Second Life Shrinks – Reinventing the virtual City ///
Second Life: empty and abandoned
The press reported in summer 2007 about shinkage in Second Life: “Hula-hula no longer helps: The virtual world of Second Life is depopulating.” (FAZ of August 9, 2007). And its virtual companies are closing shop. “Abandoned company islands and empty program plaques and displays characterized the view, as the ‘Los Angeles Time’ reports. Computer manufacturer Dell gave up its island, as did the hotel chain Starwood.” (Berliner Morgenpost July 30, 2007). One of the largest banks in this supposed Internet paradise, Ginko Financial, turned insolvent: closed counters and “avatars that until recently waited in vain in front of the virtual ATMs.” (Berliner Zeitung Aug. 21, 2007) The horror scenario has become reality in the virtual play world, of all places.”
On this occasion and supplementing the competition “Reinventing the City – Die Stadt neu denken” 2004/2005, the Shrinking Cities project in collaboration with the architecture magazine archplus has launched in fall 2007 the competition “Reinventing the Virtual City – Die virtuelle Stadt neu denken”. The competition brief was stating:
„The goal of the competition is to find new approaches to positively shape and qualify the shrinking of Second Life: Can data garbage be recycled? Can abandoned plots of land in Second Life be erased? Or can they experience a third life with digital agriculture? Should the virtual world be reformatted? Or the remaining avatars be cloned? What happens when Linden Lab files for bankruptcy? Where will the former users of Second Life migrate?“
43 enties from 7 countries have been submitted. By end of Nvoember the jury (Friedrich von Borries, architect (raumtaktik); Hendrik Gackstatter, communications designer (e27); Sven Stillich, author; Anh-Linh Ngo (editorial board archplus); Philipp Oswalt (curator Shrinking Cities) selected 6 winners, which are currently presented in the exhibition "Shrinking Cities - Nine Urban Ideas" at the German Architecture Museum in Frankfurt/Main. The selected proposals will also be published in the newspaper section of the next issue of the magazine archplus.
Statements of the jury ///
The awarded contributions: Semantic Tectonics, Life at the Top, Over/Underground, Iconicity, Secontropa and Ville Spatiale
1st Prize: SEMANTIC TECTONICS by Florian Schmidt (Germany)
Building on a precise analysis of the weaknesses of Second Life, a radical conceptual sketch for a flexible re-organization (and re-programming) of Second Life’s island structure in accordance with contents and themes was presented. It recalls the “page ranking” of Google, combined with key words provided by the inhabitants. The concept is based on a deep understanding, unique among the submissions to the competition, of how the virtual world functions. The suggested re-organization in accordance with thematic areas reduces the “empty and dead” space of Second Life, but the jury found it questionable that this proposal could potentially lead to monocultures and monotony.
A 2nd Prize: LIFE AT THE TOP by Richard Brown (GB)
This proposal aims to supplement the spatial organization of Second Life with new vertical spatial structures in order to give a more exposed spatial placing to contents highly in demand (which resembles the intention of the first prizewinner). Dynamically settled tower structures with popular “good” contents above and less often visited “bad” contents below creates a hierarchical navigation structure. This would establish a new kind of competition within Second Life and also make the metaphor of “reaching/striving for the top” visible to all – which of course can be viewed critically. Unclear remains how the up/down mechanism would function and, for example, whether the upper layers would block light from reaching the lower levels. Questionable is also the evaluation as good and bad, whereby the territory surrounding the base of the towers – the ground-level remnant – would be defined as “bad” per se.
A 2nd Prize: OVER/UNDERGROUND von Matthew Pilling (GB)
The project does not aim to restructure Second Life, much less limit its freedoms, in order to bring people together with contents interesting to them, but to add a new layer in which one can navigate through the virtual world “as if on rails”. Optically, the concept is very attractively implemented in abstracted form. An impressively simple approach to an alternative navigation system to discover popular or especially good content in the various areas of Second Life. A good alternative way to discover Second Life, especially for newcomers, in which the felt shrinking due to “emptiness” is avoided by means of condensation and thematic grouping. It is not clear who would supervise the new system and distinguish Second Life content as interesting/good/suitable or exclude other content. It is also unclear how the “journey” is shaped, whether there is a travel time at all, and whether one takes the journey alone or together with other avatars.
3rd Prize: ICONICITY byMichael Potts (GB)
In a form differing from Life at the Top, this project also proposes a supplementary navigation element in Second Life: a kind of three-dimensional “Facebook”. This is the only entry in the competition that depicts social activities and interests of avatars directly in a city metaphor, so that the city’s form (using the height and appearance of its pulsating “constructions”) gives spatial expression to the social networks of its population, whereby it also illustrates the inhabitants’ internal constitution – thus giving them as feedback a bond to the site and its inhabitants, going beyond the emptiness of the world. “Iconocity” thereby builds a bridge to successful offerings of Web 2.0, which connects people and groups in a 2-D web. But it is not clear how the link between avatars and the city is to be constructed and whether it requires a “central intelligence” that supervises this organization – and how the latter is legitimated. It is also unclear what connections will exist between Iconocity and the rest of Second Life. Additionally, other elements of the classical city metaphor, like the ring highway, are hard to comprehend.
Honorable Mention: SECONTROPA by Martin Conrads and Anna Mandoki (Germany)
“Secontropa” imagines a forced resettlement of all of Second Life’s inhabitants to a “Venice Sim”, a drastic spatial reduction to the smallest conceivable unit: Second Life shrinks to a single settled plot of land. The authors thereby take recourse to concepts of the architect Herman Sörgel, who in the 1930s envisioned draining the Mediterranean Sea to merge Europe and Africa. The immanent comparison between Venice – a greatly shrunken city that has meanwhile mutated into a kind of theme park – and the narrative architectures of Second Life, themselves reminiscent of theme parks, was a factor that, as an ironic commentary on the task posed in the competition, convinced the jury. At the same time, of course, the project ignores fundamental parameters of Second Life.
Honorable Mention: VILLE SPATIALE by Stephan Lorenz (Germany) with reference to Yona Friedmann
The submission “Ville Spatiale” by Stephan Lorenz realizes Yona Friedmann’s eponymous urban utopia in Second Life. In accordance with Friedmann’s idea, other Second Life users can erect their own architectures in the spatial structure. An endless addition of individual plots of land – the radicalization of the principle of the suburb – is replaced by a collective spatial structure with principles of a nonprofit economy. This addresses questions equally relevant to a virtual and to a physical world: Who owns the space? Do the landowners control spatial events? Or do other forms of regulation and appropriation take the place of owner control? The author is somewhat unclear on how the work relates to the theme of shrinking (though this relation is given in the question of ownership).