Sunday, June 22, 2008

Jane Jacobs Goes to Second Life

Architect David Denton has an interesting answer to a question that has been frequently asked during the past year about the viability of virtual worlds: "Is Second Life empty?" Unlike Virtualpolitik pals Mark Bell and Sarah Robbins who aren't willing to concede the point, based on what they see as the vibrant underground economies and socialities far from high-profile corporate and educational islands, Denton admits that many of the installations that should have more foot traffic are too often deserted. As someone who has actually dealt with zoning issues professionally, Denton takes a Jane Jacobs-y approach to the problem and suggests that there should be more "mixed use development" in Second Life to deal with the problem of vacant monument-scapes.

(If you don't know the work of the person Peter Lunenfeld has described as "an urban saint," check out Jacobs' philosophy of city planning in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which I personally love for its defense of bars, its loathing of child-rearing in the suburbs, and its generous use of information theory.)

In Denton's virtual studio (accessible via this SLURL), he has created a number of original and evocative spaces built with Photoshop's suite of tools, although sometimes he used 3ds Max for his shadow effects. Denton has become an expert in using the affordances (and bugs) of the software running Second Life to create distinctive effects. For example, by placing two different digital planes of visual material in the same virtual space, the data battles for control in ways that form interesting patterns. Although -- as a real-life architect -- Denton often has to be engaged with practical considerations, he described himself as one who builds virtually "without handrails" and sometimes without actual floors.

Right now, you can see a gallery of photographs from New Guinea for which he has mounted a show and another gallery that he created for the paintings of his ninety-six-year-old mother. She's decided that she has no interest in being the "Grandma Moses of Second Life," and instead spends her time in-world as a sixteen-year-old avatar, although she has been known to call for rescue from her son if she finds herself in spaces that are too exotic. Denton's fantastic visuals for an installation of the Purgatorio was closing today, where murderers could be heard justifying themselves in the soundscape of Hell and couples could be seen choosing the top of the stairs where one can wait for God as an opportune site for sexual trysts.

Denton also took me around to a number of interesting builds that he found intriguing as an architect and artist. They included the psychic plumbing of Hangars Liquides, the display of verisimilitude at the Italia Vera reconstruction of the old city center of Turin (but watch out for griefers), the extravagant shopping mall at The Best of SL Boulevard, and the Alice-in-Wonderland scale shifting of The Greenies.

Corporate clients can buy virtual conference centers designed by Denton for global time-shifting employees or clients. Those who think about Second Life as vacation property can also buy one of his gorgeous lofts to erect on their lots, much like the Sears house kits of old.

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Blogger Lupton said...

Interesting to see this cyber-application of Jane Jacobs! It seems like social media sites like FaceBook also rely on lots of traffic for their vitality and survival.

7:13 PM  

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