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TheU Virtual University Architecture Competition

DigiGardener's Notebook from the New Cyberspace
A Narrated Photo Album of a Journey through Virtual Worlds

On March 20, 1998, a ground breaking event occurred in Cyberspace: the grande finale of TheU Virtual University Architecture Competition. What was so unusual about this event? Well, until recently, the only way you could experience Cyberspace has been to surf web pages, send email or visit chat rooms. This is not the Cyberspace of our dreams, of William Gibson's Neuromancer or Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. The Cyberspace of fiction is a vast series of virtual worlds, in glorious three dimensions and occupied by thousands of people at the same time, moving about visibly in their digital personae called avatars. This Cyberspace is a place, not just an interface.


Overhead view of AlphaWorld cityscape, circa February 1998
Click to see larger view

Surprisingly, since 1995, avatars and their worlds have begun to appear all over the Internet. In fact, hundreds of thousands of net citizens have entered the Avatar Teleport and experienced life in inhabited Cyberspace. One such world, AlphaWorld and its 500 sister worlds in the Active Worlds universe allowed its citizens to freely build. And build they did, over 50 million objects, hundreds of millions of polygons in vast 3D cityscapes. And was this limited to a few 3D modelers on high end VR systems at universities? No! These worlds were all built by people at home using ordinary PCs connected by the Internet through modems. With the emergence of a democratized, home-built virtual worlds Cyberspace came all the social innovations of a supercharged virtual community. People could now see where they stood in Cyberspace, and in them grew a strong sense of belonging. These new citizens of Avatar Cyberspace know they are true pioneers of a new medium of human contact, a medium that will have as profound an impact on the 21st Century as the telephone, television or film had on the 20th.


How does this all work?

This explosion of creative content has occured across the spectrum of worlds, from the dark and deadly environs of Quake Levels to the social, creative Cyberspace worlds of Avatars. It is into this environment that the Contact Consortium and its Special Interest Group TheU Virtual University lead by Stuart Gold initiated a key project: an Architecture Competition. What better way to push the limits of this new constructivist Cyberspace by challenging hundreds of builders to come up with their vision for beautiful and functional collaborative learning spaces.. campuses in Cyberspace.


Judges of TheU Competition

At 2pm Pacific Standard Time, avatars of all ages, nationalities and professions gathered in the glass pyramid not far from the Ground Zero plaza of TheU, the Contact Consortium's virtual world in the Active Worlds complex. The purpose of this in-world gathering was to support judging of the six finalists out of 33 worlds built by teams from all over the globe. The competition had been in the planning stages for two years and the competition had kicked off on October 22, 1997 at the Avatars 97 Conference in San Francisco. Building stopped on February 6th and the six judges, from diverse academic and design backgrounds, descended on the site to walk through the hundreds of square kilometers of built up content.

These pages contain some views of the walkthoughs of the worlds with forty people and the six finalist builders. Our special thanks go out to Stuart Gold for providing leadership, to the good folks at SRT Technologies for providing technical support and hosting of the worlds, to the Contact Consortium for sponsoring and promoting the event, and to Active Worlds.com for providing the licenses for many worlds, and the technology of Active Worlds.

The Photo Albums

Click on each image to go to the corresponding photo album pages


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For enquiries on TheU Project contact Stuart Gold


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