Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Bitfactory

Bitfactory Exhibition Center by Patrick Lichty
I Am Columbia sim, Second Life
Andrew Oleksiuk

In a discussion of real world and virtual world simulation, several issues come to bear on architecture design in virtual spaces such as Second Life. Patrick Lichty's Bitfactory Exhibition Center design is a good example of some of these issues. The required preamble is when the college heard we were designing a space for our virtual campus, they immediately assumed we would be recreating several buildings along Michigan and/or Wabash avenue in the popular virtual world, Second Life. To the administration's dismay, we replied: no way (see addendum). Ensuing discussions have revealed our propensity for making a hybrid between the real and the virtual. In the virtual spaces of Second Life, anything goes, but a "hook" of reality is required to help us understand it. While highly realistic simulations of "real life" are often desirable, and often done extremely well, there is a limit to that realism and a point of decreasing value of return on investment. So usually a comfortable mix is straight down the middle, where virtual architecture (and other things) have some basis in reality but can be quite fantastic and impossible in real life.

Patrick Lichty's Bitfactory design uses several features prevalent in emergent architecture: capsule design, cargo box design, and rib-like almost tensile structures. The building has a unique navigational structure, pertinent to its virtuality. The capsule design gives the structure a smooth, strong futuristic feel. While not specifically diatomic, aggregate or algorithmic, the capsules are reminiscent of pod-like autonomous units like a space capsule capable of withstanding the vacuum of space. Devoid of decoration their smoothness adds to the perception of strength. By contrast, the box designs are evocative of more typical mechanized, multiple unit prefab converted cargo or dwelling space, and while grid-like in appearance also evoke a fragility in their detail.

The squarish yet rib-like structures that look like building supports poke fun at the fact that there are no specific physical requirements for the maintaining the buildings structural shape and add a light and airy feel to the building. The building is designed to accommodate virtual world avatars, who can fly. This is reflected in the main flyway navigational space, a vertical corridor through which the avatars fly from floor to floor. This is also reflected in the internal signage, "flyway" which recalls instructional navigational aspect of a website, but also suggests not only where to go, but how.

The Bitfactory design is a solid presence in a virtual world where the uninitiated often ask, why have buildings at all? Aside from the hook of reality mentioned previously, the navigational and three dimensional aspect of this design suggests the future of the web. What have web pages? Why not just lump together all the data? The architecture in a virtual world is more reminiscent of a database design, but provides for us a visual analogy of what space might look like in cyberspace.

Addendum: A tinge of realism was added to the campus later in the far more realistic simulation of Chicago's public transit system which runs adjacent to the building, and whose train car also echos the manufactured cargo design.

1 comment:

  1. This reminds me a bit of the post Ravenelle has: Recipe for Second Life Event Seating. Having hosted events myself, I understand the need for people to have a "hook" in to reality (for example in my personal experience with hosting events even though avatars do not *need* to sit, their human drivers generally feel more comfortable when they are allowed to seat their 3D representation). However at the same time most of the people I work with have very quickly "gotten over" the translation from reality into SL; bleachers and standard seating are not very interesting. Particularly for an event that strives for an aspect of "fun", alternative seating seems to be expected - the environment contributes to the entire experience whether it is a lecture, art exhibit, concert, etc. In SL we can easily fashion places that are very difficult or impossible to create in RL - allowing us to build up an experience that is truly unique to virtual environments.


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