Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Little House on the Sandbox

[Images Redacted]

The House on Swan Pond is the kind of build in SL that could be easily overlooked. At first glance, it seems to be a competent albeit somewhat ubiquitous example of SL structures reflecting architectural values of Real Life, yet appearing to miss the opportunities afforded by virtual space to escape the constraints posed by physics, climate, and finance.

Keep looking. Things are not as they appear.

The House on Swan Pond exists as an analogue to a RL structure for a good reason - it is a real house being designed for a real family. The author, Keystone Bouchard, makes a living as a residential designer specializing in energy efficient 'green' houses and within a week of rezzing in SL had attained sufficient skill with the building tools to mock up the structure in order to collaborate with his clients - to better visualize the design, establish a dialogue about the design, and capture the imagination in a way that is not possible utilizing typical drawings, still renderings, or other burgeoning (not to mention outrageously expensive and/or cumbersome) realtime tools. The family can literally occupy the house, get a feel for the spaces, and suggest changes based on their first-person evaluation. A Second Life dream representing a Real Life artifact, instead of the other way around.

The SL incarnation of the house lacks some of the detail suggested by a more typical architectural rendering pictured above (provided courtesy of Crescendo Design). Textures apparent in the rendering give way to pure surfaces and/or default plywood (at the time of this writing, anyway). As well, small gaps in the construction are visble, and the build seems to be constructed with an abundance of prims that may make it unsuitable for some plots of land. That's not to say that the house does not have the potential to become a viable prefab given some technical optimization or that Keystone has no aspirations to sell prefabs or help build communities in SL, but again, in the case of this build these issues are of lesser relevance, as one could suggest the House on Swan Pond as it exists within SL at this moment is not so much a work of virtual architecture as it is another form of architectural representation.

When considered in this light it is not uncommon to carefully consider which medium is most appropriate to the design process at any given time, and the degree to which abstraction is a means to make a stronger connection with a client, such that they may be able to invest themselves and infer into the possibilities of the architecture as it continues in its development, filling in the blanks and completing the experience, not entirely unlike how the simple blips and bleeps of the Atari 2600 swept me away as a youngster to entirely different worlds - jungles, oceans, or outer space, all with the same basic set of chunky 'primitives,' if you will.

So while SL for its technical limitations is still a long way from the Virtual Reality envisioned by scientists, novelists, and Hollywood art directors, one might suggest that it represents a powerful space for architecture that engages the imagination rather than simply reflecting it. And yet it seems somewhat fitting that the clients of the House On Swan Pond were greeted at the front door by a completely nude avatar that was leaving nothing to the imagination, if you get my drift. Just another day in the sandbox, unlike any other, hard to overlook.