Discussing architecture in SL (part 2 of 2): the quest for diversity

In the first part of this discussion on architecture in Second Life, inspired by my conversations with Cain Maven, from Maven Homes and Quantum Luxury Homes, I tried to examine the relationship that the design of virtual buildings has with the atomic world. The references that I have mentioned, nonetheless, were all to a certain kind of RL architecture: the one that flourishes in the US mainstream (even if inspired in some European traditions, such as the English, French or German ones). Mea culpa: I’m not even American, but I realize that the United States is the main reference for the majority of the SL community. Still, if one looks around, there are a number of examples of other cultural backgrounds in the community.

Marrakesh Riad by Barnesworth Anubis: a Moroccan riad with rooms around a garden or patio
Marrakesh Riad by Barnesworth Anubis: a Moroccan riad with rooms around a garden or patio

I think that one of the most exciting characteristics of SL is the opportunity that it provides for us to get in touch with people from very different places. Thankfully, that has also been reflected in the market for houses and other buildings, which offers some items inspired in other architectural traditions, such as the Japanese one, that seems to be very popular in the virtual world. Moroccan tradition is not that popular and, so, it was a pleasant surprise to find a house by Barnesworth Anubis that draws inspiration from it: BA’s Marrakesh Riad.

A Moroccan home

Moroccan Riad: shouldered flat arches on the second floor
Moroccan Riad: shouldered flat arches on the second floor

A riad is a Moroccan house built around an internal garden. In some cases, their rooms actually integrate somehow with the garden. In the example brought to us by Barnesworth Anubis, that integration comes from his option to abolish some internal walls and replace them by columns and different arches: islamic ones, which were cut as incomplete dodecagons, on the first floor, and shouldered flat ones on the second floor. That choice helped him introduce even more visual references – the arches – to the architecture of Morocco.

Islamic arches on the first floor of the riad
Islamic arches on the first floor of the riad
A balcony at BA's riad
A balcony at BA’s riad

Of course, in BA’s Marrakesh Riad, as in many other buildings in SL, one should not expect a full correspondence with its reference in the atomic world. I’m not a specialist in Moroccan architecture – or in architecture, as a whole – but maybe no traditional riad is so open to the exterior as BA’s one. That shouldn’t matter that much. I mean, I don’t think his intention was to replicate any particular building, but to draw inspiration from it.

Inspiration that comes from Spain

Moroccan riads are related to Andalusian architecture, in Spain, and one of the elements of such an interaction – besides the many Moorish ornamental items in buildings in Andalusia – is the idea of making houses that circle an internal patio. Actually, that pattern of construction has spread both in Spain and in the colonies that the Spanish Monarchy maintained from the 16th until the 19th centuries in the New World. Hispanic America is full of examples of buildings made around a central patio or garden.

The colonnade at Simay's Villa Spain
The colonnade at Simay’s Villa Spain
Villa Spain's roof is covered in ceramic shingles
Villa Spain’s roof is covered in ceramic shingles

In SL, a beautiful version of a Hispanic house like that can be found at Simay, by silvia Mayo. In their Villa Spain, the patio is surrounded by a wooden colonnade topped by Roman arches on the first floor and segmental arches on the second floor. The rooms are ample, spacious. Finally, the details are impressive: ceramic shingles, old paintings on the doors, a bucket for collecting water coming from the draining channels on the roof…

Villa Spain, second floor: old paintings on the doors
Villa Spain, second floor: old paintings on the doors

The idea of the bucket is particularly interesting, because, if one is looking for some familiarity with the atomic world, it gives the house some air of imperfection and decay that one can easily avoid in a virtual environment, where everything can remain perfect. We could say, actually, that the bucket adds to Simay’s Villa Spain some perfect imperfection.

Attention to the details in Villa Spain: a bucket to collect rainwater
Attention to the details in Villa Spain: a bucket to collect rainwater

A Japanese house

As I mentioned before, Japanese culture seems to be very popular in SL. In terms of architecture, there are plenty of examples. One that fascinates me is Fukui Minka, by Van Auster, owner of Post.

The façade of Fukui Minka by Van Auster, from Post
The façade of Fukui Minka by Van Auster, from Post
Fukui Minka: façade detail showing fusuma and shoji
Fukui Minka: façade detail showing fusuma and shoji

Minkas are folk, vernacular houses in Japan, made for and by the people (in contrast with the aristocracy). Van Auster’s minka draws inspiration from a model of construction developed in Fukui Prefecture, Chubu region, central Japan. Though it’s a small building, it has enough space for some traditional elements: it’s a three room house with a tokonama (recessed cubicle for displaying decorative and artistic items) in the reception room and in which one can see fusuma (sliding panels that divide the inner areas and work as doors) and shoji (translucent paper panels).

Reception room with tokonama in Van Auster's minka
Reception room with tokonama on the background, in Van Auster’s minka

I’d like to underline that, throughout this post, I have avoided to describe the architectural traditions of different parts of the world as ethnic. It is not uncommon to see that word used to refer to other cultural references than the American or some European ones. It’s as if the culture of the US and certain European countries needed no adjective, as if it were simply “the (standard) culture” while the rest were the “ethnic” ones. I don’t see why it has to be like that – and that’s the reason for avoiding that term. And, with that, I hope that, even not being an expert in architecture, I could cover some aspects of architectural trends in SL, as I proposed in the first part of this discussion, without just focusing on consuming-oriented short comments and decoration.

Fukui Minka: interior
Fukui Minka: interior

7 thoughts on “Discussing architecture in SL (part 2 of 2): the quest for diversity

  1. Two fascinating, and very thought provoking posts.
    Maybe if architecture were talked about and blogged about more often – in it’s own right, as an art form – more good building would be available in Second Life. And by good I, personally, mean well laid out, well thought out, and better proportioned buildings.
    So often I find builds that promise so much from the exterior…..and are a huge disappointment once inside.

    Thank you for your insights and

    1. Thank you Boudicca! I totally agree with you. I think architecture is both art and craft (no reference to the “Arts and Crafts” movement), or an applied art as some prefer, in the sense that it combines aesthetic preocupations with skilled work directed at a functional use. Sometimes, I feel the same as you, that people just throw some nice textures and even develop some great decorative work on the exterior of their buildings, but don’t really understand that they need to envelope and receive – and welcome, of course – the ones who will enter their constructions.

  2. Thank you, RIcco. This is, in my estimation, an important post on a topic that affects us all – both in a practical sense and a deeply aesthetic one. As one who appreciates in fine detail the totality of environment, I love to find myself surrounded by beauty – be it starkly clean and sharp (as in more moderne or minimalistic architecture and appointments) or richly nuanced and full (as in more traditional or lush environments).
    Your commentary here encourages us – builders and consumers alike – to consider the artistic and quite personal ramifications of our creations and surroundings here in the virtual world. I come away from reading your posting encouraged in that – and in the consideration of the atmospheres within which I live in the atomic world as well. Whilst I am not a skilled builder in either world, I am definitely tuned-in when it comes to choosing articles to express my preferences when shopping – and those preferences and interests are an eclectic mix that I enjoy discovering.
    I so appreciate the perspective of your piece on the blog, Ricco, and agree that our cultural designators so often rob us of the true appreciation of the art of an individual who examines his or her own vision and shares it via open creativity. We are each affected by our cultural milieu…but I believe that we are not wholly defined by it. Other influences impact us as well, and may we enjoy exploring them all!

    1. Thank you Mireille, I’m glad that you enjoyed reading my barely-organized, amateurish thoughts on architecture in SL. I think that architecture embodies a certain tension between sheltering us and helping us feel welcome, on the one hand, and administering some more or less rigid conceptions of beauty and signs of status that have played an important role on buildings, on the other hand. I think it’s not substnatuially different, for that matter, in SL, but the importance of each side of that ballance can change, especially if you consider that “sheltering” can only be understood, in the virtual world, as a symbolic property, because avatars don’t really need to be protected from physical dangers or bad weather. So, aesthetics and cultural backgrounds seem to gain an even more massive importance. But I agree with you that culture shouldn’t be understood as a rigid frame that limits us. It’s like information, to a great extent: it helps us acquire our references and build a mental environment to draw our conclusions from, but it doesn’t mean that we cannot create something different from it, gather new cultural information from other sources, expand our knowledge and change our way of thinking.

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