Saturday, December 24, 2005

Snow Globe

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Part of this year's Second Life Winter Festival, in Jill Mackenzie's Snow Globe (Zermatt 10,94,84) we finally find a build that captures the essence of home, not just as an archetype but as a pure idea, pure as the snow blanketing blemishes of doubt and despair, clear as an Alpha Channel, this humble build regales the visitor with ample conceptual spackle to smooth sundry cognitive fissures and miscellaneous bits of dissonance suspended like gold flakes in cinnamon schnapps.

The globe is accompanied by a circuitous toy train traveling relentlessly (to find its winning station) and simultaneously stunned like a reindeer in the headlights reflecting a savage quest for shelter, prisoners in a circumnavigable jail we bear the burden of our own creation the incessant bombardment of particulate that doesn't particularly matter, a primitive hut for the primitive Av we huddle in this bastion from the chill of fragile existence, psychotic penguin sentinels waiting to rez their gentle double−barreled persuasion you say you want a revolution bigger than baby Jesus, away in a manger with gifts of empty bottles, frankincense and tier. This frozen glass Eden is big enough for all our gods, those yet to be born, those reincarnate. Gods of war, this be your fortress, gods of porn this be your skybox in the ether, breath deeply, feel the precipitous embrace...

(Note: As of this writing Mr. Poutine has been restrained and temporarily placed in the care of family members in a secluded rural location, with internet access restricted to a dial-up connection. In the midst of being dragged away he muttered something about wanting to wish his many readers a happy holiday. You heard that right, he said many readers. Clearly delusional and reeling from his recent exposure in Hamlet Linden's New World Notes, Mr. Poutine will be receiving a needed rest.)

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Koolhaus III

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Koolhaus III in Breakers dAlliez (11,158) is another exciting piece of work in our evolving spectrum of residential builds. Unlike some homes which rely extensively on textures, and others that depend on pure abstract surfaces, Koolhaus III assumes a position between the two. In terms of function, this build also seems to sit somewhere in the middle, neither a fully-engaged domestic setting nor a completely detached artifact.

The house is a composition of strong primary shapes which serve to establish a rich sequence of enclosed and courtyard spaces with landscape elements flowing from inside to outside. Despite the build's well-established formal expression, the spaces for the most part are quite amorphous and transparent, with the potential to be perceived in a number of different ways depending on one's viewpoint.

This sense of fluidity is further reinforced by the build's material palette. The walls are expressed as a combination of pure white surfaces and white colored bricks, but the use of white colour in this case is substantially different than that found in previously visited builds. It could be suggested that the plain white surfaces impart a certain sense of abstraction to the textured 'realness' of the brick, while the white color of the brick acts to 'realize' the abstraction of the plain solid surfaces, with the net effect of canceling each other out in a curious act of dematerialization. The wall treatments, when combined with the delicate filigree of the various window conditions reinforce not only the importance of the occupied ground plane and the objects contained within the various spaces, but also the surrounding landscape (which as of this writing is a delightful holiday mashup of snow and palm trees).

The builder Rem Koolhaas takes his online namesake from the founder of the Office for Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), arguably best known to the North American public for the new Seattle Public Library and various projects for Prada (especially if that episode of Sex and the City where Carrie buys a red shirt for her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend means anything). Koolhaus III, however, in its formal rigour seems devoid of any sort of uppity cultural criticism or zeitgeisty goodness typical of the Dutch powerhouse, nor does it appear to fundamentally challenge notions of the nature of residential living in SL. Instead, it presents a very well-executed alternative to the historicist styles that seem to prevail in the residential market, and is another fine example of a residence that is built to accommodate both the site and its occupants rather than impose upon them.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Single Maltz Residence

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Having now looked at a number of residential builds I remained somewhat unconvinced as to their relevance, mainly because it would seem that SL is a place that we visit rather than reside. If anything, the function of a residential build seems largely symbolic rather than functional, a signifier of the type of lifestyle with which one wishes to associate themselves, an extension of the avatar, a place to display one's possessions.

Which is why I was taken by surprise when encountering a stunning home in Chicagon (Chicagon 5,219). Aside from the architecture, which does a fantastic job of cozying into its hillside contours, retained with a solid sloped wall on the high side and setting up the condition for a series of angular shells which partially encapsulate volumes completed by either planes of glass or landscape elements, what was even more rarefied about this iconic build, with its highly specific response to site was that its owner, Single Maltz was there alone, playing her piano. Actually residing in her residence.

I couldn't help but be compelled to enter and ask permission to feature the build. She invited me in, and we sat down in chairs placed in an area that had been intentionally designed for one-on-one conversation. I learned that in RL she is an architectural professional based in the UK, and that she had built the house herself. We chatted about the limitations of the building tools, the relevance of enclosure and all seemed so...civilized. In fact, the very fact that we were in this build of her own creation contributed immensely to how I came to understand the way Single wishes to present herself in a manner that was very different than the usual adhoc sandbox encounter spent mostly rezzing and passing inventory. The highly personal nature of this build was an integral part of the encounter, much more so than if it had occurred within a prefab, infinitely more so than the commodified objects it contained.

Having left this encounter my opinions of residential builds had changed, thinking perhaps they can indeed not only serve a symbolic but also a functional purpose. This build wasn't merely representing a visual style with which the owner wanted to be associated. This residence has been brilliantly conceived around the act of welcoming. We may indeed only aspire to be visitors in this world, but my experience in this place of dwelling, however temporary, has dramatically shaped my experience in a positive way.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Mar Vista Residence

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Octal Kahn's Mar Vista Residence (Shamrock 55, 155) is another highly realistic build worthy of consideration. When compared to the Slightly Droog home the texturing is subtle, but closer inspection reveals that not a single surface has been untouched by additional prims intended to enhance the geometry in terms of light and shadow. Particular attention has been paid to the manner in which the recessed lighting fixtures add a wash of light on the walls, as well as to the intersections between vertical and horizontal surfaces that typically receive less illumination. The resultant sense of volume is perhaps even more pronounced than that of the Slightly Droog Home as one expends less visual energy concentrating on the photographic nature of a heavily textured surface, leaving greater opportunity to comprehend its volumetric qualities. The spatial nature of the house as a container is reinforced by the exquisite detailing of the objects contained within, including furnishings, appliances, equipment and yes, even plumbing :)

The build is a faithful recreation of Octal's RL home designed by mid-century modernist Gregory Ain and is presented as a kind of archeological artifact, complete with removable roof and interpretive center-style signage outside the driveway. This sense of removal is heightened by its disconnection with the surrounding context, as the build sits on a block and is sited several meters below the grade of the adjacent roadway that runs through the sim. As well, there have been no deviations from the purity of the reconstruction made in the name of typical scaling and camera issues, and oddly enough one could suggest the required switch to mouselook seems to heighten this sense of a place removed from everyday SL existence, representing a curious juxtaposition of how the third-person view is seen as more indicative of 'direct' experience.

As an aside, the whole thing strangely parallels an RL visit to the work of one of Gregory Ain's better known contemporaries, Rudolph Schindler. The Schindler House has been decommissioned as a functioning residence and is now home to the MAK Centre for Art and Architecture, a North American offshoot of the MAK in Vienna. While there I encountered an installation whereby one of the rooms of the house was completely covered in white foamboard, a material traditionally used in architectural models, essentially turning the entire area into a full scale abstraction. This sudden grinding of my cognitive gearbox forced a similar yet opposite transition, from first person to third, and all of a sudden by standing in a 1:1 scale model the architectural artifact became more real.

So my sincere thanks to you Octal, for creating this seam in my space-time continuum, and for keeping your bathroom so clean.

Update: Nearly one year later the Mar Vista Residence is still standing, and continues to impress. Check out Hamlet Au's feature on it as a part of his 'The World From My Window' series over at New World Notes.