What you're looking at above left is the construction site of the Cleopatra Water Courts project in Cairo, Egpyt, a shopping mall complex that'll likely cost tens of millions dollars to complete. What you're at looking above right is the architect's conceptual model that got his design for it approved -- not a real world model, not a watercolor painting, not even an AutoCAD file. Rather, it's a build created in Second Life, which Los Angeles-based architect David Denton (known in SL as DB Bailey), showed his client, an Egyptian tycoon who funded the project. On that score, this is almost certainly the most expensive, ambitious real world project using Second Life as a platform.
Denton, who was previously a managing partner of legendary architect Frank Gehry, told me about the project at last August's Second Life Community Convention, but only recently did his collaborators in Egypt send along the photo above -- tangible proof that the build he showed me last year in Second Life is well on its way to being constructed. (It's expected to be complete in three years.) What's more, when it came time to convert the SL design into a usable AutoCAD file for the building contractors, David worked in Second Life from LA with two architects in Egypt, who also happened to be Muslim women -- a collaboration that might not be as feasible otherwise. And that's not even considering his Parkinson's disease.
With David at SLCC 09; with him as DB Bailey in Second Life
David presented the Water Courts design plan to the client in the tycoon's villa on the Nile, logging into Second Life as his avatar and walking through the build, while the client watched from over his shoulder. (Consider that image: along the same river where architects once showed Pharaohs plans on papyrus, a plan presented in an electric world under glass.)
"I showed him no drawings, no plans, no elevations, just walked him through here and explained it to him," David tells me. "In this [Second Life-based] technique, everything is revealed... the client sees the entire thing." With a non-immersive model, the architect has to explain what's resolved in the plan and what's not. (As the client's wife, also a successful magnate, put it to him: "You've shown me more than any other architect has.") The presentation was enough to win him the commission.
To convert his Second Life design into AutoCAD, he worked in Second Life with two Egyptian colleagues on the other side of the world, who created avatars for the occasion. They laid out the plan over an 8x8 meter grid. "They would just highlight the prim and the dimensions would be there and they'd just make the final working drawings" in AutoCAD. (The Egyptian architects are women, and David noticed how one, who was shy and wore a headscarf in real life, dressed and acted far more openly in SL.)
With this commission, David believes Second Life has proved itself as a design and reference tool for architects. The next test is using it for promotion and leasing -- he and the client hope to show off the Second Life design in order to get companies interested in reserving space in the uncompleted mall.
David Denton thinks the potential for architects with Second Life eclipses even well-known 3D graphics development software, like 3D Studio Max. "If you're using it as a design tool, you're constantly changing it," he argues, "therefore you don't take the time to line everything up. When you get finished with it you get a lot of overlapping lines, so you can't take it back to AutoCAD." With Second Life, by contrast, "The ability to be able to design things in real time was beyond anything I could dream of."
Despite all this, and David's stellar professional reputation, most of his colleagues remains skeptical. "I'm just astounded by the hostility I run into in the virtual world, people seem just threatened by it, especially architects."
For him, however, Second Life is not just a casual experiment, but a necessity driven by his diagnosis of early stage Parkinson's disease. "I knew I was going to be facing some disabilities in the future," he told me. For now the symptoms aren't extreme (though they're made worse by office stress and phone calls), so he prefers to work at home, in Second Life. "[Parkinson's] will catch up with me," he concedes, "so you'll find me here eventually."Photos of the Cairo site courtesy David Denton.
Visit his design in Second Life for yourself: Direct SLurl teleport at this link.