Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Little House on the Sandbox

House on Swan PondHouse on Swan PondHouse on Swan Pond

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.


At 7/19/2006 4:52 PM, Blogger Rez said...

How interesting -- I've wondered if this type thing has happened before with SL and arch visualization; it seems just the other day I ran into someone who said they were an architect irl showing a building/residence to a rl client through SL that evening. How prevalent this might be...who knows, but the ability to step into the design at a relatively early stage in the rl building process is a superb example of how sl can be used to bridge a gap for many non-gamers.

It would be interesting to know if the rl house has had to change as a consequence of the sl model -- because of the interaction of the clients with the space, seeing the way it felt...then I would wonder about camera angles -- did that affect how the builder built it in sl? And then, whether the quality of the build in sl should be just a sketch of the idea, or if it should be a fully textured, gap-free rendition, as it's not that much more difficult to do, and it gives the space a much larger depth of feeling...but then, if it's being used in tandem with other media, the sketch model could easily be enough. This is a case where I wonder if quick and dirty will do the trick, or not.

At 7/19/2006 6:13 PM, Blogger Chip Poutine said...

I think we're going to see a lot more of this kind of experimentation, given how difficult some of the other realtime tools are to use.

I also like the idea that a work in progress can persist in virtual space such that the client can visit at any time throughout the development process, and not necessarily have to be always be guided by the designer. In such a case the build might start as a sketch and end up as a completely finished work.

At 7/20/2006 11:03 AM, Blogger Nedra Weinreich said...

And how soon until someone builds a home in SL and tells their architect, "This is what I want you to build me in RL." Or a developer recreates a RL housing development in SL to generate interest in buying the real thing (would be ideal in communities near military bases or a company HQ where people have to move from a distance).

At 7/20/2006 11:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm curious how people using SL for RL visualization deal with the different scale. The default avatars are around two meters tall, so translating RL dimensions directly to SL results in builds and objects that seem too small. I've had difficulty creating an avatar that matches my RL height but looks good.

At 7/20/2006 12:24 PM, Blogger Chip Poutine said...

Interesting you should mention that. During a pilot project with a gaming company a couple of years ago they mentioned that all of their levels are designed to be at least twice as big as the RL scale. Their suggestion was that this is not only for the movement of the camera, but also for the perception or 'feeling' of the space.

Perhaps the SL-RL applicaton for architecture may be more one of relative proportions rather than exact measurements.

At 7/21/2006 8:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very interesting to read...it fills the gap between a clients perception and the architects one..how well (accurately) does anyone imagine what something will be or feel like of drawings or sketches.??
A person can walk around and check if things will be were they want it, eg to far from here to there?? right position in relation to that etc..all those practical questions can be asked and answered..

Avatar body proportions (a known quantity already) have to be correct(I believe) in resizing to eg 6' tall to "look" right..I wish it was a sliding scale gadget in the tools...

Wirimu Dale (down sized to about 6'7" so far...)

At 7/25/2006 9:44 AM, Blogger rikomatic said...

I wonder how sellable this more collaborative model of house architecture would be? My understanding is that there is a lower market of house architects who sell somewhat pre-made plans with some customizations available, and a high-end where the architect starts from almost scratch developing plans in direct consultation with the client.

Do architects on the medium-budget end even want their clients have much more than cursory input into the designs? Is this a niche that technology is needed to fill?

At 7/27/2006 3:00 PM, Blogger rikomatic said...

Dude, someone has done a CAD simulation of the Brady House! Someone must port this to SL!


At 7/27/2006 6:10 PM, Blogger Chip Poutine said...

Wow, that's a very Brady model. Indeed.

At 8/12/2006 12:55 AM, Blogger Prokofy Neva said...

I'm also interested to know how the landscaping of this house was achieved in SL too.

At 7/25/2011 6:05 AM, Anonymous Douglas Kramer said...

It would be interesting to know if the rl house has had to change as a consequence of the sl model.

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