On April 19th, 2020, Gem Preiz, the master of the fractal image, opened a new installation in Second Life – one that is a little different to his past installations / exhibitions in that fractals are almost non-existent within it. Instead, with Skyscrapers, he presents an immersive installation that is drawn from one of his many passions: architecture.
In short, the installation presents a region-wide city – but with a difference. Everything in it is represented at 1/10th scale (based on a region’s size). Thus, rather than offering a location just 256m on a side, Gem presents a city that is 2.56 kilometres on a side, representative of a city covering 100 regions. It has been built to reflect the beauty of modern skyscrapers which have a unique impact on Gem, as he explains in the introductory note card:
skyscrapers [are] modern cathedrals which are, like those of the past, the synthesis of all the techniques of their time, dedicated to the collective aspirations of their builders. Incredible technological challenges, they are increasingly integrating the search for an aesthetic that reinforces their impact. They have to be beautiful, since they will be more and more numerous in order to limit the surface of land arable or reserved for ecosystems that will be needed for human housing.
It is also – as he also explains – an exercise in immersion. By using a set scale for this build, and by providing the means to move through it at an equivalent scale, Gem has created an environment that is richly encapsulating, the scale allowing you to travel through the streets and parks of a city some 2.56km on a side.
This is achieved through the use of an option to make your avatar “invisible” via an alpha layer (remove all mesh and other attachments) and then using one of the flying vehicles available at the landing point within the city itself (in turn reached via a teleport board from the main landing point). Three of these vehicles are “self drive”, so you can pilot them yourself, or you can take the red car on a guided tour of the city, its sectors and buildings.
While it is possible to walk and fly around the city as an avatar, I strongly recommend using the alpha layer (your avatar sans all mesh and attachments) and the vehicles. The latter are scripted to move at a speed consistent with the scale of the city, and by hiding your avatar, you gain the distinct impression of the city’s size. If you opt to go into the installation as you are, without using the alpha option, then I still suggest using the vehicles – but switch to Mouselook when doing so to gain a real sense of scale. Note also that a teleport HUD is available from the city landing point, and with will allow you to hop between specific points of interest.
Like a real city, Gem’s is split into various districts, each with its own buildings / architectural styles. Some sections are purely conceptual / entirely futuristic in style, others are more recognisable in style (such as the residential districts, the shopping district with its malls, etc.). Most of the buildings are ultra-modern in look, although some offer stylised designs that embrace the past. Surface and elevated roads cut their way between districts, as do the tubes of what might be taken as a mass transit system, which also separates the main park in the city from the surrounding districts, giving it room to breathe.
However, it is the buildings that are the most fascinating. Some are simple box and cylinder designs, others more sculpted / futuristic in style. However, many owe their inspiration to skyscrapers from the physical world, and it is seeking these out among the towers and districts that can get someone thoroughly engrossed. Gem provides a list of the latter, but during my visit I spotted what appeared to be a number – by happenstance or design – that also appeared to be drawn from physical world counterparts not listed in the note card. These included the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank building in Hong Kong, the shape of which appears echoed through a number of blue buildings in the city, London’s Shard, and two graceful golden curves of buildings that put me in mind of the U.N. Building in New York, while a series of paired towers each linked by high-level walkways put me in mind of the Petronas Towers.
I mentioned above that Gem’s Fractal images are “almost” non-existent in this build. The qualifier comes because deep within the city is a large geodome, within which is a series of his fractal images, scaled down from their usual size, each one offering a view of futuristic architecture entirely in keeping with the installation’s theme.
An extraordinary and engaging installation, Skyscrapers is well worth visiting while it remains open.
- Skyscrapers by Gem Preiz (Akiko, rated General)