From Cairo to California, Virtually
(Architects collaborate through Second Life to design, build and learn)
By Kimberly Harrington
Washington — In his historic speech at Cairo University in Egypt in June, President Obama spoke of a vision to “create a new online network, so a teenager in Kansas can communicate instantly with a teenager in Cairo.”
That vision has taken one step toward reality.
Through the efforts of Amr Attia, a professor of architecture at Cairo’s Ain Shams University, and California-based architect David Denton, more than 70 professional architects, students, journalists and government officials met in the Internet-based virtual world Second Life. A four-person panel led the October 18 online meeting, during which participants discussed Second Life as a tool for professional design and education.
The discussion took place on Second Life’s University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Public Diplomacy Island, and was organized in cooperation with the U.S. Department of State.
A SMALL VILLAGE
Attia and Denton have been working together professionally since they met, while Attia was an Eisenhower Fellow in the United States in 2007. They use Second Life to work on major commercial projects in Egypt.
Attia now teaches his fourth-year architecture students primarily in Second Life, and described how through increased connectivity and platforms “the whole world is becoming a very small village.”
Developers in Egypt recently broke ground on a complex the pair designed entirely in Second Life: the “Reflections” project in El Sheikh Zayed City, a 130,000-square-meter shopping complex with a cinema, retail store, restaurants and a hotel.
Denton noted that collaborative building and designing in Second Life is “clearly the way of the future,” which enhances the quality of work by supporting “a more comprehensive collaboration with people from different parts of the world … for more interesting, and more comprehensive, designs.”
BUILDING ON THE “WIKI” MODEL
The four-person panel discussion also included Jon Brouchoud, an architect based in Madison, Wisconsin, and Judy Cockeram, an architecture professor at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.
During the discussion, Brouchoud explained how his Studio Wikitecture program, a collaborative architectural tool in Second Life, is making architecture more participatory and creating opportunities for collaboration in virtual worlds. “With the right tools and the right process, we can use virtual worlds to open source the process of creating architecture,” he said.
Cockeram, who regularly uses Second Life in teaching, expressed her profound hope that Second Life will increasingly become not only a platform for collaboration, but also one that helps break down cultural barriers.
After the panel discussion, participants visited key architectural buildings in Second Life, including the “Reflections” project in Cairo and the Wiki Tree and Studio Wikitecture.
There is no doubt, as Denton said, that Second Life “enhances and enriches collaboration between parties from different parts of the world.” And that is what President Obama’s message in Cairo was really all about.
An English-language video about the virtual meeting ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SP1vr3zSVCE ) is available on YouTube. An Arabic-language video about the event ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_CrD9MsapQ ) is also available.
(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://www.america.gov)