimed at surpassing Second Life. Just importing 3D models, or better graphics alone are nothing without a rich and diverse community.

Even if you include model-imports and community, what about object permissions? For 3D collaboration to work, you need a fairly robust permissions strategy, and a lot of the new platforms currently overlook this feature completely. I think most of us completely underestimate the genius and power of the prim system and in-world building tools. In fact, by the time you carefully prepare a 3D model with enough detail to look passable up-close in a virtual environment, you end up spending a comparable amount of time on it as you would if you had built it with prims in the first place. Furthermore, once you import it – its essentially frozen, since you can’t modify any part of it without re-rendering it and re-importing it. It would be a disaster for virtual collaboration if we lost that ability.

The community is equally critical. Even if, for example, Autodesk were to introduce avatars into Revit, they couldn’t possibly deliver as diverse of a community of non-architects. If you aren’t convinced that a public, global and diverse community is important in the future of architectural practice, keep an eye on Studio Wikitecture. That’s just the beginning.

I could be wrong, but when I add it all up, I still haven’t seen another emerging platform that includes both in-world building tools (with permissions system) as well as 3D importing, alongside an incredibly robust community and economy. Even if there were a potential competitor, they are nowhere near as far along as Second Life at solving the plethora of challenges and nuances of successfully running a virtual world (which happens to be yet another area I think many of us totally misunderstand and underestimate). By the time a competitor catches up with where SL is now, SL will be that much farther ahead.

In conclusion, I’m confident that Second Life is still a very safe and smart investment of time and money. I’ll admit to knowing very little about the back-end underlying this technology, which is why this post could be all full of baloney. But from what I can tell, the combined trajectories of Second Life and OpenSIM are a winning combination, and hold the underpinnings of what I think will be the next major technological evolution in the design and creation of the real-life built-environment.

Keep an eye on Ugotrade for further reviews of OpenSIM (including this post), and be sure to check out realxtend’s site for a description of their upcoming event in Second Life where you can learn more about the current technology, and their plans for the future.



Collaborative City Planning, Urban Design and Architecture in Second Life – Machinima

Here are two demonstrations of collaboration in Second Life. The first shows how city planners, urban designers or members of the community might use virtual worlds to describe, discuss and even co-create design concepts. The second shows how multiple contributors can work together simultaneously on an architectural design concept.

Of course, it is evident that something is missing in this collaborative process. It is not yet ‘wiki’, insofar as people cannot return to previous iterations, or evaluate the effectiveness of other contributions. Conflicts of opinion cannot be easily resolved, and input from the other contributors must be synchronous. What this means is if all of the contributors are not on site at all times, the design can take on a completely different direction based on extensive work by a single designer without group consensus. Furthermore, there is no easy way to resort to a previous iteration should such a conflict of opinion occur. Commenting on the success or failure of another designer’s contribution is left to synchronous chat, with no easy way to discern the opinion of the entire group at any time.

If we really want collaboration in virtual worlds to be more wiki-like, we will need tools. We hope the ‘Wikitecture Tree’ will help us take steps toward realizing an ‘Open Source Architecture’ and will be launching it soon to help the Studio Wikitecture group take on the Open Architecture Challenge.

Here’s a brief clip showing one part of the Wikitecture Tree, namely the ‘leaves’. The leaf color is based on its popularity, where orange leaves are least popular, green leaves are more popular, and a ‘trunk’ being the current community favorite – based on an integrated vote tallying system. When a new iteration is submitted to the tree, it automatically creates a new leaf. Contributors will be able to cycle through, vote and comment on each design as they rez on an adjacent platform. A better explanation is on the SW blog HERE.

Join the Studio Wikitecture group in SL to partipate in the next experiment!  Everyone is welcome.



We Shape our Virtual Buildings and Afterwards, We Keep Shaping Them
July 18, 2007, 5:19 am
Filed under: architecture, community, reflexive architecture, virtual architecture

Winston Churchill’s epic statement, “We shape our buildings and afterwards, our buildings shape us,” is a fantastic observation of the architectural phenomenon, illuminating the fact that physical architecture is a static artifact and continues to transform us long after construction.

For the most part, buildings as a whole are relatively static and unchanging as a result of budget constraints and physical limitations. If we imagine a 30 year time lapse video of a typical building, we would see that the building may experience occupant turnover, changes in function, renovation, additions and more. In any case, the physical characteristics of the building as a whole would appear fairly stubborn, while the systems and people using the building would appear to flow through the building like water. Given this static nature of real world buildings, architects can depend on a relatively stable context within which to design.

I recently wrote about opportunities for responsive or reflexive architectural characteristics and considered opportunities found within the more immediate experience. But if we zoom out a bit and considering a larger frame of time, and a larger scale, we can see that the entire phenomenon of virtual architecture is more like a liquid than an artifact.

Few, if any, virtual constructs have any guaranteed stay power or longevity. The architectural landscape and community fabric is in constant flux; shifting shape and evolving. The most startling experience of this phenomenon was when I was building a virtual model of a design we had created for a real life client using Second Life as a visualization tool. Clear Ink had allowed me to build the project on one of their sandbox islands. However, a few weeks into construction, I purchased my own island, and moved the entire project there. We ended up using the other island to create the Virtual U.S. Capitol Hill, but I had yet to give our client a landmark to the new location. One day, I was building the rostrum of the House Chamber when my client suddenly dropped in from the sky. Imagine his confusion – expecting to rez into his lovely wooded site to visit his soon-to-be-new home, only to find himself in the middle of the House of Representatives! Nothing is permanent in SL, and lasting context is never a guarantee.

In this way, virtual architecture, and the context it lives in, differs from physical architecture. It becomes less like a static artifact, and more like a liquid. An architecture truly responsive to its fluid context must be able to shift shape along with it. The same is true for the program and the community it serves. Just like in real life, community is a very powerful force in virtual worlds. Virtual architects have the unique opportunity to actually use their post-occupancy metrics to adjust and rebuild their designs in realtime. In dense mainland builds, virtual designers have the option of rebuilding portions of their build in response to constant changes in their immediate context. It’s a lot easier and far less expensive to repair and improve virtual architecture than it is to rebuild a real world building.

Despite this opportunity, many builds are still treated as though they are static and immovable artifacts. The biggest expense in a virtual build is still generally the initial building effort, just as it would be in building a new headquarters in real life. However, I think the investment in virtual architecture might benefit from being spread out over a longer term, and considered an ongoing experiment, never final. Abandoning a virtual build just because its first iteration fails to draw crowds and effectively serve the community or meet its program needs is a missed opportunity. The entire virtual fabric is one huge learning curve, rife with potential.

Perhaps we should be approaching virtual builds with a waste-basket nearby, less reluctant to tear down and rebuild – allowing the architecture to constantly evolve, becoming as liquid, reflexive and ever-changing as the community it hopes to serve.



Post-Katrina Virtuality: The Porchdog

As a contribution to Architecture for Humanity’s Open Architecture Network, I built this virtual model on Architecture Island (SLurl).   Real-life construction of the Porchdog home is part of Architecture for Humanity‘s effort to provide housing relief and redevelopment in post-Katrina Biloxi, Mississippi.

Given the open and collaborative nature of this initiative, I think Second Life provides a perfect platform for visualizing, co-designing and brainstorming future contributions to the Network. Perhaps architects and designers from all around the world could gather virtually and collaborate on real-time relief solutions in the wake of an unforeseen disaster.

In reading some of the descriptive principles of Open Architecture Network, I think it’s clear that these goals can be readily fulfilled through virtual collaboration.

“The Open Architecture Network is an online, open source community dedicated to improving living conditions through innovative and sustainable design. Here designers of all persuasions can:

• Share their ideas, designs and plans
• View and review designs posted by others
• Collaborate with each other, people in other professions and community leaders to address specific design challenges
• Communicate easily amongst team members”

It’s about visualization, collaboration and community; all of which are existing features of Second Life. I would love to see SL become a catalyst for virtual collaboration toward this end, and hope we can find a way the Architecture Group can help facilitate it.

This machinima has already been posted to the Network, and can be seen at the bottom of THIS page. While I was at it, I posted our entry into the Cradle to Cradle design competition, seen HERE.

More soon!