August 21, 2007, 5:58 pm
Filed under: ctrl shift 07 competition, iota ultsch, lebenswelt, virtual architecture

The following essay was submitted by Iota Ultsch.

The Gestalt approach is a form of phenomenological field theory. Gestalt shares the concerns of phenomenology, which are to study the multiple possibilities of a given field or situation as it is experienced subjectively by the people cocreating it at any moment in time. It shares the phenomenological premise that it is not possible to establish a single objective or absolute truth but only to be open to a multiplicity of subjective interpretations of reality, for each of us experiences a uniquely interpreted reality – because people form highly individual impressions of situations and endow events with subjective meaning.” Mackewn, 1997, p. 58-9

ZOOMING in and out of a SYSTEM facilitates the study of STRUCTURAL and BEHAVIOURAL hierarchies, yielding, in some cases, the key to understanding, otherwise seemingly CHAOTIC organisations at their most fundamental level. All systems, regardless of SCALE or degree of DETAIL apparent, contain values which can assist in their identification, and properties which allow one system to COMMUNICATE with another.

An example of these phenomena can be illustrated by the initial and sometimes final division of spatial configurations, within an architectural program for circulation into the binary zones of public and private. Here, the private zone and its associated behaviours can be identified as the primary node of a plan’s system. Conversely, the public zone of a plan, allows REACTION and INTERACTION, between the primary inhabitants and external parties. The public zone can therefore be seen as a FORUM for changeability/mutability, as it allows external stimuli to penetrate its otherwise ordered realm.

Second Life presents opportunities to explore and observe the MUTABILITY of such systems with the paradigm of the blurring of the private and public zones becoming more relevant to the metaverse. An indispensable tool for studying human behaviour within various spatial and social contexts.

The MIND AVATAR begins its journey by creating an idealised physical representation of the ID within the virtual realm. The representative HOST BODY [BODY AVATAR] soon learns to manipulate cameras and movement in order observe, learn, communicate with other avatars and facilitate interaction with spaces.

Traversing the virtual environment via teleporting, flying, point-animating or simply walking, the AVATAR perceives and responds to virtual space as a series of perpetually distorting, texture-mapped surfaces offering everything from infinite vistas to jarring dead-ends, forcing the MIND AVATAR into a CHANGE IMPULSE condition. “Change impulse” is my term to describe both the cognitive and emotive; the involuntary responses to any environment, which occur as a result of the mind-avatar’s degree of compulsion/repulsion to the spatial experience in question.

The “Tree of Second Life” build is part of a tripartite proposal. It was designed to interrogate the meaning of architectural practice in virtual space by challenging traditional [Real Life] architectural paradigms and establishing to what extent these paradigms are supported or simply collapse in a metaverse.

The build was designed to be visually permeable. An avatar can walk a bridge directly to the Tree of [Second] Life, fly through the mostly phantom space for a dynamic, phenomenological experience of the form, or sit and pose at various points, allowing for a more static special experience.

The build is composed of a series of interwoven orthogonal prims floating above the site. Textured with alpha transparency and rendered steel, the build is BODY MAPPED with deconstructed AVATAR body parts created in Poser and sculpted in MAYA, the fundamental 3D software for Second Life’s avatars.

A narrow suspended internal bridge leads the avatar through the build and reaches a solitary tree in a concrete box. The displaced and interwoven body parts act as metaphor for the diverse sociocultural demographic of Second Life.

These images, relating to the human form have spatial significance due to our subliminal attraction to representations of ourselves. i.e. GESTALT. Form thus, FOLLOWS FORM.

Finally, the Tree of [Second] Life; a place where MIND + BODY AVATAR come to rest and reflect…perhaps a harbringer of sustainable solutions to REAL LIFE from the metaverse.


Bachelard, Gaston, The Poetics of Space, Beacon, Massachusetts, 1969.Bois, Yve Alain and Krauss, Rosalind, Formless: A User’s Guide, Zone
Books, Cambridge, Mass.: Distributed by MIT Press, New York, 1997.
Carter, Paul, Repressed Spaces: The Poetics of Agoraphobia, Reaktion
Books, 2002.
Ching, Frank, Architecture: Form, Space & Order, Van Nostrand Reinhold,
New York, 1979.
Kauffman, Stuart A., At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity. Oxford University Press, 1995.De Landa, Manuel, Uniformity and Variability: An Essay in the Philosophy of Matter, 1995.
Dodds, George and Tavernor, Robert, Body and Building, MIT, 2002.Foreign Office Architects, Phylogenesis, Actar, Spain, 2004.
Mackewn, J. Developing Gestalt Counselling, London, UK: Sage Pulications, 1997.
Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, Routledge, New Edition,

UK, 1992.
Tschumi, Bernard, Architecture and Disjunction, MIT Press, UK, 1996.Tschumi, Bernard, Event-Cities 3: Concept vs. Context vs. Content,
MIT Press, UK, 2004.
Vidler, Anthony, Bodies in Space/Subjects in the City: Psychopathologiesof Modern Urbanism, from Differences 3, 1993.
Wolfram, Stephen, Complex Systems Theory, Addison-Wesley, 1988, [pp. 183-189].

UgoTrade’s Coverage of Virtual Architecture

UgoTrade  has been doing some interesting research and reporting on virtual architecture, including a new post today (link) including coverage of the reflexive architecture installation, the Cntrl-Shift-07 competition, Theory Shaw, the Wikitecture progress, as well as the important work Eolus McMillan and the EOLUS One Initiative they have been working on.

Temporal Machinima
July 16, 2007, 12:53 am
Filed under: lebenswelt, machinima, reflexive architecture, Theory Shaw

This machinima, this essay by Theory Shaw, and a visit to this SLurl tell the whole picture. A great example of reflexivity and responsiveness in virtual architecture.

Reflexive Architecture

Here is a brief machinima that hopefully describes the Architectural Jazz concept a bit more clearly. The idea is to make the inhabitant an active part of both the musical and architectural composition. In real life, when we listen to music, or occupy a space, we generally play a passive role. The composition remains largely unchanged when we listen or observe.

In a virtual environment, we have a unique opportunity to make the architecture responsive, or reflexive. The buildings can ‘know’ that we’re there, and react accordingly. They can even remember that we’ve been there, leaving visual or audio traces of our existence after we’ve left.

It isn’t that these ideas are impossible in real life (example), but its a lot easier and far less expensive to prototype and experiment in virtual reality. Plus, opportunities for true collaboration are more readily available. Realizing this installation, for example, required collaboration and general brainstorming with several others, including Theory Shaw, Ordinal Malaprop and Fumon Kubo.

This installation is only a small step toward a much greater realm of possibilities available to us in Second Life, and hopefully part of a broader collaboration-based, cross-disciplinary movement toward a new language of virtual architecture.

And YES, thanks for asking, but I have been made aware of the similarities between my installation and this =) :

Architectural Jazz, by Keystone Bouchard

(This is Keystone Bouchard’s essay submission to the Ctrl-Shift-07 competition on Lebenswelt Island – screenshots also by Keystone.  Slideshow HERE.)

The cannon blast launching this competition triggered an architectural jam session!

The ‘real-time evolution’ called for by the competition brief started with a few entrants immediately rezzing elements that responded to the existing context, leading to more complex responses over time.

In the first few weeks of discovery and evolution, the dialogue between competitors seemed to be the most pervasive. I decided to document this phenomenon by charting avatar movement, architectural responses, and the informal discussions that were happening at the site. With this data, I wrote a piano score loosely based on these observations. Considering the brief’s call for ‘overlap between the real and virtual worlds’, I recorded video of the subtle key movement on my real life piano and optimized it to play in Second Life.

After inserting this video as part of my composition, I observed the response, feedback and reaction to the installation. It became clear there was an opportunity to create an even more direct, real-time relationship between avatar movement and the musical composition. Instead of relying exclusively on abstracted avatar movement, I collaborated with a scripter who wrote a code enabling a sound to be played and the key to change color and size upon detecting avatar presence. I then recorded three chords that were in harmony with the original score, and when combined with the script, enabled avatars to actively participate in the creation of the music and the architectural composition, establishing a more immersive mind-avatar connection.

While my entry shifted shape over the course of the competition, starting off as a hyper-responsive and eclectic composition, it has evolved into a considerably refined piece, consistently relying on a steady stream of direct and indirect communication and collaborations with other contributors. Throughout the island’s evolution, it became clear that a new language of virtual architecture seems to necessitate a collaborative, cross-disciplinary approach, where no single contributor can be isolated as exclusively responsible for the final composition.

It has been my stated desire from the first day of this competition to enable this emergence and dialogue to continue by maintaining Lebenswelt Island as a testing grounds and incubator for an ongoing, dynamic, and collaborative effort to derive a new language of virtual architecture in tune with the stated objectives of this competition. Given the time and a proper catalyst, truly profound concepts can emerge from this collaborative process, and I would like to see this dialogue continue indefinitely.


A Space to Occupy the Mind, by Alfredo Desideri


(This is Alfredo Desideri’s essay submission to the Ctrl-Shift-07 competition on Lebenswelt Island – screenshots also by Alfredo)

 The building’s origins date from the history of architecture: some architectural solutions therein originate from this starting point but new questions are also raised.

It is important to refer to the history of architecture, even in metaverse, because behind the avatars are human beings whose minds are used to managing their bodies in built and non-built space. The objective of architecture is always to provide and enhance pleasure in a space but also to stimulate the mind.

There are two human minds at the basis of modern life in a synthetic space: Vitruvio and Le Corbusier.

Many of their ideas still remain modern but sadly are rarely applied in real life. But could these ideas live again in the metaverse and demonstrate their full potential here?

The chosen architectural form is a temple: a place for philosophy, meeting, living and concentrating.

This is a new temple: somewhere that avatars can come together and be together.

It has cone-shaped columns that point at the ground rather than spring from it: gravity here is optional.

The walls are free-floating and their surfaces move and ripple like water.

The roof garden is a lawn that flows like a river. The triangular frontons are hedges of conical cypress and bend with the wind, just as the mind bends before external triggers.

The Modulor and the Vitruvian Man are placed at the entrances: they represent historical standards of proportions based on the human body. What purpose do they serve in the metaverse?

The plan of the fortified Venetian town of Palmanova is placed at the centre of the ground floor. It represents urban planning and could also serve as the foundation for the new metaverse architecture.

The Oculus of Mantegna, full of people and animals, is placed on the centre of the roof, with its real phantom clouds. The Oculus rotates and the avatar with it. And the avatar can sit in solitude and chat, meditate, watch the scenery and the neighbouring buildings.

The small, mobile light globes link the ground to the roof like a stairway for the mind, inviting the avatar to fly up to and through the roof, or leap towards the clouds. It is a transition from meditation to dialogue with others and vice-versa.

The Vitruvio’s directions: Firmitas, Vetustas, Venustas run along the central cornices. A question mark is near the word Firmitas…

Finally, two coloured and transparent bells are juxtaposed and superposed, like a revolving stage light in a Disney cartoon. They convey the synthetic space and recall the opposition of the real and the virtual.

Social Collision Array: by Andrew Liebchen (Papp Peccable)

(This is Andrew Liebchen’s essay submission to the Ctrl-Shift-07 competition on Lebenswelt Island – screenshots also by Andrew)

“Privately owned user-created content is one of the dividing lines between Second Life and other forms of the Metaverse. A strongly encoded and enforced sense of private property within Second Life protects the Linden Dollar, property-holders, and the marketplace. Like contemporary real life capitalist democracies, the mass of land-less public exists as a mob that brings currency in-world to for night-club owners, pimps, real-estate speculators, in-world bankers, and (eventually) Linden Labs to scoop up. Look no farther than the economic metrics for the month of May 2007 to see the disparities of the second economy: of the 1,104,083 residents who logged in the during that month, only 39,215 had a positive monthly flow of Linden Dollars, and 53% of those users made less than 10 USD.

Second Life’s mimicry of an ideal suburban American life does not stop at private property lines, it extends into the business baron’s attempted control of the economy. A question: can Linden Labs back the Linden Dollar with currency on hand? In fact, the Lab has yet to turn a profit. Is this because of the hundreds of thousands of dollars they should keep on hand in case of a run on the Linden Dollar? It is doubtful, although real currency hasn’t been backed by gold and silver for years. Fortunately, the value of the US Dollar is wrapped up in the complexities of the domestic and world economies, not a single entity like the Linden Dollar. To convert Linden Dollars to real currency for the few making a living in world, the Lab relies upon the masses consistently buying Linden Dollars.

Public spaces in world are created by Linden Lab (such as InfoHubs) are like civic spaces where public can gather to share the best place to buy clothes, gamble, find sex—places to spend their Linden Dollars. The formal content in these areas tend to be conservative, so most social activity occurs on private property. To combat the privatization of the public realm in Second Life, I propose that public space should be freed from the real life conventions of benches, pavilions, etc. Furthermore, public space must be an attraction that can compete with private casinos, nightclubs, and shopping malls. Public spaces should seek to empower the general public of Second Life with an activity not designed to enrich only the wealthiest users and the governing entity, Linden Labs.

The Social Collision Array proposes a new kind of public space for Second Life. First, it is modular; it is easily transferred, assembled, copied, and expanded as needed. While the form is mostly derived from programmatic needs, Second Life is a visual world, and so to lure users, the construct strives to be compelling, complex, and beautiful. Users choose to be randomly transferred from cell to cell by the Array, meeting other avatarusers.  Social connections are made within the cells, avatars move through the array disoriented, each cell the same as the one before, only the contents of the cells—the
avatar-users—changes. Social connections are highlighted in an environment mostly devoid of the usual visual distractions. Users leave by randomly teleporting out, or navigating the maze of ramps down to their entry point. A sense of “analog” play is reintroduced into a world that tries to deny that its foundations are deep in digital computer games: Hide-and-Seek, funhouse mazes, Kick-The-Can.”