Fragility of Spaces: French Architecture Students Present Second Life Work at VWBPE

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From my studio in Madison, Wisconsin, USA, I’m listening to 3 architecture students in Paris, France presenting design concepts they developed during a week-long ‘intensive’ design studio at Paris-Malaquais using the virtual world Second Life, and I feel as though I’m participating in architecture’s best kept secret.  I’m joined by dozens of others logged in from every corner of the world as part of this <a href=”; target=”_blank”>VWBPE Conference</a> session by the newly founded European initiative ‘ARCHI21,’ and can think of no other medium, method or technology that could bridge our worlds as effectively.  As I listened carefully to their fascinating presentations, I was totally immersed and engaged, and if the quantity and thoughtfulness of the back-channel chat was any indication, the others in attendance were equally impressed.

This intensive was the first time most of these students had been exposed to Second Life for architectural design, and due to time constraints, they were given very little time to prepare for this presentation.  Not only that, but they are presenting their work in English, their second language, which is a significant part of what ARCHI21 is all about:

“A consortium of British, Danish, French and Slovenian universities has just begun its first action learning phase of ARCHI21, a two-year project as a part of the EU Education and Culture DG Lifelong Learning Programme.  Innovative approaches converge language learning, architecture and design, social media and 3D virtual worlds.   With a thematic focus on communication of  ‘respecting fragile places’ , this project explores the areas of  a) content &amp; language integrated learning in higher and vocational education sectors,  b) the inter-relationship between linguistic competence and design competence building in project-based learning and  c) the intercultural issues to be considered.”

I was in awe at the quality and theoretical sophistication of their work, and the deep thinking they had put into these projects in such a short space of time.   Having spent the past several years exploring virtual architecture, I was challenged and even a little intimidated by what these students were able to come up with in just one week.  My only criticism might be that I think they seem to have underestimated the utility of common ‘real world’ visual cues and practical function of virtual spaces – instead prioritizing pure philosophical and theoretical exploration.  I think it’s possible to achieve a balance between conceptual thinking with the more pragmatic concerns of potential end-users of these spaces – blending form and function into a seamless composition, rather than favoring one over the other.  However, they may have explored this more than I am aware, and since this was their first exposure to Second Life, with only had a single week’s development time, I can hardly fault them for not exploring every possible angle.

I am honored to be a part of this fascinating project as an associate partner as ARCH Virtual, and will be sharing much more of their work as it is made public.  Congratulations and thanks to these 3 students for sharing their work!

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11 Predictions for 2011 (and beyond)
January 3, 2011, 4:45 pm
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This is the first time I’ve made New Year’s predictions, but I so enjoy reading what others predict that I couldn’t resist jotting down a few of my own.  Find those predictions on my new, main blog site here – and for pete’s sake, update your feed with the new site’s address already!  =)  I stopped actively using this blog almost 2 years ago!  Update your feed’s folks… seriously!  Make it a New Year’s resolution.  Put it on your Google Calendar.  Better yet, just do it right now!  Whatever it takes.. just update your link to the new blog!!!

Thanks, and Happy New Year!

U.S. Dept of State and National School of Architecture of Mareille to host events this weekend

Just in cast you STILL haven’t updated your blog feed to the new location: – I wanted to give you a heads up about 2 exciting events this weekend.  But you have to visit the new site to find out!


Using Virtual Worlds in Residential Design

Using Second Life as part of my real-life practice, Crescendo Design, to meet with long-distance clients and describe design ideas are what drew me into virtual worlds – over 3 years ago now!  I have since had the opportunity to work on a wide variety of purely virtual projects, and still believe virtual worlds will become a game-changing technology for the professional practice of architecture, design and education.

Here’s an update on how we use virtual worlds in residential design practice; cross-posted from Crescendo Design blog:

Kirstens S17 2009-07-06 08-52-36-12

Crescendo Design has been using virtual worlds as part of our practice since June of 2006, and have found it to be a very useful resource for a wide variety of applications.  We’ve used our virtual office to meet with long-distance clients, prototype and share design ideas, host open houses, educational workshops and to demonstrate some of the core design principles we try to incorporate in all of our work.

During virtual meetings, we can test different design ideas in ‘real time’ – meaning the changes we make appear on your screen immediately as they’re made. Clients and builders can even learn the simple building tools and make their own suggestions. The virtual model works great for testing out material choices, paint colors and eventually even landscaping options and furniture layouts.


Recent advances in virtual world technology have made it much easier to import the 3D  models we generate with our architectural software into the virtual environment.  The virtual experience isn’t right for every client, but for those who are more tech-savvy and have newer computers, the virtual experience can provide an invaluable means of understanding design ideas before construction starts in a way that sketches, illustrations, and even animations cannot fully accomodate.  The virtual model provides a much more holistic representation of the design, enabling clients to walk around and experience the design in an immersive way – rather than looking at floor plans and trying to imagine what it will look like.

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Clients can even give friends and family access to their virtual home, to hear their feedback on the design.  For example, if you’re building a new home  in Wisconsin, but have family in Australia you want to share the design with – you can provide them log-in information.  Soon, they will be standing next to you inside of your soon-to-be new home, and you can invite them in for a tour.  You can even talk to each other with embedded spatialized voice – similar to a phone call or Skype – only its totally free, no matter where you are in the world, and no matter how many people join you for a tour.

Kirstens S17 2009-07-06 08-31-55-47

Kirstens S17 2009-07-06 08-53-18-58

Kirstens S17 2009-07-06 08-56-38-00

Important Changes: Please Read
April 13, 2009, 3:53 pm
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The virtual frontier

The virtual frontier

The virtual winds of change are blowing, and its time to re-activate, refresh, and re-invent many of the various efforts associated with this blog, Architecture Islands, the in-world RL Architects group, and more.  In the days ahead, I plan to introduce a more consolidated blend of these elements under one name, ‘The ARCH Network.’  We will be hosting a discussion on Architecture Island on Thursday, April 16th at 9am SLT (PDT).   The meeting will be held at THIS SLURL.

The Group: Since its inception, ‘RL Architects in Second Life‘ group was a poorly chosen name.  It has never been exclusively about ‘RL Architects’ (what exactly is a RL architect anyway?).  Further still, a growing percentage of the group’s members are actively exploring architecture in other virtual world platform beyond Second Life.  That said, the name has never accurately reflected the group’s composition or intended goal of bringing people together, and there are too many exciting things happening in this field to have that lack of focus.  Its time to turn the page.  This week, I’ll be purging the RL Architects in Second Life group, and asking everyone to join a group with a name that more fully encompasses the work we do, called simply Architecture in Virtual Worlds.  This name, however simplistic, more fully recognizes the diversity of the group’s collective interest, and is much more inviting to anyone exploring architecture in various locations throughout the metaverse.

The LAND: Most people who are aware of this blog are not aware of Architecture Islands, or the the architecture sandboxes or the in-world group, and vice-versa.  This is a missed opportunity, given that all of the energy we put into evangelizing the use of virtual worlds is not tied to a clearly defined means of rolling up your sleeves and getting started.  I think we need to establish a much stronger connection between the web-based presence and the actual in-world activity.  The ARCH Network will have a stronger emphasis on the land rental/purchase side of things, and will also be more diversified in offering virtual land of all shapes, sizes, and platforms.  Land policies and prices will also be changing soon, and I will post news on that when the time comes.

The Blog: is great, but its time for this to be hosted on its own domain.  Also, the blog itself is only one tile in the mosaic.  Viewed alone, it is impossible to see the full picture we’re trying to convey.  Writing text about virtual worlds is like using a watercolor painting to describe what a pencil sketch is.  To address this disconnect, and to provide additional tools and resources for readers to use, this blog will now be nested within a larger body of virtual world context, and become a place where someone who has never heard of a ‘virtual world’ can gather all of the information they need to get started.  The new domain will be and I urge you to add this subscription to your feeds.

The ARCH Forum: It is incredibly difficult for any one person to keep track of all of the work and exciting new trends happening throughout the metaverse.  We need to be a way for people to share their observations, ideas, projects, etc.  Instead of sending people off to the Ning site I tried out a while ago, I have instead included an ‘Arch Forum’ within these pages.  Maybe it will get used, maybe it won’t, its hard to tell with Forums.  But its there if you need it.  It is the simplest way I can think of to make this site as ‘writable’ as it is ‘readable’ and I hope you will consider using it as a resource and communication tool.   You can find that forum here:

I sincerely hope these updates will help the ARCH become a stronger, more focused and holistic resource.  If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to IM Keystone Bouchard in SL or email me at

See you in-world!

Beautiful Browsers: Therapy for the Mainstream
March 25, 2009, 3:34 pm
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Everywhere I turn these days, someone is reminding me that virtual worlds like Second Life or Opensim will never reach ‘mainstream’ adoption until everyday ordinary web users can access them through special plug-ins downloaded for those precious 2d web browsers we love so much.  Lots of serious programmers are hot on the heels of this holy grail of technologies, but if you’re among those millions who are allegedly out there in the ‘mainstream’ who refuse to explore virtual worlds until you can see it through your browser, wait no more!

I’ve created a special ‘Placebo Browser’ you can attach to your avatar, which provides the illusion that you’re still inside your browser!**  Just to reinforce the full effect, the browser is double-sided, so people you meet inside the virtual world will see you framed inside that beautiful browser as well!   Send an IM request to Keystone Bouchard, and I’ll provide you with a free copy of the ‘Placebo Browser’ so you can finally begin to experience the metaverse from the safe, cozy and artificial comfort of a 2D web browser.

** Warning: Using a Placebo Browser can have serious side-effects such as others laughing at you, sometimes hysterically.  Other side effects may include the obscuring of part of your screen, and the slight but potential risk that you may eventually want to remove the browser attachment in order to see the full virtual world experience full-screen.  Be sure to check with your IT professional to be sure Placebo Browser is right for you.

Seriously folks… we’re talking about a 22 +/- mb download (many 3D browser plug-ins and the subsequent content downloads are the same or far greater).  This takes less than 40 seconds to download on average broadband.  I realize browser integration is key for accessing virtual worlds behind a firewall (though I’m told many plug-ins are equally restricted), but is this the only way?

While I’m at it, I also don’t think poor orientation or the presence of X-rated content is the big bottleneck either (there’s X-rated content and poor orientation in Manhattan, but people still do business there…).  I think its those annoying bugs that haven’t changed in years and years.  Its the lag, the gray goo, the forever-blurry textures that never seem to rez, the naked-avatar bugs, the lack of model interoperability, heck – even the name “Second Life” itself!  Does it really have to be something ‘secondary’ or an alternative to my first life?  I certainly don’t see it that way.  One of the most exciting things about opensim is that I can simply tell people ‘I’m doing work in opensim’ and people are genuinely curious about what that is, and how it works.  Compare that with the smirky, ‘you gotta be kidding me’ reaction I get when I tell people I work in Second Life.

Yeah, maybe lack of browser integration is what’s keeping virtual worlds from the mainstream.  Its certainly worth a try.

Whatever it takes.

Worlds merging: A video response from X3D

A few weeks ago, I posted a video showing how my Revit model was imported into realxtend by Visibuild.  It generated lots of interest and traffic, suggesting to me that model interoperability is an important priority for lots of us.

Shortly after posting that my friend Damon Hernandez, always a spirited supporter of X3D, asked if I would send him that same Revit model so he could demonstrate the capabilities of X3D.  The closest I had ever come to seeing some of the more current X3D applications in action is while exploring Vivaty or ExitReality, and I was excited to see what he could do with it.  24 hours later, he sent me this video showing that same model in several X3D based environments.  What an impressive and entirely convincing demonstration!  I had no idea X3D had come so far.

This is by no means an exhaustive demonstration of everything X3D can do, and is only intended to serve as an introduction.  But what I find most compelling is the fact that this model can retain its metadata, and theoretically retain its BIM data.  If we were to develop a fully interactive model of a building, visitors could drill through this metadata, clicking any material or product in the home and discovering specific information about each building component.  I’m told it could even be useful as a CAM model, whereby manufacturers could interpret this data and use robots to assemble the home in real life.

So, here I have a seemingly limitless range of opportunities at my fingertips, yet this model – even if it were fully textured and polished – would not be useful to me in real-life practice.  The design is far from final, and we are still ironing out several key features such as the living room ceiling, the front entry, and the fireplace/hearth.  If I’m working with X3D, I have the option of either 1.) waiting until the model is final before sending it to be imported  2.)  send several batches of different design ideas and have them all imported  3.) become an X3D geek, and figure out how to import it myself, so I can do so on-the-fly as we develop new ideas.

No matter how I approach it, it isn’t useful to me as a schematic design tool – nor is it necessarily intended, or ready to be used that way (yet).  So, we really are comparing apples to oranges.  It isn’t that one platform is necessarily better than another, but that they each hold value in different phases of the design process.  As you could see in the realxtend demo included in my first post, I was able to simply exclude parts of the design weren’t finalized yet, then use the in-world modeling tools to mock up several options to share with our clients.  Those elements can be edited in realtime, while the client is present – and we can cycle through lots of different material and color options.

When my model was first imported into Visibuild, it looked exactly like it does on this video – raw and unedited.  But the difference is that with Visibuild, I was personally able to log in and continue designing and testing new ideas.  Using prims to build really does feel like sketching to me, only better, and within the context of my Revit model that contained room sizes and plan layout that had already been approved.  I can also build the entourage myself, exactly the way I want it.  I can import 3D Warehouse models if I want, or from any range of stock 3D entourage resources available.  The key is that I can easily do it myself, and the learning curve is nowhere as steep as it would be if I wanted to do the same in X3D.

That doesn’t take anything away from X3D as an incredibly powerful technology.  In fact, it could be that it’s far too powerful for what I primarily use virtual worlds for.  As an open standard  ‘simulation level’ technology, its actually reaching down to enable multi-user and simple representation of geometry.  Its power lies in the ability to eventually attain things like simulation-level physics, and retention of  metadata.  This is surely the new frontier for architecture and virtual environments.  Once we achieve seamless interoperability of geometry, our next major priority will be seamless data interoperability so our ‘smart’ BIM models don’t have to become ‘dumb’ each time they enter or leave a virtual environment.

Until then, it seems there might be an opportunity for collaboration here.  I know nothing about the core technology at work behind all of this, but I do know that one of these world is currently best for pre-design and design development, and the other is better for final design visualization and post-design.  Could they ever meet half way?  Will X3D eventually include in-world modeling and collaboration tools?  Will realxtend models someday become simulation level technology and retain metadata?  If geometry and data become fluidly interoperable, will it even matter?

More from the AIA about virtual worlds

Last week, I wrote about MellaniuM’s use of the Unreal engine in architectural visualization.  Yesterday, the American Insitute of Architect’s newsletter AIArchitect covers another story about virtual worlds, this time about HKS‘s decision to license the most recent release of the same engine – Unreal Engine 3, by Epic Games Inc.  Read the whole story here:

It seems we have 2 vectors emerging.  On the one hand we have a kind of grassroots utilization of free virtual world platforms like Second Life and opensim that are leading with affordances for user-generated-content (UGC).  On the other end of the spectrum, we have high-end platforms like  HKS’s ARCHengine that are off the charts in expense and complexity.  What both vectors share in common is a ‘Do It Yourself’ (DIY) approach to design visualization.   Imagine it, architects spending 6 or7 digit figures to license a video game engine…

Speaking of DIY and UGC, I’ve been wondering lately…  Is Second Life to architecture what blogs are to publishing?

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

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:

Shared Intelligent Spaces

Check out this intriguing trailer for SHASPA – another exciting project from Oliver Goh (see also Eolus) and the island connected directly to the north of Architecture Island in Second Life.

“SHASPA is an innovative platform and set of services that a blend of emerging technologies such as
wireless sensors, social networks, virtual worlds and electronic games can plug into to create
applications which integrate, visualise, monitor and manage the physical and virtual environment.”