Building in SL, the Polemic

2006.07.14 (Friday, July 14)

There are relatively few builds in SL that “succeed” (in my mind anyway) that aren’t plausible in RL. [Comment by Eloise Pasteur]

…to which I respond –>

I believe the exact opposite: For a build to “succeed” in SL, it is necessarily impossible for it to be plausible in RL.

By asserting a radically opposing view, I was, among other things, using this stance to frame a polemic that calls into question what I perceive to be widely accepted approach to the conception and creation of SL’s built environment through direct real life (RL) reference.

Creating complex spaces in SL by simply establishing a reference between a SL object and a RL semantic code, obfuscates the unique physical, social and (im)material qualities of a 3-dimensional immersive metaverse.
An example of building by semantic reference is using a texture that mimics a brick or stone wall set between wood cross-beams to imply a house from Normandy (or a castle, a chic boutique, a baseball park, a shopping mall, whatever…) By pasting the image of a Norman constructive system to a specific form, size, shape, and proportion, we project a cognitive image of a functional intention… my home, for example. While this may, in fact, say something about the builder’s idea concerning the meaning of a home, it pre-supposes that home in SL is in fact, analogous to home in RL, and that my understanding of the sign, home, is the same as the builder’s. If not, its usage will not be consistent, the message not passed. What I’m advocating is that the meaning of the build, its usage and contextual significance, is induced from formal, atmospheric and socially driven experience with the space, rather than from a semantically referential one.

While reference to RL architecture might work for some people, it begs the question for others : Architecture has always first and foremost offered shelter and security to its human inhabitants by partitioning the exterior, aggressive world by the creation of a safe, interior one, is and always has been, a medium for decoding the world around us. Through its basic, primeval role of defining the world between that which is secure or dangerous, human scale or vast, under control or savage, architecture has been a materialization of the passage from one state to the other, a device from which we could measure the world around us and a filter from which we could safely observe that which lies outside of its material capacity to enclose. Most importantly, this was accomplished using space as its substance. Architecture has always expressed as much about the life of its inhabitants, their ways of life –the interior of the edifice, as it has about their relationship to the world outside those walls –the exterior.

Using semantic references to RL to build in SL does not, by its very essence, allow us to express anything about SL, thus help decode it. What needs to be expressed using the materials at hand, the materials that we invent from being in-world, are its unique physiques, its ability to create community and communication, the forces and the physics of the SL computation engines.

Using a semantic system of historical or RL reference also forces a misreading of the very idea of those references. In the example of the Norman house, the building techniques that were being expressed by the organization of brick and wood cross beams, the unique social and economic situations that inspired the creative or utilitarian forces of a Norman house, its society, culture and the individuals that fabricated it, are perverted. We end up just building more suburbs, with their MacMansions. In short, the idea of context, that which precedes an edifice, is non-existent in this semantic, post-post-modern formula.

While it certainly is possible to use reference systems to convey certain layers of information in SL, I want to exploit a more powerful paradigm of expression in 3-D environments –Space, and, more specifically, the forces, materials and forms that express the location, proportion and usages of complex objects.

I think that this position is somehow analogous to the early modernists and their radical positions concerning the expression of space and form (ie; Russian Constructivism, De Stijl, the Bauhaus, Italian Futurism etc etc…) The artists and architects involved in these movements forced a conscious rupture to the prevailing way of making things… painting, sculpture, architecture etc… Regardless of what opinions we might hold concerning modernism and its deployment and effects on cities and the built environment, its engagement to the scientific, industrial and social innovations of its time was responsible for the language of graphic and spatial expression to evolve beyond its’ medieval roots. The role played by the arts and architecture as a “sometimes” equal partner to their contemporary, rather weighty, world changing disciplines, is an important example for the new world that we are building.

I’m not even going to try and defend each “RL plausible” building is a good build, there are loads of dire ones out there. But saying they’re all bad, that I struggle with too… [comment by Eloise Pasteur]

I don’t want to judge Second Life (SL) builds and I certainly did not say that “they’re all bad…” What I am trying to do, though, is to create a polemic so as to measure the dominant tendencies of SL spatial planning, conception and execution, against a) how I hope things will be built in SL, and b) what I think will eventually emerge from SL, ie: a singular, expressive metaverse media.

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3 Responses to “Building in SL, the Polemic”


  1. […] Objects in SL can easily represent tangible information –semantic references, topological data, relative location coordinates, and can suggest intangible architectural information — atmosphere, usage or spatial expression. But in addition, is there a way to exploit the information space opened-up by CityGML so that new, unexpected spatial or informational dimensions can unfold ? […]


  2. […] Material, spatial and formal structures will evolve that possess qualities unique to metaverse environments. These structures will be employed to fabricate its built environment, its spatial texture and its social potential. Once integrated into the fabric of a specific world, this structure will become the substance of its built environment. From this point on, metaverses’ will no longer have to rely on RL paradigms of representation and fabrication, and can develop a unique visual language, different than, for example, that of video games, cinema, of RL. Even if certain elements in the metaverse sometimes resemble RL buildings, cities or suburbs, this will be either a coincidence or a convenience. This emergent structure will become the very substance of its built environment, made possible by a unique creative force, a product of the metaverse. In short, we will see the emergence of the metaverse as a medium of creation, and it will be through this medium that the metaverse worlds will inform the real world. [click to zoom] To this end, it is essential to investigate the common, material and (im)material compositional elements employed by all metaverse environments in their fabrication, its global conditions, so that they can be adopted locally, by specific metaverses, and applied to their unique physical and social environments. How will we know when this media has evolved and that we are, in fact, using it to (finally) build a singular metaverse? […]


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