Architecture Course Ideas Using Second Life

I was noodling through my computer this morning, and noticed these courses ideas I wrote up last June that include Second Life as an integral part of a university level architecture studio. They were primarily intended as a simple brainstorming activity, so I thought I would share them here for you to review, use, improve:

Course 1: The Augmentation of Architecture

Given the rapid growth of virtual worlds, it has quickly become a feasible and popular destination for a vast range of functions, from conducting business, teaching classes, networking, sales, holding conferences to a multitude of other purposes.

In some cases, virtual interaction compliments real life functions. In other cases, virtual counterparts are completely replacing certain kinds of real life interactions. In either case, the phenomenon of physical transcendence into a lower cost virtual medium has already started, and will inevitably and significantly change the way we think about physical architecture in the very near future.

This course will hypothetically consider a large world-class accounting firm that has hired an architecture firm to design a new headquarters. Like any company with employees stationed worldwide, they depend on local commuting, long distance travel and hotelling to accommodate a global work force.

As architectural plans for the headquarters are evolving, a group within the company starts holding their weekly meetings in Second Life as an alternative to long distance travel and commuting. Within a few weeks, they are able to save time and money using this virtual alternative and the concept starts to catch on in other departments throughout the company. As this alternative becomes increasingly pervasive within the company, they realize it could be a significant cost savings to reduce the square footage of the new headquarters in favor of a virtual counterpart.

The architects are informed that the building’s square footage can be decreased by 5%.

This course will ask and seek answers to the following questions through a series of research assignments and design charettes:

Who should be responsible for designing the virtual architecture?

Should it interface and share common characteristics with the architecture of the new physical headquarters?

Will such fundamental principles of wayfinding, scale, proportion, and hierarchy be important in the virtual counterpart?

Does an architectural background lend itself to designing this kind of virtual interface, or is the design of this environment a better fit for game designers, 3D modelers and computer programmers?

If construction and annual use of a certain percentage of physical architecture can be transcended into a virtual mode, could it be considered a sustainable or ‘green’ measure?

Course 2: The Virtual Workforce

This studio asks students to consider and propose a design solution for the virtual workplace described in the previous ‘Augmentation of Architecture’ course description.

How can the architecture of this virtual space facilitate this new virtual workforce? What kinds of spaces will encourage efficient interaction and communication? How can the architectural concept of the real life building be translated into this virtual interface?

Note: Because Second Life provides an environment where anything is possible, designing virtual spaces encourages (possibly even requires) a return to the basic fundamentals of architecture. When designing in a virtual medium, designs that do not have a strong sense of hierarchy, scale and proportion are unsuccessful and difficult to navigate. Moreover, when the design solution is complete, members of the public can be invited in to tour the design solution and critique the design. By enabling the design to be actually populated by avatars, the success or failure of design gestures becomes immediately apparent.

This course will utilize an in-world ‘jury’ of selected users who will be asked to inhabit and critique the designs at various intervals throughout the semester from practical, functional and aesthetic perspectives.

Course 3: Virtual Art Gallery

When designing in a virtual medium, concepts lacking a strong sense of hierarchy, scale and proportion are unsuccessful and difficult to navigate.

This course asks students to design an art gallery for use in an exclusively virtual environment. The aim of the studio will be to encourage and reinforce a ‘back to basics’ mentality of design that requires solutions to be both clearly navigable and functional.

The final presentation will consist of a grand opening of the galleries for public viewing. Members of the in-world community will be able to inhabit and critique the final projects.