Spending the amount of time that I do travelling by rail around the country means that a lot of that time is spent gazing out of windows at the scenery passing by, both countryside and architecture. As you pass fleetingly through towns and cities you can’t help but notice the contrast between modern buildings, and those from another era.
The same is evident as you walk around our towns and cities: There was a time when craftsmen and masons would build with stone, along classic lines, with an eye for aesthetics, rather than pure utility. Then, sometime after the close of the 1950s, architecture went down a whole different path, discovering the joy of concrete, steel and plate glass; function over form was the order of the day and buildings took shape at the hands of civil engineers and construction crews. Today, of course, we hang our heads in shame at the crude brutality of buildings of the sixties and seventies and fill our cities with ever more bizarre constructions that are every bit as ugly as their predecessors, just in a different way.
Today, from the train, I spotted a beautiful and unique building – the water tower in Southall – and it reminded me that we still have a wealth of great architecture, despite the best efforts of city planners. However, my positivity was soon quenched, just moments down the line as I spotted a modern urban monstrosity which looked not so much that it had been designed as thrown together. Whoever had been responsible for this abysmal carbuncle clearly had a fascination for wire mesh fence panels, which had been ‘artistically’ carved into odd shaped pieces and hung at weird angles over the front of the building… It looked a bit like someone had magnetised the frontage and then thrown random bits of fencing at it.
It seems today that for a building to pass muster, it needs to have jutty-out bits, freaky roofing, bizarre cladding and look as if it had been cobbled together in Scrapheap Challenge. The trouble is, even if we put our minds to it, I doubt we possess any more the skills and ability to sculpt and create anything that you could consider to be beautiful, pleasing to the eye or anything as imposing and splendid as some of the great buildings that still remain as a legacy of past generations.
Sadly, it’s difficult for most of us to replicate that stylistic form in SL too. The inworld building tools are perfect for constructing the kind of modern day edifices that would make a millennial architect cream their pants, all magically suspended dangly bits, ugly protruberences and angles, and vast expanses of concrete, plastic and pierced steel sheeting, but not so good at making the organic, flowing and intricate constructions that typify earlier architecture. That’s not to say it can’t be done, but it’s difficult, takes time and experimentation, and tends to be costly in terms of land impact.
One possible alternative – sculpts – is now frowned upon as being a drain on viewer resources, which only leaves us with mesh, which is not a learning curve that many would choose to go down and those who have are by far and away more interested in making clothing than the inworld construction industry.
So, the result is we’re stuck with ugly buildings in SL, but then again we always have been. Much of the prim work we see in SL has barely advanced from the clunky, blocky, Lego brick style that you’ll see in some of the earliest builds on the Grid, such as Governor Linden’s House. In terms of style, much of SL looks like it read the rule book, then threw it away and did the opposite, and wherever you go inworld, you’re guaranteed to find some truly ghastly builds.
That’s not to say there aren’t a wealth of truly gorgeous builds that can be found, but to be honest, pretty though they might be, I don’t think that they’re really representative of SL: Most of us are, after all amateurs, and unconstrained by the laws of physics, reality, or planning consent, we have no need to conform to anybodys concepts of realism, acceptability or beauty; and, in a virtual world, created by its residents, that’s perfectly OK.
In the real world, designed and built by professionals however, I think we could do a lot better!
All the majesty of a city landscape
All the soaring days of our lives
All the concrete dreams in my mind’s eye
All the joy I see through these architect’s eyes
David Bowie – Thru These Architect’s Eyes