Virtual World Studio = Real-Life Design

Architects and architecture students recently went to another world to create plans for a surge hospital in Indianapolis.

Through the online virtual world of Second Life, students from the College of Architecture and Planning (CAP) worked with their counterparts in Central and South America to design a downtown hotel that could be quickly transformed into a medical facility in the event of a natural disaster or other widespread emergency.

The students may have met in a virtual world, but they worked with Indianapolis-based BSA Life Structures and addressed an actual building site located on the Clarian hospital campus.

“The building’s primary role will be a hotel, which downtown Indianapolis needs to help fulfill its role as a host city for events like the Super Bowl,” says Guillermo Vasquez de Velasco, dean of CAP. “And in the event of major medical emergency, the building will be able to supplement hospital functions by taking noncritical patients from neighboring facilities, which would free up more bed space in trauma hospitals.”

The universities that participated in the project are part of the Las Americas Network, a network of more than 30 Latin American architecture programs and coordinated by Ball State. Representatives from 11 universities gathered in the Second Life studio to share design ideas and completed the design phase in December.

The Las Americas Virtual Design Studio resembles a tower with floating petals, and it’s believed to be the first university studio of its kind, and certainly of this scale. John Fillwalk, director of Ball State's Institute for Digital Intermedia Arts and Animation worked with the students to bring the design to life. The team jumped out of the constraints of traditional architecture. "The nature of the tower's architecture is specific to Second Life,” he says. “There are no stairs, and dynamic pods and audio bubbles allow groups to meet together or ‘fly’ away to have private meetings."

The innovative workspace led to many intriguing designs for the proposed hospital, which demonstrates that Ball State not only solves real-world problems, but virtual ones, too.