Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Curious Kitties








Curious Kitties in Bizzare (22, 43, 54) is a raucous, cacophonous commercial build that recklessly tiptoes the edge between order and atrophy, with the result being not only a popular (and necessarily laggy) retail experience but also a provocative work of digital architecture.

Unencumbered by traditional notions of enclosure and structure that in RL would have it vaguely categorized alongside other folies rouges en métal such as Bernard Tschumi's Parc de la Villette, Curious Kitties unfolds as an exuberantly rigorous explosion of Japanese, Goth, and Fetish merchandise spread over three levels that are at once both complimentary and contradictory, with the top level floating in air and the bottom level submerged below grade in a manner that very few sims seem able to exploit (with one notable exception being the hauntingly nocturnal reflections in Devil's Moon).

The overall experience is somewhat like a dream from which one awakes uncertain if they've remembered all of the details, compelled to plumb both the heights and the depths, asphyxiated and vertiginous from the sheer number of offerings, the euphoria made manageable by a consistent presentation of white rectangular panels that respond to a kind of rational curatorial order, with the rules violated occasionally for added emphasis by panels cocked at odd angles or strewn along the floor/roof surfaces. In this build the content and the container complement each other extremely well (which is also interesting when compared to the somewhat dissonant quality of artwork as presented against the rational classicism of the Grignano Art Museum).

This relationship appears so symbiotic, in fact, it is at times hard to tell whether the walls and floors are influencing or responding to the logic of the merchandise displays. Through the use of largely simple square shapes in a similarly constrained palette of red, black and grey there is a richness to the composition, particularly in the lower subterranean level (accessed on my first visit by plunging unexpectedly through the grey phantom panels on the main floor) where one finds a curiously conflicted detente between serenity and freneticism, between the garish and the sublime, in a manner that frames and heightens the impending loss of innocence to be shed like so many locks of newbie hair, purple sweaters, and white T-shirts.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Grignano Art Museum








Further to that bit of navel gazing in the previous post, Lordfly Digeridoo's Public Art Museum in Grignano (111, 79, 31) is an excellent focal point to explore just what it is that makes for architecture appropriate for a virtual world. It was seemingly poo-pooed by the jury at the State of Play Conference last fall because it had too much stylistic resemblance to structures one might find in the real world and lacked any sense of ephemeral abstraction critical to an architecture of the ethereal...This was a common criticism of the panel, and while it doesn't take a huge stretch of the imagination to at least understand where they might be coming from they may have been a little quick to dismiss Lordfly's creation.

The Museum does indeed provide a healthy jab of classicist and beaux-arts elements in a manner that attempts to impart a sense of importance and permanence to the museum as an important cultural institution. The manner in which these elements are employed, however, is where the build begins to depart from the logic and limitations to which these conventions are normally subject in the real world. The result is a build that is ethereal, that is an abstraction, by virtue of its paradoxical relationship to virtual space. Huh?

First off, the thing is MASSIVE. The more your brain tries to tell you it isn't, that its just prims, the more this build pummels you with its overwhelming sense of scale.

Secondly, its size is enabled by an apparent defiance of the structural logic that would typically dictate how the classical orders enable buildings to get higher by thinning out, employing buttresses, etc. The experience is the exact opposite of the depression induced by yet another overblown stucco keystone atop the entrance vestibule to your local (insert name of big box retail outlet here), instead imparting a sense of the surreal, where the elements to which we are familiar are merely the jumping off point for something entirely more memorable.

Thirdly, it this sense of mass and structure is juxtaposed against a sensitive response to the surrounding urban context, via an arcade that faces the street and tree-lined promenades that interface with the adjacent waterfront. As well, once inside, the space does not appear entirely congruent with the form as it is skewered by multiple floor plates that actually make certain aspects of the build seem quite intimate. One might almost think Lordfly to be running out of space if his curatorial sensibilities are any indication. The floors are sprinkled with a sampling of sublime sculptures by Seifert Surface, while the walls on the other hand are crammed with scans in a manner suggestive of the deviantART database server after a hard night of White Russians and Boney M.

Finally, no museum worth its enormously non-existent weight in non-existent gold would be complete without its gift shop, currently featuring a collection of prefabs from some of Second Life's most prolific builders.

So, for both the right and the wrong reasons, the Grignano Art Museum is a genuine institution, an authentic landmark, a public place in the public psyche, and in my mind, a winner. You should go.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

(Virtual) Reality Check








As we begin a new circuit around the sun and I scratch what has become a Fibonacci sequence of five o'clock shadows this brief holiday hiatus has borne the gift of a little time for a little reflection on where this little discussion of ours has been and where it is going (er, little by little).

The most striking aspect of Second Life thus far has been the sheer variety to be experienced in every aspect of the platform - avatars, objects, events, and opinions. It could be suggested that within this variety certain preferences seem to predominate among many individuals, especially with respect to aspects of a stylistic or visual nature.

As much as it might be seen to be otherwise, there has been no intention thus far to polarize our discussion around a predominant architectural style. Those elements that are most prevalent need not be discounted somehow as too 'mainstream', nor do the remainder of perspectives need be dismissed as 'elitist' or 'irrelevant'. Second Life is a far richer experience than other online worlds that are shaped entirely by professional animators and artists, and herein lies the possibility to showcase and celebrate the freedom that everyone enjoys to express themselves as they wish (with Premium Members being slightly more free, although not necessarily in the Orwellian sense of the word).

That said, to this point our discussions have been focused primarily on structures that differentiate themselves from the majority of builds personally experienced to date, which admittedly in my short time here is but a miniscule fraction of a fraction of the whole. Beyond the skill or craft that is often inherent in the quality of the build (but not always), the works of architecture we have examined seem to differentiate themselves in that they seek to examine spatial as well as formal ideas, provide an expressed relationship to their property's topography and surrounding context, and act to enhance and facilitate the activities and events of the avatars to which they are in service and not the other way around. As a result of such criteria it would seem that a number of commonalities and threads have thus emerged, but this hopefully has not come across as a judgmental preference for any particular 'style' over another. On the flipside I would humbly submit that just because I don't understand or appreciate something that it is of any lesser value to the richness of the SL experience, nor should it devalue the goal to provide exposure to architectural ideas that appear to be under-represented in the broader context. An aspiration for future postings is that discussions of style be secondary to a focus on how a build deems itself to be appropriate to the 'reality' of virtual space, albeit through an admittedly personal lens.

Despite the feigned exhaustion of the last post, the ongoing development of Virtual Suburbia has been thoroughly invigorating and invaluably enriched through the comments and feedback that have been received (except for the spammers that is, youse guys can screw off), and I deeply thank you for taking the time to visit and participate. Rather than being required to suffer through more long posts like this one it is an intention to make future reviews somewhat more compact. It is also hoped that some of the learnings from this exploration of amazingly talented SL architects can be allowed to inform my own attitude toward building, in an attempt to put my mouth where my money is, so to speak, contributing to the built environment of SL as well as simply musing upon it. Stay tuned :)