Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Frisch (but not Neue)

[Images Redacted]

A castle captures the imagination and aspirations of many a Second Life resident, a powerful epoxy of authority and territoriality catalysed by escapism and fantasy. At any given time many variations on the theme can be found fused to the grid, including the temporary remnants of building contests or tacky cable TV tie-ins (such as the self-proclaimed "ugliest building in Second Life" for G4's Attack of the Shills Show). Previously we examined Tetsuharu Nino's Castle as a mashup of traditional and contemporary architectural sensibilities, providing an exciting if not somewhat brash impression of Japanese culture. From this we now move to another castle built for another of Second Life's regional subcontinents, namely Jauani Wu and Nicola Escher's "Ulrichsburg," a subtle and masterful remixing of German influences on the sim of Frisch (Note: The build is not yet officially open, and as with Tetsuharu's Castle, typical teleport links have been omitted due to the nature of the sim. Despite the lack of direct access lots of pics are to be found on Snapzilla, including this album).

Jauani has previously blogged about the process of putting this build together in an Open Letter to Ben Linden. We'll take the opportunity now to focus on the finished product, for which Ben had the following to say:
"I think this is one of the best single pieces of content created in SL, including in-house work. It is incredibly well designed, and very good looking."
The build provides the orientation experience that all new avatars have gone through, complete with scary parrot (and presumably the occasional griefer rezzing yet another alt). As the source of many first impressions this build is a perfect introduction to the graphical possibilities inherent in Second Life's graphics engine, demonstrating that in the right hands SL (for all of the additional technical challenges inherent in streaming user-created assets) can indeed hold its own alongside games in the MMORPG market to which it is commonly compared. The tendency for comparison is also addressed somewhat by the build taking the form of a castle itself, with an element of the familiar as a means to transition new users into the idea of a dynamic metaverse rather than a pre-rendered grind-fest.

That said, perhaps even more important to the success of Ulrichsburg than the remarkable shading and texture work (for which Jauani adds that not a single repeating texture is to be found) is the layout of the castle, namely the sequence of movement and placement of the orientation stations. The path that one follows is intuitive to navigate yet unfolds with a sense of discovery that does not feel linear, a direct yet winding ascent. Through stations such as 'getting a closer look' and 'flying', where the former presents the avatar with a panoramic promontory from which to learn the finer points of camera control and the latter raises the stakes and heightens the moment for that first brave leap off a harrowing precipice, the architectural context profoundly enhances the experience of gaining new skills and confidence in a new world.

The build has been modeled after the real Chateau St. Ulrich, however according to Jauani a few small liberties were taken in order to enhance the orientation narrative. Jauani and Nicola's interpretation of the castle as a ruin proves a sophisticated and resonant reference to German culture, evocative without being overt, reflective without being presumptuous. In the midst of everything this build has to offer the visitor, indeed even more is conjured in the imagination, empowered by possibility, fused to the grid from this point forward.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Hipcast.com Conference and Expo Center

[Images Redacted]

Perhaps Jauani Wu has already best captured the essence of this build in his comment on Snapzilla:
"simply - wow!"
The Hipcast.com Conference and Expo Centre bears the design signature of Endira Udal and Rez Menoptra of Rezzust (formerly Kush Design Lab), and represents their most jaw-dropping work to date.

Their Art of Nature Gallery was the subject of a previous review, where the attitude toward the use of color, tensile materials, and landscape integration have been clearly carried forward into this massively-scaled event space, commissioned by media superconductor Spin Martin and projected over the water on his island sim of Shalida (146,238,30 - view on map | direct teleport)

Functionally, the build appears well-purposed for hosting large conferences and trade events in a manner that is easily navigable and as much fun to fly through as it is to walk around. The spaces are enveloped by an continuous extrusion that threads its way through repeating structural sections, creating pockets for the primary hall and gathering space on the main level, as well as secondary halls in the two levels above. The whole thing is capped off with a hypnotic curved glass canopy that Rez simply described to me as taking a long time to figure out... Astride the main extrusion are two levels of smaller salons with a courtyard formed by the space between these two major architectural elements.

The overall feeling is open and airy, in some ways more like a pavilion or an inhabitable sculpture where avs are to be found nesting with their ideas and wares. The material palette is restrained, save for the exuberant colored banners and glass panels that Spin describes as his favorite parts of the build. The restraint also lends further punctuation to the landscape elements, plants, trees, and fountains, all carefully integrated to at times respond to the structural order, at others to deny it, adding to the overall sense of dynamic interplay between the spaces of the conference centre and the formal elements by which they are framed. The only relatively problematic aspect of the build at this point appears to lie with the entry sequence, specifically the manner in which one begins to walk toward the entrance from the circular rezzing platform only to encounter an unexpected and unceremonious drop down onto a short bridge that is itself nicely laden with event-specific regalia.

One minor problem aside, the conference center is a significant watershed structure, a genuine (and photogenic) work of virtual architecture that has the potential to contribute to the image of Second Life on the world stage. Rather than drag out the example of how an iconic build like Frank Gehry's Bilbao Guggenheim has put the Spanish city on the map (an impact that is slowly diluting as every B-list burb vies for its own version of the titanium turd), I would rather suggest parallels to the manner in which Massimiliano Fuksas's new conference centre, the Nuovo Polo Fiera Milano utilizes architecture as a medium to elevate the art of gathering and the exchange of ideas. With a similar sense of refinement, elegance, grandeur, and enthusiasm, the architecture of the Hipcast.com Conference and Expo Centre is sure to broaden the appeal and edifice of Second Life to the big fish that Spin has been reeling in as of late (not to mention a certain 800 pound Gorilla).

So, like Jauani said, wow. Simply, wow.