The ARCH


Barack Obama’s ‘Kansas to Cairo’ vision being realized in Second Life

Cross-posted from the ARCH Network main site!

During President Obama’s historic speech at Cairo University in Egypt last June, he describe a vision to, “invest in online learning for teachers and children around the world; and create a new online network, so a young person in Kansas can communicate instantly with a young person in Cairo.”

If you’ve spent any time in a virtual world at all, you know that the ‘online network’ Obama described doesn’t need to be created, it already exists.  Students don’t merely use it to ‘communicate,’ as they would in a phone call or web conference, they are able to discover new cultures, make new friends, learn, and collaborate on a very deep level inside of an immersive environment where geography is completely irrelevant.

Visionaries like Dr. Amr Attia from Cairo’s Ain Shams University and California-based architect David Denton, have volunteered countless hours to organize this project, with modest support pledged from the United States Department of State to realize Obama’s ‘Kansas to Cairo’ vision – a project they first discussed at a panel hosted by the State Department last June (read more about this architectural panel held in Second Life on america.govor watch video coverage here).

Using Second Life, architecture students in Egypt and the U.S. are working together side by side, collaborating on design concepts inside the realtime, 3D, virtual world – even though they are physically located on opposite sides of the planet.  In the screenshot below, I am interviewing some of the students from Cairo, who proudly opened a variety of 3D models they had been working on, one after another, right before my eyes.  As we walked together through their design ideas, I realized that this moment was Saturday for me, Sunday for them, and we were 6,200 miles apart – yet sharing the same space, at the same time.  I felt sure that I was witnessing a phenomenon with world changing potential, and the students certainly agree.

One of the Egyptian architecture students, Mohammed Ahmed Alfiky, had this to say about it:

“This Second Life project is helping me make direct contact with other students of a different culture, a different architectural school and different way of thinking.  It will inspire me to make more effective designs, and critique my work from a different point of view.”

The U.S. Department of State has offered funding to bring several of the Egyptian students to the U.S. – a prospect that obviously has the students very excited.

During several visits to their space in Second Life, I have had the good fortune of talking with some incredibly bright and enthusiastic students from both Egypt and the U.S.   It is difficult to describe just how excited they are about this project – so I’ll borrow quotes directly from them so they can say it in their own words:

“Imagine all of this put together …. collaboration and group work on an international scale, dealing with a whole different culture , language and view of life.  Over and above getting to master the use of the virtual world as a tool to make your fantasies become a reality… I think this is what the Kansas to Cairo project offers us new ideas, new tools, and a better percetion of life and of future work in architecure and urban planning.” – Hebatullah Aly Ghali

“After working with 3DS Max for 5yrs , I found Second Life to be an easy new tool for architecture visualization, where I can represent myself, my work, my culture and my country.  In education, it helps anybody learn –  anytime, anywhere.  In general, Second Life is drawing a new future for exchanging, learning, collaborating, working and connecting people of all ages.”   – Sayed Abdul Mohsen

“I think Second Life is a great public participation tool as it is easy that anyone can use it .” -Amr Mohamed Abdelaal

“I think that Second Life is a platform for collaboration that breaks down cultural barriers and designing in it is a constructive path to narrow the division between eastern and western societies.” – Salma Muhammad.

Where other architectural educators await a safety net of case studies before they begin exploring virtual worlds in architectural education, here we can see pioneers at work in this space – demonstrating that there really is nothing to wait for.

As we witness a project that has achieved President Obama’s vision verbatim, it seems clear to me that this project deserves every bit of the same support and attention given to the multitude of other million-dollar programs described in similar speeches – yet the support has been relatively minimal thus far, amounting to travel stipends for a few students.  When I interviewed architect David Denton about the project, he expressed similar concerns.

“I’m enormously appreciative of the support that has been pledged, but I feel very strongly that this is a program that is of tremendous benefit, and that more resources should be made available to create an expanded ongoing program that would include many universities, in both the United States and in other countries around the world.”

I agree, and I can’t imagine why a project with so much potential wouldn’t be able to secure greater support.  David adds,

“I’m hoping to drum up support to get that funding increased.  Surely the Obama administration can find a way to be more supportive financially with the project that was announced in a major international speech in Cairo by the President.”

With no other visible projects on the table to carry Obama’s promise forward, I’m hopeful that they will be able to find the support they need to successfully complete this project, and send a message that this wasn’t an empty promise.  Even though this project has only just begun, it is easy to tell that it is already changing the lives and opening doors for many of the students involved with the project.  Virtual worlds offer a tremendous opportunity for cross-cultural, international collaboration between schools of architecture, and this program is definitely worth far greater support than it has achieved so far.

Obama concluded his famous Cairo speech with this thought that I think is particularly relevant here.

“I want to particularly say, to young people of every faith and every country: YOU of all people have the ability to re-imagine the world; to remake this world”.

Visit their virtual studio in Second Life sometime, and see a group of passionate students doing just that.

Cross-posted from the ARCH Network main site!

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Invite to the Living Sketchbook: Architecture Students Working on an Urban Intervention for Non Profit Commons

patuhi

Don’t miss this!  It is TONIGHT, Monday March 30th between 5pm and 8pm SLT.  This project is sure to become a bar-raising effort for demonstrating the benefits of using virtual worlds in architectural education.  I’m aware of at least 14 architecture schools from around the world that have actively engaged in virtual worlds, some top secret, some semi-public (usually only made public quietly, and only after the students are gone).  So, what I find especially refreshing about the approach this group is taking is that not only are they designing out in the open, but they are actively seeking participation from the general public to participate and engage in their work.

Further still, I think it is brilliant to invite students to explore architectural and urban strategies with the existing and vibrant Non-Profit Commons archipelago in Second Life, leaving the effectiveness of their ‘urban intervention’ to be immediately evident as the end-users of these buildings will begin actively using these spaces when the project is finished.  Here’s the notice, from Professor Judy Cockeram:

If on Monday March 30th between 5pm and 8pm SLT you are in-world it would be great to have you come and see what we are up to – the students from the University of Auckland in New Zealand are building in their living sketchbook. They will be in a building prototype frenzy and looking to have people play and talk about their ideas.

As an Architect in SL you have a unique perspective on the role of the crit in our education. In SL a traditional crit makes very little sense so we are trailing a different way of engaging in the process of exchanging and debating the ideas and fit of propals and projects. The students are working on a project for the Non Profit Commons, a group who host a large number of RL Charities – the issues are most like those of a small town needing an urban intervention. But importantly becasue this is SL the students are still in a building phase so they can hear and take on ideas to improve their project before they have to walk their peers though. We hope the students of Tab Scott and the students of the Living Sketchbook will meetup for an inworld (and i dont know what to call it) debate/crit/party/presentation/  but a sharing of architectual ideas and ideals a couple of days latter. we need your help to invent a format that stands the test of the Architect’s and Academic’s stare. As someone who has helped set those standards  we want you to come and talk and push ideas and continue the climb to a an even more extraordinary world and second life

Please come and run jump and fly through the thoughts of the first group of 9 students to venture into the Metaverse from the Architecture and Planning School. Because they are the first this event will be on the big screen with nine others computers infront of the whole school  over the three hours- we would love to have the metaverse wave back to the physical world.

http://slurl.com/secondlife/Putahi/101/234/21



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: