Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Black Library





Libraries have long been one of a few archetypical building forms to readily transcend the boundaries of physical space. The web is full of sites referring to themselves as 'virtual libraries', and the internet in general as a 'container for information' is rife with spatial metaphor - chat rooms, firewalls, etc. The concept of a library among these more obvious examples has been exploited to varying degrees of success. As a result of these numerous treatments, one can see examples of virtual libraries on a continuum from those which accurately reproduce their physical counterparts to those which completely embrace the abstraction and the structural potentials of information itself.

A particularly bad example of the former can be found in the Michael Douglas / Demi Moore stinker Disclosure. In and amongst all the dry humping lies a tenuous plot thread centering around a VR database, where one presumably walks aimlessly down virtual halls replete with polished marble floors and gilded Corinthian columns until one finds the right virtual file cabinet and pulls out the virtual document that one requires. Would it have killed them to use the card catalogue? When information already exists in a visual format, and hyperlinks take us directly to the information, what is the added value of spatial navigation?

In Second Life, the Black Library (Furness 206,16) answers that question in a rather unique way. Each book contained in the library provides a link to the website of Wandering Yaffle (www.alwaysblack.com) where one actually reads the articles. It would then be easy to argue that since the writings can be more easily and readily accessed through the website, why bother to have a spatial counterpart other than as a mere promotional tool?

It would be just as easy to respond that the library, with its almost soviet-era composition of concrete and glass imparts a curious sense of personality and gravitas that enhances the experience of the website and provides an important experiential context for the writing. I might even go so far as to suggest one gets the best of both worlds. Go there, and do not miss the theatre, lest I haul out another Kubrickian proclivity.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Juro Kothari Homes






The sim of Deneb features a number of interesting builds, one of the most striking is a small shopfront run by well-known SL builder Juro Kothari (Deneb 182,145). This build is a sophisticated and sensitive response to the commercial context of the sim that also serves to reinforce a sense of brand identity.

First of all, unlike many commercial builds, this shop does a very good job of addressing the street in general, and the corner in particular. The whole idea of streets in SL is an interesting one to me. I have yet to see an Av driving by in a vehicle, or walking on the sidewalk, due perhaps in some part to the fact that such confinement and conformity is something we experience too much of in RL as it is. Nonetheless, this build accepts the street as a site condition and deals with it well. Specifically, the corner is opened in a rectilinear fashion without resorting to a 45 degree chamfer, the resultant being a strong spatial (rather than formal) entry condition. The vertical projection of the signage past the roof line of the build provides a similar entry condition for those who are airborne.

The build is expressed as a compelling volumetric interplay between continuous and carved elements, with a clear differentiation between 'heavy' wall components and 'light' glass components. The crisp, plain white color provides a nice complement to the textured volumes and brings a unique graphic sensibility to the build as a whole. The build abuts Cyrus Designs (a structure also owned by Juro Kothari) and complements this build while maintaining its own identity. The two structures look as if they may have been conceived simultaneously, if this is the case Juro's shop is the more successful of the two.

Once inside, the content is well organized, and feels consistent with an overall concept. Functionally the scale of the build facilitates ease of movement while keeping camera issues to a minimum. This is a good thing since for being such a small build there's a lot here to gawk at. Its a good thing us Avs don't get whiplash.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Tyg Jarrico's Burning Life






Tyg Jarrico's Burning Life (Burning Life 2 66,99) is one of many hallucinatory trips through the prosaic and sublime aspects of our existence to be experienced on the Burning Life Sims for 2005, however it is the overall presentation and packaging of this particular build that warrants mention here.

The entry sequence through a small water garden seems a bit superfluous once one begins the ascent into a mysterious matrix of luminous, translucent coloured orbs that really starts the futile process of trying to get one's mind around this structure. Each orb from the exterior features an animated cloud texture that heightens a sense of departure from the desert floor.

Movement through the structure is a strictly linear sequence which occasionally pops out into the interstitial space between the orbs, each of which belies its transparent exterior as a container for a thematic moment, spelunking a cave, pining away in an apartment, traversing the backs of butterflies, navigating a starfield, cloistered in the cabin of a commercial airliner...hopefully you're starting to get my drift. The only conceptually inconsistent area in the build is the 'Art Museum' but this is more than made up for by the dramatic climax, starkly alone, in the blackness of space, staring back at the planet earth.

The trans-dimensional aspect of this build is reminiscent to me of the slitscan sequence at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey (sans giant floating fetus, although it wouldn't have been out of place), as one is bombarded with flashes of possible alternative realities, with the orbs acting as architectural skeleton. The monolith is dead. Long live the monolith.

Update: The 'Orbs of Wonder' now have a permenant home in Thunberg (90,222).

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Best of SLRR - Neumoegen Station







Its easy to see why Fallingwater Cellardoor's entry in the SLRR design competition is a winner - it appeals on a number of levels.

On a functional level, the Neumoegen station (Neumoegen 109, 153) can be admired on the basis of the builder's skill alone. The sinuous, organic quality of the structural connection clearly demonstrates of the art of the possible. The shadow maps applied directly to textures serves to clearly differentiate the various surfaces of the objects. The scale and height of the structure minimize camera problems associated with many builds.

On another level, and perhaps more importantly, the Neumoegen station is a significant example of an appropriate work of architecture for a virtual world such as the world of SL. It transcends the limitations imposed by RL, without imitating it. It bends the rules of structural logic, without bowing down to them or throwing them out altogether.

Finally, it has a strong narrative quality without appearing like a set-piece, or diorama, although this forum post (requires login) might suggest otherwise.

If only the railroad itself worked as well as this station. Those of you who have tried to ride it know what I'm talking about.

Welcome to Virtual Suburbia

Hi There. After all this time, I finally find something to write about. You see, without the time and resources to jet around the world reviewing actual architecture, I can now teleport through the user-created world of Second Life. So why do this? For those of you who are unacquainted with Second Life, I thought you might want to see some of the interesting things people are doing. For those of you in Second Life, I thought I might start the discussion of what exactly constitutes architecture appropriate for a virtual world.

Its amazing how much banality permeates Second Life, two cars in the garage, clapboard and frilly curtains everywhere. It would be far to easy to go on an extended jag about this, and many, including mainstream design magazines such as Dwell, already have, suggesting in the August 2005 issue that "avatars seem to resort to cliched design tropes."

Instead, I choose to focus on what I consider to be good examples of space and form, and reflect perhaps on what it means to shelter ourselves in a place where there is no need for shelter.