Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Mobile's Home: The TELUS Store

[Images Redacted]

As reported in my first post for, Canada's second largest telecommunications company has set up shop in the sim of Shinda (view on map | direct teleport). The post said a little about the architecture and a lot about the significance of the first major Canadian corporation, the first major Telco, and the first branded mobile handsets to appear in Second Life.

Let us now invert that discussion and talk about one heck of a build.

As reiterated over at another blog, I did stumble upon the store. There were a couple of reasons for that. First, the build is sited on the mainland. Its hard to accidentally teleport to an island (not that I haven't done my share of double-clicking the map at random). Second, its scoops up eyeballs like a grizzly bear in a salmon run, attracting attention not for the kind of iconic qualities we've examined in previous posts but rather for its subtly refined shading and prim details that place it in vast contrast to the garish structures that comprise its environs.

Lighting and shadow details contribute significantly to the success of the build, and could be easily mistaken for handiwork of SL's resident Master Chef of texture baking, the legendary Aimee Weber - but you would be wrong. This is the work of relative newcomer Scope Cleaver. Arriving with a (seemingly ideal) background in Fine Arts and IT Systems, Scope thus far has only three custom builds under his belt (not to mention a newly launched Prefab business), and you'll be seeing all three of them here in the days to come.

Scope describes his work as 'freestyle', riffing off the possibilities for space and form presented by the medium. TELUS Advertising Manager Sparkle Dale had examples to show him from their flagship stores, but these were simply to reference the look and feel of the brand experience. The actual design of the store was Scope's vision from the ground up.

His penchant for I-beams and facades that "cut like a magazine layout" are salient here in a legible structural order of steel, glass and concrete that would feel perhaps a little too monochrome if it were not for his sophisticated use of colour, the familiar purple and green that I see plastered all over the media and malls of my home town. The end result is a playful, airy and gracious single-level space that resonates with the RL brand but also successfully extends it into virtual space, in this case doing so without wild formal gymnastics or flagrant breaches of the laws of physics. Rather the build, like the TELUS effort as a whole, engages simply by trying to understand what it means to be an avatar, and then making an earnest effort to deliver.

From the perspective of avatar usability one might deem it somewhat more successful than the recently launched and much ballyhooed American Apparel outlet on the island of Lerappa (view on map | direct teleport) by the aforementioned Ms. Webber. While the build itself is more prim efficient than the TELUS build, and somewhat less laggy by virtue of not being located next to The Matrix Nightclub, Aimee's trademark texturing brilliance is slightly overshadowed (if you'll pardon the pun) by the somewhat constricted proportions of the plan and the inclusion of a second storey that is accessed via two perceptually narrow and steep staircases. A generous deck on the roof of the first level serves as a landing point for those who wish to go back outside and fly to up rather than negotiate the stairs. The decision to employ a second floor is interesting given that the store is currently sits alone on the sim. That being said, there is much to admire in the design of the American Apparel store, and the effort is deserved of the accolades that it has been given.

For the moment let us turn our attention back to the mainland. The TELUS Store is at the time of this writing celebrating its Grand Opening, including an event in RL for the Telco's non avatar-based employees. Among the swag you'll find free helium balloons that I am disappointed to say cannot be inhaled, so no high octave party in the mouth.

Just a feast for the eyes.

Friday, August 11, 2006

ManorMeta Crystalline Home

[Images Redacted]

The ManorMeta Crystalline Home is currently on display in Brilliant (view on map | direct teleport) as a part of the Architecture category in the New West Art Exhibition. After picking my jaw up off the floor, my first question was simple: What is it, exactly?

The home as entered in the exhibition is a significant embellishment upon a pre-existing 'alpha' build in the Better World Sim that has been documented on Snapzilla by Second Life residents Torley Linden (who purports to have entered 'THE KICKASS ZONE') and Tao Takashi (for whom it looked rather strange at first glance). While the build in Better World appears to be somewhat permanent, its mutant cousin on steroids will only be available for viewing in Brilliant until Sunday. Fortunately, it has already been extensively photographed by its creators (and to whom credit is owed for the images appearing in this post). That said, the initial question remained: What is it, exactly?

Some of the more 'pragmatic' details on home can be found here, but luckily I ran into In Kenzo, one of the build's two creators, who was able to fill in some of the gaps. According to Kenzo, ManorMeta is a set for an RL family television/web series in development. With the script for the pilot episode, Kenzo came to Second Life at the beginning of this year with the intention of using it as a production tool to prototype ideas, of which there would appear to be no shortage; in the series "six foster kids come to live in an organic "smart home" with a retired rock and roll diva and hacker scientists." Ok. Makes perfect sense to me.

The build represents an altogether mind-blowing duality of hard angular spaces interwoven with curvaceous organic elements and iconography to create an architecture of pure imagination that is at once substantial and ephemeral, a shimmering mirage at the edge of the liminal and the subliminal that would seem to suspend within it terabyte upon terabyte of moments, memories, and secrets, perhaps not entirely unlike the imagination of a child.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Butterfly Tiki Bar

[Images Redacted]

The Butterfly Tiki Bar in the mainland sim of Raiden (view on map | direct teleport) is another curiously engaging build that takes full advantage of Second Life's unique combination of references to and departures from the physical world to create both interesting architectural form and intriguing narrative subtext.

In somewhat typical Tiki Bar fashion the location occupies only 16 square meters of waterfront; however the compact floorplate multiplies over seven levels, each with its own functional contribution (i.e. dance floor, hot tub). Through these additional levels the build adds to the usual Polynesian experience by incorporating a wide swath of pan-Asian influences such as a Japanese Tea Room located just a few floors up from the bumpin' booty pad. The result is a slim, totemic (dare we say 'torch-like') piece of off-ramp ouevre that wouldn't be out of place in urban centres such as Macau, Manila, or Malé. In most of these cities the eccentricity of the build would actually be a form of utility, borne out of the need to make the most of what little land might be available.

In Second Life, however, it sits without any adjacent neighbours and yet nestles up close to a road bridge running across the waterway. The siting seems to justify and benefit from the verticality of the build, the seemingly intentional choice to address the roadway condition rather than just say, coping with it, makes the build all the more appropriate to the physical attributes of the location. At the same time it takes advantage of the lack of gravity (and the avian abilities of the avatar) to create an unstable, almost provisional quality that establishes a clear dialogue with the virtual.

This, combined with the unsavoury goings-on implied on some of the upper levels gives the build a whimsically gritty narrative tension that not only enhances the overall experience but sits in stark contrast to the idyllic setting and technical perfection of the Azure Islands Tiki Bar (view on map | direct teleport), for example, where the experience is overwhelmingly pleasant and stress-free, complete with crashing waves and screenings of the popular video podcast Tiki Bar TV.

Both destinations are worth a visit, IMHO, but if the two were pitted against each other in Mortal Kombat, well, you know. Raiden Wins.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Tide Rises...

Along with the rapid growth in the popularity of Second Life we have also seen an increase in the profile of architecture as a topic of discussion and discovery, including the newly launched Metaverse Architecture, an ambitious effort that comprises one of four fascinating blogs under the Metaverse Territories banner.

The goal of Metaverse Architecture as indicated in its inaugural post is to:
take various builds in Second Life (SL) as examples to generate, structure and clarify my own thoughts on : a) what it means to have an architectural idea in the metaverse; and, b) how is architectural space fabricated from (im)materials.
I like it already, but perhaps you already knew that :)

The most recent post examines the Hipcast Conference Centre, previously featured here back in May. The author, a self-described "architect cloaked as an artist and teacher" provides the type of elevated, insightful and rigourous analysis that we look forward to devouring on a regular basis.

Virtual Suburbia extends a warm welcome to our new neighbours on SL's architectural beat.