Category: building


burglarTo help protect our grid from content theft, Littlefield recently created a new venue for our premium content, that cannot be accessed by hypergrid visitors, but only by committed, active members of our own community. Unsurprisingly, in response to an article about it, this move was met by criticism from the very people who forced us to enact this change. They spouted self-righteous platitudes about how Opensimulator “must” remain open and interconnected. Pretty words… but completely empty.

We started out believing in that fanciful pipe dream of being all open and interconnected. But Opensim people took dreadful advantage of us. Too many hypergrid visitors took our content, not to use and enjoy for themselves, but to SELL, when we had given it away for free.

But to me, even worse than that are the people who assume that we created OUR content to support THEIR grid.

People often praise the quality of content on Littlefield grid. Our content is outstanding because we worked long, hard hours to create it, and because we spent, literally, THOUSANDS of dollars of our own money to purchase premium textures, animations and so on directly from the artists who created them. Those premium building materials are superior in quality, but, not surprisingly, they come with licensing agreements, including the agreement that those materials would be used only on our grid.

Why would we spend so much of our own money, and use it to create things that we give away for free? For one reason and one reason only: to build a COMMUNITY.

We give things to the members of our community because our community gives back. We have an awesome community of people who help and support each other. Most hypergrid visitors, on the other hand, rarely participate in our community. They come, they take stuff, and they leave. They don’t even talk to us. What good does that do our grid?

We aren’t here to show off our creations. We are here to build a community. We invest in content to support our community. That’s the only reason we do it. Letting our content off our grid (1) does not support our community, (2) violates licensing agreements, and (3) pads the wallets of copybot thieves at our expense.

Littlefield is not now, never has been and never will be a business. We have never charged a penny for our content and we never will. It will always be given away for free.

If people from other grids would like to own our content, I would be more than happy to show them where to take a class in building skills, and point them to the same artists who supplied our materials, so that you can buy from them also. But instead of putting in the time, money and effort to create things themselves, people want to take a short cut. Instead of creators, they just want to be consumers. They want to build their grid using our stuff. I’m sorry, but we aren’t here to supply your grid with stuff. I’m happy to show you how to create your own stuff, though.

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What’s the best way to design and lay out a store in the virtual world? One of my responsibilities in our virtual world is building most of the shops, so this is a topic always on my mind. In search of some fresh ideas, I recently visited the Hair Fair in Second Life. Although the hair creations showcased at the event are interesting, I am always more fascinated by the venue–the design of the sims and the individual shops.

I complain that I struggle with creativity, that I am more of an engineer than an architect. But instead of just whining about my deficits, I do my best to try to learn what I can about design, style and composition, so that I can become a better builder. For my own education, I photographed all 60 shops at the Hair Fair, and made notes about what I liked and didn’t like about each design. I was struck by how each tiny shop was uniquely and meticulously designed, and how lovely they all were.

I decided to share some of my observations here, for the benefit of my friends on Littlefield Grid. We are blessed on Littlefield Grid to have a lot of creative people, who generously share their creations with other members, so we have lots of shops. While there is nothing wrong with pasting vendor signs on the walls of a rectangular room, it can be fun to challenge yourself to think creatively, and come up with new and different ways to arrange a store. Please allow me to support you, by sharing some of my observations.

1. GET OFF THE WALL!

There is no law that says you have to paste vendor signs onto a wall. Sometimes someone will complain to me that they have used up all their wall space. While making a bigger store for them is not a problem, there are lots of other ways to use the space. Use the middle of the room!

This shop sported hotel lobby luggage carts:

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Here the signs were hung from the ceiling:

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Products and vendors can sit on various types of tables, shelves and racks. This also allows you to use the wall for other things, like windows, to enhance the appearance of your shop.

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2. BREAK THE BOX!

Frank Lloyd Wright famously waged war against the tyranny of the “box.” When every room is a rectangle with corners, it gets pretty boring and can feel confining. Although the space assigned for your shop may be rectangular (as all these examples were), you can take steps to make the shape more interesting. When the corners disappear, the room feels more spacious.

These shops varied the shape of one end of the room, making it round instead of square.

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Who says that the floor has to be flat? Or the walls or ceiling, for that matter?

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Here they made the corners vanish into darkness.

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This shop got rid of the corners… and the walls and the ceiling and the floor… leaving nothing but product.

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3. USE A MOTIF

You can make your shop more interesting with a theme or motif that reflects your style and the style of your products. Here are a few interesting ones I saw:

Parking Garage:

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Make the indoors outdoors – go to the beach:

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4. FRAME WITH ALCOVES

If you have to use the wall, consider creating alcoves to frame your product.

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Above all, make the experience of visiting your shop an interesting one for your guests. It’s a great way to make life more enjoyable in our virtual world. Your creations are and should be the center of attention. I hope this shows you some ways to make them stand out!

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I just learned that one of my projects, the Chinese Garden on Qoheleth, and its owner will be featured in a Second Life magazine. I call it a project, rather than a build, because although I designed the layout of the property and landscaping, I chinese gardendidn’t do the heavy lifting of actual building. The remarkable Chinese architecture on that project was the work of the fabulous Ryusho Ort. I just deployed it. Nonetheless people still think of me as the “creator” of the place, which is very flattering.

I am blessed that so many people take pleasure from things that I have built. It gives me pleasure to build them, so it’s good to know that I can share that good feeling with others.

From time to time, people will express their appreciation to me. Of course it always feels good to hear nice compliments. It’s also important to get feedback from the people who use the builds, so that I can continue to improve my skills and make even better and more enjoyable spaces. So I’m always grateful to hear from people.

But there is one compliment that gives me the most pleasure of all. It is Moon Gate frames the Tang Dynasty style mansion of the Chinese Scholar's Garden on Qoheleth in Second Lifenot “You are a wonderful builder, Camryn!” or any other compliment about me. As nice as it is for people to think so, that’s not what a builder like me longs to hear.

The best compliment may not even be expressed in words. It is shown in actions. The best compliment is when it’s clear that the build works, because people use it. People hang out there. People enjoy life there. They bring their friends, and tell people about the place. That’s when I know I did good.

When it is put into words, the best compliment is, “I love being there.”

The Chinese Garden gets many such compliments. People who do not know I created the place have said to me, “I love hanging out here,” and “it’s so peaceful.” A group of Chinese members did a photo shoot there. A magazine wants to write about it.

That’s what I like to hear.

One year ago, on April 6, 2013, Littlefield Grid was born.

With the birth of the grid, we embarked on an amazing adventure. In just one year, Littlefield Grid has attracted a wonderful, active community of over a thousand members. In our very first year we have become one of the most active and popular Opensimulator grids. We have a fabulously talented group of people making this grid what it is. It makes my head spin to realize how much has been accomplished already. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

For me the first year has been a frenzy of building: creating the spaces to be the theater for the friendships and relationships that are the lifeblood of our grid; making something out of nothing. The occasion of the first anniversary made me sit back for a moment and take stock.

I am impressed with how much the grid has grown. But I am also impressed with how much *I* have grown. At my advanced age (rapidly approaching a milestone) I have developed a completely new interest – architecture. This is all because of my Master, Walter Balazic, who encouraged me to build a very BIG thing: a reproduction of Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, Fallingwater. I had never tried to build anything of that magnitude before, neither in size nor in significance. It was a daunting task. But he inspired me and encouraged me and before I knew it, not only had I built it, but I had won an award, built a whole city covering nine regions and immersed myself in learning several new styles of architecture. Imagine! Truly, one is never too old to grow.

We are just getting started. But I just want to take a moment to reflect on a few of the architectural projects I have completed for Littlefield Grid. This is basically the web version of my in-world exhibit for the Littlefield First Anniversary Expo.

 

PAINTED LADIES are American Victorian homes in the Queen Anne Revival style painted in three or more colors to enhance their architectural features. First used to describe San Francisco’s colorful Victorians, the term also refers to Queen Anne Revival homes in other American cities such as Cape May, New Jersey. Distinctive features of American Queen Anne Revival style include a wraparound front porch, a corner tower (often round), painted gables, spindles and balustrades, windows crowned with pediments or gables, bay windows, and combinations of patterned wood shingles in a fish scale design.

Littlefield Victorian Store, American Queen Anne Revival Style

My build: Littlefield Victorian Store

Famous RL Examples of “Painted Ladies“:

 

 Painted Ladies: American Queen Anne Revival Style houses in Haight Ashbury district, San Francisco  Carson Mansion, Eureka, Calif., American Queen Anne Revival Style

 

STREAMLINE MODERNE was a late type of Art Deco architecture and design that emerged in the 1930s, stripping Art Deco design of its ornament in favor of an aerodynamic expression of motion and speed. The style emphasized long, sleek profiles and rounded corners. Applied to everything from automobiles and trains to toasters and radios, the futuristically aerodynamic style of Streamlining was associated with prosperity and an exciting future.

Littlefield Adult Mall Store in Streamline Moderne Style by Camryn Darkstone

My build: Littlefield Adult Mall Store

Famous RL Examples of Streamline Moderne:

Pan-Pacific Auditorium, later used as design for Disneyland entrance Joseph Stalin Locomotive, example of Streamline Moderne

 

MINIMALISM is a trend in architecture in which unnecessary elements are removed to achieve serenity in design. Basic geometric elements of lines and planes are organized as simply as possible to define the space. Unnecessary interior walls are removed, creating open floor plans. Where walls are necessary, glass is used as much as possible to unite exterior and interior space. A single shape or the connection between two intersecting planes may be used as a design motif. Furnishings are often predominantly white, leading to the nickname ‘white chic.’

Architecture Exhibit, Littlefield Grid First Anniversary Expo: Minimalist Design

My build: Exhibit – One Year of Architecture in Littlefield Grid

Famous RL Examples of Minimalist Architecture:

Mies van der Rohe: Barcelona Pavilion: Minimalist Architecture Tadao Ando: Church on the Water: Minimalist Architecture

 

BRUTALIST architecture flourished from the 1950s to the mid-1970s. Examples are typically large buildings, massive in character, fortress-like, with a predominance of exposed concrete construction, used for its raw and unpretentious honesty to communicate strength and functionality.

Littlefield Engineering: Brutalist Architecture

My build: Littlefield Engineering

Famous RL Examples of Brutalist Architecture:

Boston City Hall: Brutalist Architecture Delft Technology University, the Netherlands

 

‘PARKITECTURE’ is the nickname for the style National Park Service Rustic that was employed in the National Parks of the U.S. to create visitor facilities without visually interrupting the natural or historic surroundings. The style matured in the 1930s with the construction of the luxurious Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite. To attract Eastern visitors to the National Parks of the ‘wild’ West, America’s railroads built grand hotels like the Ahwahnee, offering every amenity of the era, in the guise of a rustic mountain lodge.

Littlefield Conference Center: Parkitecture Style

My build: Littlefield BDSM Workshop Center

Famous RL Examples of Parkitecture:

Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite: National Park Service Rustic Grand Dining Room, Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite: National Park Service Rustic

 

Littlefield, grow old with me. The best is yet to be!

It was late April of 2010 when Walter first led us to explore grids other than Second Life. At that time, visiting other grids was pretty grim for those of us who find our pleasure the virtual world more by art and design than by technology. It’s hard to believe just how far we have come in three short years. What was the barren frontier has become a perfectly reasonable alternative to Second Life.

It’s been awhile since I posted anything about what I have been up to on our grid. So I’m taking this opportunity just to share a few snapshots of what I’ve been building.

In April of 2013, almost exactly 3 years after we first tried Opensim, in a vast leap of faith, we opened our own independent virtual world: Littlefield Grid. Here is our Admin Team arriving at the Grand Opening gala.

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We just added our 500th member a couple of weeks ago, and are closing in on 600 already. Littlefield Grid consists of about 140 regions, centered around a central shopping district and five welcome and hangout regions. The welcome regions include Littlefield Hangout, a beautiful redwood grove.

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Littlefield Engineering is a hangout for those who like to talk tech. It was my experiment in Brutalist architecture.

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One of Littlefield’s distinctions is our enthusiastic band of content creators. I have built lots of stores for them, where they share their creations with members for free. For me, building a store is often an opportunity to explore a new architectural style. I created a few stores in Art Deco style for my beloved who especially likes that style.

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One of the biggest challenges, when we left SL for the Opensimulator world, was vegetation. The quality of available landscaping materials in Opensim worlds in 2010 was distressingly poor, especially compared to what was available in SL. But three years later, things are looking up; we now have one whole sim of good plants and decent trees (and they are all free to our residents).

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I enjoyed learning about Victorian style when building this Queen Anne and a Victorian shopping street.

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One of my most recent builds was a conference center in the style of a mountain lodge – my little homage to the luxury hotels in the National Parks of the Western U.S.

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For more snapshots of Littlefield Grid, with many more photos of my builds, visit Camryn’s Flickr stream.

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“No one is good to start with;

It takes practice for your work to match your vision.”

This wisdom comes from the amazing Robin Sojourner, one of the most respected creative forces in the virtual world. Robin’s quietly generous creativity permeates the virtual world through her free scripts and templates, the beautiful things she makes, and her teaching of building and texturing skills. “One of the things that excites me,” she says, “is that people who have no idea that they are creative come into Second Life and find out that they can make things. We are taught, at some point early in life, that creativity is reserved for the ‘creative types’ and they are special and there are only a few of them… and it’s just not true. All of us can do it.”

I was like that. If you’d told me in early 2006 that within a few years I would be so engaged in creating, I would have laughed. But now look. I’ve built whole towns and countless sims, and everything from jewelry to palaces. It turns out I have an eye for fashion and for architecture, something I would never have known about myself, had it not been for the virtual world.

But I think I am not done learning yet.

We have a similar creative force on Littlefield Grid, the marvelous Aaack Aardvark, who is generously giving his time to teach us how to make things in mesh. Our classes are fun and enlightening, and Aaack is a wonderful teacher who keeps us laughing. I am having a great time. The learning curve will not be easy, but with help, who knows. Maybe I can finally make a tree that satisfies me. Maybe more.

The day that you stop learning is the day that you start dying. Keep opening yourself to new things.

 

I spend more time than ever in the virtual world these days, mostly in Littlefield Grid. But today I took some time in good old Second Life, to observe the 10th anniversary of the official launch on June 23, 2003. After all, Second Life is where I was born.

It is easy to be critical of Second Life. Those of us who inhabit the OpenSimulator world, especially, often are. But I have to admit that I was moved by my experience today. Let me explain why.

Statue of Man 2002When speaking of Second Life, it is important to draw a distinction between Linden Lab—the commercial entity that created the Second Life software—and the residents, the community of people who created essentially everything that is IN Second Life.

I am no fan of Linden Lab. In my opinion, Second Life is one of the most spectacularly mismanaged businesses in the history of business. Their chronically poor judgment has alienated countless thousands of contributors to the virtual world, and kept the company on the edge of disaster for years.

But somehow, after ten years, the place is still standing, at least for now. Despite inept management, over a million people still log in to Second Life at least once a month. Why? Those one million people are not visiting Second Life because of technology. What keeps them coming back? They come because of people: the residents, the community, the world that has been created, not by Linden Lab, but by people like you and me.

Linden Lab is not Second Life. We are.

Second Life’s 10th Birthday was, for me, a celebration of the mind-bending creativity of the residents of the virtual world (every virtual world, not only Second Life). Seeing it showcased all in one place made it clear just how deep the talent pool is. I was awed by resident creativity expressed in immersive 3-D art… streaming media, machinima, radio and television stations… vehicles, from cars to sailboats to rocket ships… relationships: communities, friendships, romance and sex… battle weapons from swords to It all started with a cube.tanks… animations for every conceivable activity… a massive virtual fashion industry fueling $32 billion USD in virtual goods transactions… deep and complex roleplay communities… education, and charitable fundraising… scripts that enable intriguing things to happen… exquisite textures and building materials… cities and landscapes in astonishing variety… every conceivable environment from castles to post-apocalyptic ruins, bayou shacks to gleaming palaces, and everything in between… and ideas, omg, incredibly creative and innovative ideas.

These are the components of the virtual world, and they were not created by Linden Lab. They were created by us—the users, the residents, the virtual world community. This is what inspired me today. Not Linden Lab, but imagination and the human spirit.

On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the official launch of Second Life, I celebrate the creativity of 30 million human beings who have lived in this and every other virtual world. I toast their thought, their craft, their innovation, their art and their science. I praise the generosity of spirit that inspires me every day, when people pull amazingly wonderful and original ideas out of their minds, and share them with the rest of us in Second Life, in Littlefield, and in every virtual world.

Let us raise a glass to creativity! Hear, hear!

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I am continually amazed by how differently people experience the virtual world.

I don’t just mean the surface things like what types of activities and styles people enjoy, whether or not they like to roleplay, or their level of interest in relationships. I am speaking of fundamental differences in the way people perceive the virtual world, and what they value about it. The differences can be so striking that two people may be left staring at each other agape with incomprehension.

I recall the first time I encountered this divergence, when I mentioned my admiration of the builder Painter Meriman’s Craftsman style bungalow, his painstaking attention to the authentic details of the style and his skill with textures and composition. He had displayed it in a street scene, complete with lawn and sprinkler, sidewalk, driveway, fire hydrant, period automobile, and other subtle touches. “It feels so real!” I gushed. “You think you are in a 1920’s suburban neighborhood.” My friend’s face fell. “Oh,” she said. “I’m not interested in things that feel real. That is so boring.” I was very surprised. Her reaction woke me up to the fact that not everyone values what I value.

Recently, another dear friend illustrated the vast differences in our experience of the virtual world when he thought it would be fun to decorate an ancient Roman plaza with a big net that dropped poppable colored balloons all over the ground. I had worked hard to fine-tune the color palette of the plaza so that everything blended harmoniously, and had focused on building within the authenticity of the style. The beauty of the finished product gave me great pleasure, and to me that was worth the work. But the addition of colored balloons completely drained away any joy I felt in the scene, both because they were inauthentic (I can’t be certain but I suspect ancient Romans didn’t go in for balloon drops) and thus made it impossible for my imagination to immerse in the scene, and because the bright colors conflicted in every way with the color palette I had so carefully designed. It was as if I had painted a painting in pastels, and someone thought it would be fun to throw a vat of tomato sauce onto it. Not that I have anything against tomato sauce, but it would kind of ruin the painting, right?

And yet, the same situation looks very different through my friend’s eyes. He is all about fun and play. He loves fantasy and pretending. My friend is an iconoclast, and gets a charge out of turning things upside down just to see what happens. If we both were standing in front of a row of buttons, I would methodically press one at a time to see what each one does—but he would press all of them at once, and if it blew up as a result, it would delight him. For him, my careful attention to authenticity and color feels unpleasantly confining. He does not understand why beauty and style are important to me. He hates it. He yearns to break free of the chains of style, and splatter balloons and paint everywhere. That, for him, is a source of pleasure. The balloons that made my joy evaporate were the balloons that made his joy possible.

Although I found this incident unsettling, it was a good education for me. In the virtual world I have always been drawn to designers and artists. Because, like most people, I tend to hang out with people who are like me, it is easy to forget that not everyone is like me. When encountering someone whose perceptions and values are very different from mine, I go through a kind of progression of understanding, starting with “I don’t get that at all,” then advancing to “I guess I get where he’s coming from, but it’s not for me.”

The danger against which I must constantly guard is that I might be tempted to continue that progression too far, and end up saying, “His point of view is different, and it is wrong / of no value / inferior.” There may be a few things in this life about which such an absolute statement could have merit. But I don’t think that any of them apply in the way we experience the virtual world. There is a difference between saying that you don’t like something, and saying that it is intrinsically bad. Is one way better than another? Is one way right, or wrong? I doubt it. Even if I don’t like them, I do find the differences intriguing.

Have you ever encountered someone who sees the virtual world in a fundamentally different way? How did you react?

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Friends noticed me in SL a lot more for a few weeks, and I want to share a bit about the project that I just completed there. Stop by the sim Bondage and have a look at SOMA.

SOMA is not easy to describe. They are a group of friends who share an interest in the pleasure of intellect, erotic sensuality, art and myth. At first glance, one may wonder whether it’s a sex club, an art gallery, a dance club or a temple. The answer is yes.

In ancient mythology, Soma was the drink of the gods, the Hindu equivalent of the Greco-Roman ambrosia. It is the elixir that celebrates the divine character of life. SOMA is a group of passionate friends and thoughtful lovers. Or is that lovers of thought? SOMA hosts discussions, dances, art exhibits, erotic parties, rituals, theater, concerts and more. SOMA is a pleasure feast of body, mind and spirit, a celebration of art and sensuality, of wild and tender passions.

SOMA began as one small building on a small parcel, and grew rapidly without much planning. When they finally took over the entire sim, they asked me to come and help them expand in a more thoughtful way. I retained their original Asian building and helped them expand into a large Roman area and a Celtic-themed area featuring a stone circle.

SOMA now has a blog, “Ambrosia” and can be found on Twitter @SomaSecondLife. Inworld, join the group Bondage Soma to receive notices. Below is a quick photo tour of SOMA.

One arrives at a central plaza that leads to all the various venues. Yes, that is an Egyptian god in front of a Roman villa. That type of convergence is typical of SOMA.

Soma Roman Villa

The group enjoys weekly dances in The Pleasure Dome. Love the Alchemy Immortalis “Haute Suite” chairs.

Pleasure Dome

Sculpted deities by the amazing Ryusho Ort are featured in the central plaza.

Soma Statues Hindu Egyptian Gods

Prometheus Theater overlooks the plaza and is a setting for concerts and dramatic productions.

Prometheus Theater overlooks the plaza and is a setting for concerts and dramatic productions

Villa de L’Arte is currently showing the work of the fabulous Bachi Cheng, a successful RL artist whose vibrant, colorful images celebrate life and love.

Villa de L'Arte is currently showing the work of the fabulous Bachi Cheng

A small Roman peristyle garden offers a bit of serenity in a quiet cloister.

A small Roman peristyle garden offers a bit of serenity in a quiet cloister

Artwork and logo by my wonderful friends Stephen Venkman and Seren Dawes.

Artwork and logo by Stephen Venkman and Seren Dawes.

Bacchus Pub, furnished with Max Graf’s excellent Rustica pub set.

Bacchus Pub, Rustica pub

The villa has several nooks and terraces for intimacy and romance.

Soma Romantic Terrace

Flute Alonzo’s furnishings have gorgeous textures and top quality animations.

Soma Flute Alonzo Furnishings

One private room has a Gorean dance pit and a setting for small group gatherings.

Soma Private Room

The sim is named Bondage. That said, it is not primarily a BDSM sim. But there is a small, elegant, intimate dungeon, the Temple of Bondage, well-equipped for sensual bondage play.

Temple of Bondage

The Temple of Bondage has a lovely public room and three private rooms equipped with dozens of the finest BDSM toys from BFE, Deviant, Dictatorshop and Nihil.

Temple of Bondage Dungeon Rooms

The Temple of Zeus and Hera provides a setting for pagan rituals and… well, other things.

Temple of Zeus and Hera

The Serene Meditation Garden is a lovely place for Tai Chi or just sitting, when you need to breathe.

Serene Meditation Garden

This Stone Circle is the setting for a popular weekly discussion group. I landscaped the oak grove around the group’s slightly kludgy standing stones to which they have grown sentimentally attached.

Stone Circle Oak Grove

Other features not pictured here include an elaborate undersea mer garden, tree house, beach house, and Japanese pleasure palace.

Be sure to stop by SOMA on Bondage and partake of its many pleasures.

Moon Gate frames the Tang Dynasty style mansion of the Chinese Scholar's Garden on Qoheleth in Second LifeI keep meaning to post about this project that I did last summer in Second Life. Here it is finally.

My friend Grath Helgerud asked me to build a Chinese Scholar’s Garden for him in Second Life, after seeing an exhibit about these intriguing gardens at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Without knowing anything at all about what that meant, I accepted the challenge. As I began to research the style, I uncovered a vast new universe of thought that drew me in more deeply as I worked. This is not Chinoiserie — European impressions of China — this is authentic China, a world that fascinates me by being so “other”.

Chinese Scholar’s Gardens are an art form that flourished in China from the 10th-18th centuries. Creating one of these gardens was a favored leisure pursuit of the scholar class, a way to create a spiritual retreat from the pressures of professional life. Complex design principles produced a spiritual retreat within interior courtyards of the scholar’s home.  Waterways are surrounded by carefully arranged rock gardens, trees and plants that all have poetic meaning, forming meticulously composed vistas. Pathways lead one on a journey, drawing you into it more and more deeply, offering interesting views and perspectives at each turn, framed by pavilions, halls, gates and windows.

Song Dynasty style tea house in the Chinese Scholar's Garden on Qoheleth in Second LifeThis was a challenging project because it required me to think in a completely different way. In the Western world we are more accustomed to a house surrounded by a park-like garden; this is a garden surrounded by a house. Architecture and sculpture are important elements; a Chinese garden is “built” as an abstraction and stylization of nature. It wouldn’t do to simply scatter some nice plants and trees around. Mathematical proportions must be precise; plants, rocks and structures have specific meanings and must be selected and placed just so. The end result is an immersion experience that takes you on a journey. Following the asymmetrical garden path, you encounter a variety of spatial connections as you pass from one section to another, being presented with new and pleasing views at every turn.

Everything in the garden has significance; there is meaning attached to every plant, every rock, every shape. It was more than simply a calm place for painting, poetry, calligraphy, study and music. To build a garden, a scholar had to understand fengshui, botany, hydraulics, philosophy, history, literature, poetry and architecture. The garden was considered a measure of his knowledge as well as a showcase of his aesthetic taste.

Meditating at the Water Pavilion in the Chinese Scholar's Garden on Qoheleth in Second LifeI had no such knowledge, of course. I was very fortunate to discover the work of the fabulously talented Ryusho Ort, who immediately impressed me with the beauty, technical virtuosity and authenticity of his Chinese buildings. We started with his Dragon and Phoenix Hall in the Ming dynasty style, and added others in Song and Tang dynasty styles. Ryu coached me along the way, and helped us create a very pleasing retreat.

Even the plantings were a challenge, since the design requires very specific types of plants and trees, not all of which are readily available in Second Life. It took quite awhile to find good quality flowering plum trees, peonies, and grasses. Bamboo, banana and lotus were a little easier, but I never did find the right type of orchid, or the quintessential Taihu rocks.

I was happy, though, to be able to find an excellent family of Mandarin Ducks and multicolored Koi to grace the ponds.

Naturally, spending time in the Chinese Garden required the proper attire! I am pictured here wearing Nicky Ree’s magnificent Phoenix Gown.

You can see the entire set of 16 photos on my Flickr page.

To learn more about Chinese Scholar’s Gardens, I recommend the Wikipedia page as well as this video as a good starting place. The Missouri Botanical Garden has another nice introduction on their website. On the Asian Historical Architecture website you can take in-depth photo tours of some of the famous gardens of Suzhou, China such as the Humble Administrator’s Garden, Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty, and the Master-of-Nets Garden.

Click here to visit this Chinese Scholar’s Garden in Second Life. Grath has since added a few non-Chinese items, but there are still plenty of places to sit and relax, cuddle or slow dance. It’s a great place to visit for contemplation, meditation or relaxation — just like the originals were.