The ARCH


The Architecture of Healing: The Making of the Veteran-Civilian Dialogue Space in Second Life

Read the full post here: http://www.archvirtual.com/?p=3230

If only I had a Linden for every time a client asked for a meeting space or auditorium in their new sim…  The grid is saturated with auditoriums, and these vast, elaborate and often prim-intensive spaces could almost always be put to better use.  So when the ‘cats’ (founders of Startled Cat) originally described their need for a conversation space, I quietly took notes, listening carefully as they articulated their needs – waiting for a pause in the conversation to push back a little.

But as they described the project in greater detail, I realized this one was different.  This space would soon be hosting some of the deepest and potentially life-changing conversations on the grid, and the architecture of this space would need to play an integral role in organizing, nurturing and encouraging a variety of emotionally powerful experiences.   The space would be used by Intersections International to host a Second Life version of their Veteran-Civilian Dialogues (VCD), which brings together veterans and civilians in facilitated conversations around the impact of war upon both groups.  The dialogues are designed to help bridge the gap to civilian life for returning soldiers, and have proven to be life altering for those who attend.


I had just attended a presentation by the Dalai Lama here in Madison, which was hosted by The Center for Investigating Healthy Minds.  Part of the discussion, and one of the recent interests of the Center itself as it completed a new research space, involved the role and science of architecture in shaping experience, so I was especially excited to explore ways in which some of these principles might also apply to virtual modalities.  This project would be a perfect place to start.

The initial design briefing called for a central gathering space, with smaller break-out spaces surrounding it, and the first round of design concepts proposed a wide variety of styles and configurations in mini-model format.  I often find it beneficial to propose even the most far-fetched concepts, which can sometimes lead to surprising or unexpected directions (some of the really ‘out there’ concepts aren’t shown here).  In this case, the team unanimously gravitated toward the circular scheme – feeling that it was probably the most apt metaphor, concentrating the energy toward a central space with translucent spires ascending above it.

During our initial design reviews with the client and end-users of the space, a fascinating and somewhat surprising bit of feedback was brought up.  It was suggested that many veterans prefer secure spaces, and the openness of this design might actually be quite unsettling and uncomfortable for them.

One example someone shared was the fact that many veterans prefer to sit with their backs to the wall so they can more easily survey their environment.  While it might be easy to dismiss the idea that such a strong physical reaction to architectural space might also apply in a virtual environment, it has long been known that people really do experience a strong connection, or sense of ’embodiment’ in their avatar to a certain extent.  One example often cited is the fact that if a virtual object is thrown at your avatar, many people will physically flinch in the real world – even though the virtual object could obviously do them no harm.  This mind-avatar connection is precisely what gives the virtual experience a significant advantage over other online meeting tools and social media, by providing a strong sense of presence and immersion within a space.  This is exactly why a  VCD in Second Life could become a truly meaningful experience to those who participate – the virtual world captures the sense of community and togetherness within a space that no other online medium could come close to replicating.

As developers working with virtual worlds, we’re constantly touting the importance of the design and architecture of virtual spaces, and how it can be used to shape and encourage meaningful experiences and achieving functional goals.  Yet, in this case, I had completely underestimated just how important the virtual space could really be, and with their feedback in mind, we re-examined the design concepts.

We revised and modified the design to make it feel more secure by enclosing some spaces, first by raising concrete walls around the outer circle but we soon realized that we had actually gone too far and had created an environment that was too confining and enclosed – to the extent that it could actually make the civilians participating in the dialogue uncomfortable.  We continued to fine-tune the design until we arrived at a concept that seemed to work well, then started massing it out at full scale.

As the space took shape, the clients and end-users visited and provided feedback along the way.  At times, we were able to transform the space on-the-fly to test various ideas as we brainstormed together.  It was an incredible experience to be able to literally prototype the client’s ideas at the very moment they were describing it – translating ideas into form in realtime.   This is one of the most potent advantages of the virtual design process that trumps traditional architectural design development, but I digress.

One of the VCD facilitators mentioned the importance of orchestrating procession, where participants would walk together on a path leading to the conversation space, and how important this can be for framing and setting the stage for the dialogue.   As he spoke, we opened one of the sides of the central space and prototyped a meandering pathway and walked along it together to try it out.  With some additional tweaks, we had the processional pathway complete.

As brainstorming continued, Jenaia Morane (one of the ‘cats’), wondered what it would be like if we elevated the entire conversation space so that it would look out over the water.  Within seconds we tested the idea, and immediately agreed that it worked really well and also enabled us to frame views of the surrounding landscape.  The processional path now ascended to the central space, giving it a sense of hierarchy and subtle grandeur.

Jenaia and the rest of the team at Startled Cat polished up, landscaped, textured and detailed the build in time for the first Veteran-Civilian Dialogue.  The event was captured incredibly well in the following machinima, including the procession to the conversation space, and the role of the virtual architecture in helping to choreograph and reinforce that experience.

“You are about to enter a sacred space, where the conversations will be focused on one of the most difficult and disturbing of human creations – war.”

The Second Life version of the Veteran-Civilian Dialogue was mentioned in this New York Times article, which also describes the VCD  experience.  I think this photo, featured later the same week in the New York Times ‘Week in Pictures’ captures the spirit of the VCD quite well.

Robert Chase, the Executive Director of Intersections International recently wrote about the Second Life experience:

“The implications for our Veteran-Civilian Dialogue Project are profound. In Second Life, traumatic brain injury and horrific disfigurement caused by war can be eclipsed by exchanges between young, strong, attractive avatars in the metaverse. Skills of engagement and confidence in one’s core strengths can be kindled in Second Life and transferred back into “first life.” Introverts can become part of the conversation; extroverts can seek solace in the silence of observation.”

To learn more about the project, check out this Monday’s Metanomics broadcast, where host Dusan Writer welcomes Intersections International to Metanomics for a discussion of virtual dialogues, spirituality and human connection in the ‘age of the machine’.

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Virtual Architecture 101: Design Fundamentals, Processes and Strategies for Virtual Worlds

Virtual Architecture 101 (SLurl) is a free, interactive, self guided, educational installation in Second Life, designed to provide visitors with a sampling of architectural fundamentals, design processes, strategies and best practices for creating effective virtual world projects.  The installation also includes case studies and offers specific tips, tricks and techniques covering a wide range of virtual world development topics.  It is not intended to be an all-inclusive resource, but to simply provide a sample overview of design basics and strategies.   If you want brush up on some fundamentals, or if you are planning to develop a project in a virtual world, this installation is designed to serve as a starting point and a place to gather ideas and inspiration for making your project a success.

Read the full post on our main site here: http://archvirtual.com/?p=3201

As a design consultant working in virtual worlds for several years, there are quite a few core design habits, techniques and strategies that I keep coming back to.  Since Second Life and OpenSim are primarily user-generated worlds, and not every project has a budget for custom development services, I thought it might be useful to share some of what I’ve learned in a virtual installation in hopes that it might be useful to anyone starting their own projects or building content in a virtual world.  In the weeks ahead, I hope to add several new stations and replace a large portion of the text with more experience-based 3D props, but in the meantime I will post the text portion of the installation as a downloadable pdf to accompany the exhibit in the weeks ahead.
The installation can be accessed by visiting Architecture Island in Second Life here: http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Architecture%20Island/97/132/1173
If you have any questions, suggestions, or need assistance developing your own  please send them to info@archvirtual.com



New Build and Upcoming Events in Unity3D / jibe

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Tomorrow (Dec. 2nd), I’ll be joining Kyle Gomboy from ReactionGrid and Anders Gronstedt from Gronstedt Group for their ‘Train for Success‘ meeting.  We will be meeting at the new space I recently finished for the Gronstedt Group – built with Unity3D, and published to ReactionGrid’s ‘jibe’ platform for multi-user access.  You can access the build HERE.

“This meeting will be held in our brand new virtual world developed by 3-D developer and architect extraordinaire Jon Brouchoud in Reaction Grid’s industry-leading, web-based, Jibe platform. Developed with red-hot game engine, Unity3D, this 3-D virtual world can be accessed in any standard browser (no big software download needed, just a small plug-in) and in a few months it will be available on the iPad, iPhone, Android and other mobile devices. Join us for a demonstration of the platform, which can be hosted securely by the client behind the firewall and offers a realistic and beautiful visual experience. Note that this meeting is not held in Second Life, just click on this link to access (it will prompt you to download the Unity plug in):http://jibemicro.reactiongrid.com/Gronstedtgroup/Gronstedt.html

Then on Friday, (Dec. 3rd), I’ll be giving a presentation titled, “Design Methods and Strategies for Creating Effective Virtual Spaces.”  Please check back Friday morning for the exact time.

 



ARCHviews: Kirsten Kiser, Editor-in-Chief of arcspace.com

Welcome to ARCHviews, a new podcast format where I take to the streets of the metaverse and talk with architects and designers exploring architecture of all forms – real or virtual.  Today I talk to Kirsten Kiser, editor-in-chief of arcspace.com about her experience bringing her online publication into the metaverse.  She celebrates her second year of virtual exploration this week, and has a lot of great insight to share.  If the embedded video doesn’t show up, you can find it HERE.  Enjoy!



Architecture For Humanity Enters the 3D Web

“This is an introduction by Lauren Stokes to Architecture For Humanity’s own interactive digital globe that will host models from their Open Architecture Network. Using X3D Earth and Open Street Map, web3D students sponsored by GeoSherpa are helping Architecture For Humanity in their migration to the open interactive 3D web. To help support green sustainable design, visit www.ArchitectureForHumanity.org

I’ve met some very passionate virtual world evangalists over the years, but I can’t think of any more enthusiastic and persistent than Damon Hernandez, Greg Howes, and the rest of the team that has been work hard at developing this unique feature for the Open Architecture Network.  I knew it wouldn’t be long before they pulled off something extraordinary.  The technology they demonstrate here is an innovative method for touring models that have been uploaded to the OAN network virtually.  Beyond just being able to tour the uploaded buildings, you can understand them in relation to their geographic context, as pinpointed through their integration with Open Street Map. Well done!

[update: While cruising through the rest of Damon’s YouTube uploads, I noticed this machinima showcasing some fo the augmented reality features they’re working on with X3D:




3D Wiki, Demo and Tour Tomorrow (2/8) at 10:30 AM SL-time

Join us tomorrow for a demo of the 3D Wiki (the Wiki-Tree), and a review of the designs submitted so far for the OAN Challenge we’re working on for Wikitecture 3.0. The competition deadline is February 29, so there is still time to provide your input!  You don’t have to be an architect!

Here’s the SLurl. See you there!



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.