Take Two: Learning from Second Life

By Jennifer Johung.

Published by Spaces and Flows: An International Journal of Urban and ExtraUrban Studies

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Second Life users have primarily focused on the specific articulation of their avatars that are capable of teleporting instantly from place to place. Although the careful attention to bodily construction has rendered the design of spatial sites almost negligible, this trend seems to be changing, as architects and urban planners begin to re-imagine the infinite possibilities of constructing within virtual space. I focus on two sets of projects within Second Life, both undertaken in 2007 and both that insist upon temporary, unstable, and changing forms of spatial situation and planning. First, I consider the designs of Stockholm-based LOL Architects, the world’s largest virtual architecture office, which include Magnus Nilson’s wearable Yurt++, Alpar Asztalos’ parasitical structures that momentarily latch onto existing virtual properties, and Erik Andren’s instant rooms that appear when avatars enter and disappear when they leave. In addition, I examine the four winning designs from the First Annual Architecture and Design Competition in Second Life, which are a cloud that can be inhabited, a virtual museum, an interactive sound-scape, and a palace of discarded objects. I ask how these experiments and interactions undertaken virtually can be imported back into real-world scenarios and physically material spaces. Yet even if Second Life’s spatial structures and programs cannot be re-interpreted materially for first life scenarios and experiences, I propose that Second Life’s symbolic function reveals a socially embedded practice, not only focused on how spaces are constructed and used, but also on how bodies are to be perceived and legitimatized, which can in turn challenge us to identify social-spatial continuities and discontinuities occurring in our first lives.

Keywords: Second Life, Virtuality, Digital Technology

Spaces and Flows: An International Journal of Urban and ExtraUrban Studies, Volume 1, Issue 1, pp.129-140. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.247MB).

Dr. Jennifer Johung

Assistant Professor, Art History, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, WI, USA

Jennifer Johung is assistant professor in the Art History department at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee and Director of the Art History Gallery. Her book, Replacing Home: From Primordial Hut to Digital Network in Contemporary Art, is forthcoming from the University of Minnesota Press in Fall 2011.