From my studio in Madison, Wisconsin, USA, I’m listening to 3 architecture students in Paris, France – Antoine Aubry, Nathan Emery and Quentin L’Hôte - presenting design concepts they developed during a week-long ‘intensive’ design studio at Ecole Supérieure d’Architecture Paris-Malaquais using the virtual world Second Life, and I feel as though I’m participating in architecture’s best kept secret. I’m joined by dozens of others logged in from every corner of the world as part of this VWBPE Conference session by the newly founded European initiative ‘ARCHI21,’ and can think of no other medium, method or technology that could bridge our worlds as effectively. As I listened carefully to their fascinating presentations, I was totally immersed and engaged, and if the quantity and thoughtfulness of the back-channel chat was any indication, the others in attendance were equally impressed.
This intensive was the first time most of these students had been exposed to Second Life for architectural design, and due to time constraints, they were given very little time to prepare for this presentation. Not only that, but they are presenting their work in English, their second language, which is a significant part of what ARCHI21 is all about:
“A consortium of British, Danish, French and Slovenian universities has just begun its first action learning phase of ARCHI21, a two-year project as a part of the EU Education and Culture DG Lifelong Learning Programme. Innovative approaches converge language learning, architecture and design, social media and 3D virtual worlds. With a thematic focus on communication of ‘respecting fragile places’ , this project explores the areas of a) content & language integrated learning in higher and vocational education sectors, b) the inter-relationship between linguistic competence and design competence building in project-based learning and c) the intercultural issues to be considered.”
I was in awe at the quality and theoretical sophistication of their work, and the deep thinking they had put into these projects in such a short space of time. Having spent the past several years exploring virtual architecture, I was challenged and even a little intimidated by what these students were able to come up with in just one week. My only criticism might be that I think they seem to have underestimated the utility of common ‘real world’ visual cues and practical function of virtual spaces – instead prioritizing pure philosophical and theoretical exploration. I think it’s possible to achieve a balance between conceptual thinking with the more pragmatic concerns of potential end-users of these spaces – blending form and function into a seamless composition, rather than favoring one over the other. However, they may have explored this more than I am aware, and since this was their first exposure to Second Life, with only had a single week’s development time, I can hardly fault them for not exploring every possible angle.
I am honored to be a part of this fascinating project as an associate partner as ARCH Virtual, and will be sharing much more of their work as it is made public. Congratulations and thanks to these 3 students for sharing their work!