Frank Lloyd Wright Museum Grand Opening Reflections

Monday, July 27, 2009
My heart felt congrats go out to the Frank Lloyd Wright Museum in Second Life team for the grand opening this past weekend. The opening ceremonies spanned the whole weekend starting on Friday evening and ending with the final silent auction and dancing Sunday night.

I was lucky enough to attend most of the events though I did miss the grand opening ceremony on Saturday. I also had the privilege to participate in the big round table of architects/furniture creators in SL discussing FLW and the intricacies of building / emulating his style structures in Second Life.

I personally find it very amusing and rewarding that I was included in this group as I never really consciously set out to build in Frank Lloyd Wright's style. If anything I would identify myself as more of a disciple of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. My residential structures such as the Istanbul Villa (my first large scale structure in SL), Odaesan House (originally built for a client), and the Ottoman Prefab all inherit their style from the Yali paradigm from Istanbul. Yalis are wooden and masonry mix houses on the shores of Bosphorus -- a strait that divides Istanbul into two pieces, the European side and the Anatolian side. Most of these structures date back to the glory days of the Ottoman Empire. Typical characteristics of the Yali buildings are:

  • Location(immediately on the water)
  • Having a dock incorporated into the lower level -- much like today's garages
  • 1-2 storeys with many windows facing the water
  • Tile roofs (copper if the owner is really rich)
  • Shutters on the windows for privacy
  • Parts of the building extending forward away from the center onto the water with supports underneath to hold the weight.
  • Sparse interiors with plenty of space in the middle of the rooms
  • On the interior focus on the fantastic view of the city
  • A more flamboyant waterside facade, a more plain land facade.
  • The front of the house is the waterside not the land side.

  • low pitch roofs that extend way out from the structure creating awnings that provide shade for the windows below

It is very interesting that the same inspiration that created this look described above was also a source of inspiration for architects like Frank Lloyd Wright that came back from their trips to the East with similar motifs to try out on their own projects. The quintessential Asian influence is ever present in the Yalis of Istanbul -- especially earlier ones before other influences such as Rococo and Art Nouveau and Deco reflected back from the West like the answer to the Asian tidal wave that hit Europe earlier on. How ironic is it that the influence travel East to West and then back to East. This is why Istanbul is such an exquisite place to visit because you CAN see it all there. The city was open to the East, to the West, to the North and to the South. It did not refuse any styles, it never sent anyone home, it adopted, it acquired, it milled and it mixed all these varied styles and influences into a mix of all its own.

I grew up in Istanbul and my mother is an architect. I think it is impossible to grow up in a city like Istanbul and not be inspired by architecture. I spent my youth under my mother's drafting table at the university studio, playing with the pieces of vellum paper cut off from the big sheets that they spent days working on diligently with the 0.5,0.3 tipped ink pens. As I grew up modernism gave way to post modernism and then to deconstruction and to the regurgitations and variations we see now in present day architecture. As the times changes, the architecture I was exposed to changed but the influence of the vast catalog Istanbul kept hurling my way every time we traveled to another part of the city was ever present, ever flowing, ever insistent.

From day one in August 2004, I have strived to build "what looked good to me". I trusted my SL eye, and realized early on building in Second Life and things in built in Second Life are not exactly close to Real Life. Second Life has its own parameters, abilities and restrictions. It turns out what I build in SL is very Frank Lloyd Wright indeed in terms of its aspect ratios, principles and mix of materials. Having a strange affinity to FLW art glass, and fountains pretty much sealed the deal for the visitors as I used these elements in plenty in my earlier structures.

As more fans and friends poured in to deliver compliments and questions I found myself drawn into the world of FLW and his ever devoted energetic fans. FLW crowd has been good to me in SL. And for the longest time I was more than happy to be known as a FLW builder. I still am one. However earlier last year I was a little alarmed to have my buildings be identified as FLW replicas. With the exception of one private commissioned structure, the Zimmerman House, I have never built a true Replica of any FLW buildings. In fact most of the time when people approach me and tell me that my house is a replica of a certain FLW project usually I have to go and look it up on Google to see what they mean.

I love that so many people even would compare me to FLW. It is the best compliment in the world but in all honesty while I am definitely NOW a fan of FLW, when I began to build in SL back in 2004, I had no intention to become the avatar I have become now.

So my current SL is more about finding a balance between carrying the FLW flag while also preserving my individuality and own point of view as an amateur architect. I am still excited about any and every FLW related effort in world and you can see this in my full support of the FLW Museum in SL.

Other things we discussed in the panel were:
Many people trying to create replicas from RL plans for buildings have run into the problem of realizing that once built in SL most of these structures are TINY for use in SL. This is why different teams of people have come with the aspect ratio multiplier of 1.5 that is to be used when using RL plans. Multiply everything by 1.5, make sure your ceilings are not less than 4-5 meters.

Early on I realized that a ceiling height of anything less than 5 meters was going to create spaces that I do not want to be in as an avatar. A 5 meter ceiling height is quite tall for RL, and would rarely if ever create a cozy environment in RL. But in SL because we are all 6 feet 7 feet creatures and because our cameras (our point of view) hover even another foot or so above our heads, we have to design accordingly. Since day one I have hated the mouse look (looking through the eyes of the avatar) and I can not imagine expecting other avatars to use mouse look to be able to live happily in my prefab buildings.

Textures are also a big part of the equation in creating pleasant spaces in SL. A sim that's well done not only uses the best textures that are realistic, but also makes smart use of textures and keeps the number of textures down to a minimum. This is why early on I actually selected a few good textures from a freebie pack and to this day I have stuck with them. After all a good concrete texture, a good wood texture, and a few extra custom build shaded panel textures are all you need to build something in SL and make it look decent with a little help from the prim / texture gods.

As my good friend and mentor Barnesworth Anubis once told me, the good textures are the ones that people take trouble to make. Photographic sourcing is fine and all but it is meant to inform and not be the texture. Use photographic sources as what they are -- source. Do not make them seamless with a few brushstrokes and upload them into SL thinking they will look right. They won't. SL is cartooney. For things to look right you need to respect that cartooniness and perhaps if you like you can bake some of the shading onto the textures ahead of time since SL does such a poor nonexistent job of shading things.

One thing I did not get to voice in the panel (because there were many of us there), is that sometimes you can do everything right and still in due course fail. This happened to me back when windlight was released. Still to this day I have not had the chance, the time, the energy, to go back and fix all the wood texturing work that was obliterated by the release of windlight on all my furniture. My furniture right now appears to be too dark. The only reason I have not fixed this is because the windlight is still not settled and who is to say that after I fix the darkness values of thousands of texture surfaces (yes I texture them individually), that windlight will not change again and throw everything off again.

The biggest challenge that remains in SL for us builders who are particular about their creations is the uncertainty of the environment. With a wave of the want, the Lindens can do something, change something that completely throws all our work down the drain. I don't have a fix for this; They need to be able to change things when they need to change; I guess this is the way life is for a content creator in SL.

SL is just like anything else in RL. It is a work of love. And you can always tell when people put in the time the thought and the blood sweat and tears -- likewise it is always easy to tell when someone slapped some prims together, selected all and then slapped a freebie texture on and then uploaded it to xstreet for sale as a prefab for L$5000.

Overall it was a great discussion and I hope the audience got as much out of it as I did. FLW Museum expressed an interest to have follow up discussions in the future. I think this is a wonderful idea.


Roslin said...

Thanks so much for this post, it was really interesting to learn more about your influences as well as the influences of FLW, someone whose work I've always admired but never had the chance to learn about.