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    Architectural Design and Virtual Worlds

    by Kok Hong Lau and Mary Lou Maher

    The creation of "virtual worlds" has emerged as a new design field, a rapidly expanding area of study, and possibly even a new profession. As these worlds become increasingly important in our living environment, architectural practitioners and students need to rise to the challenge. But until now "living in the virtual realm" has raised more attention among philosophers and social scientists than among architects. To stimulate a needed debate, we ask: what are the implications of architectural design in virtual worlds?

    The Internet has been described metaphorically as an information superhighway, a marketplace, and a virtual community. These metaphors help us imagine what functions might be possible there. Traditionally, the virtual worlds used in games and virtual communities have used the language of building design. The example in Figure 1, the "multi-user domain" called Arctic MUD, uses the language of words; Figure 2, The Palace, uses the language of imagery. Both cases suggest a conceptual metaphor of place; and this suggests that the place can be further developed through architectural design.

    From the early Dungeons and Dragons, a text-based virtual world, to Active Worlds, a 3D immersive collaborative modeling world, we witness a gradual transition from textually described environments to virtual places described in 3D geometry, sounds, and textures--the realm of architectural design. Although form and function can influence the design of virtual worlds as much as they influence physical architecture, we have yet to witness architects treating the design of virtual worlds seriously. Instead, we observe that programmers or computer scientists are designing most such places.



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    The "multi-user domain" called Arctic MUD uses the language of words.

    ArchWeek Photo

    The Palace uses the language of imagery.

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