Wanted: Cyberspace Architecture

Dr. R. Rockwell
Chief Scientist
blaxxun interactive

A new generation of computer network software aims at building virtual communities: permanent (or at least recurring) online meeting places where people can work and play, buy and sell, gossip and govern, flirt and fight and generally seek their fortunes.

The first such places are being built more or less ad hoc. Their builders are mostly innocent of the history of human efforts to shape the spaces where people live so that these might better serve people's needs and express their dreams. Construction tools appropriate to the physical (i.e. electronic) constraints of shared online environments are rapidly becoming available. But there is no generally accepted conceptual framework for their design, no body of validated experience to guide their construction. There is not yet an architecture for cyberspace.

In a world so new that its most fundamental properties are still being created (gravity, for example), Cyberspace designers confront - consciously or not - many of the classic architectural challenges:

The would-be cyber-architect navigates this maze of conflicting constraints in search of more than just the solution to a puzzle. In cyberspace as in the physical world, the goal of architectural design is always a place which, while fulfilling its various functions, also communicates something to (and about) the people who use it.

Consider this note an invitation - or even a call or help. Architects have been refining their approaches to this recurring challenge for generations, and ARCH+ is one of today's most articulate centers of that centuries-long investigation. There is a profound need for architectural insight into the task of building virtual environments that are fit for human habitation. On the other hand, the software community has learned some quite general lessons about the design of structures flexible enough to survive repeated changes to their support systems, and open enough to support repeated re-thinkings as to their functionality -- topics of no small interest to anyone who designs physical places for people in today's madly changing world. Our two communities have a lot to say to each other: a conversation that cannot begin soon enough to suit me.

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