International students gather in Second Life to design real-life surge hospital

Topics: College of Architecture and Planning, Emerging Media, International Education

November 5, 2008

Architects and architecture students are in another world creating plans for a surge hospital in Indianapolis.

Through the online virtual world of Second Life, students from Ball State University's College of Architecture and Planning (CAP) are working 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 be meeting in a virtual world, but they are working with Indianapolis-based BSA Life Structures and addressing an actual building site located between Methodist Hospital and the Indiana University Hospital in the capital city. Using its specialized expertise in the design of health facilities, BSA Life Structures will provide virtual reviews of the student projects.
 
"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," said 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."
 
Las Americas

The participating universities are part of the Las Americas Network, a collaborative exchange launched in 1998 involving more than 30 Latin American architecture programs and coordinated by Ball State. The participants work on the same design subject and share the development through the Internet.
 
Representatives from 11 universities have already begun to gather in the Second Life studio to share design ideas with the goal of completing the design phase by the middle of December.
 
The project represents key initiatives at Ball State, Vasquez de Velasco noted. First, the use of emerging media, in which the university has quickly established a reputation as an industry leader, is being incorporated in an immersive learning course.
 
Another strategic goal of the project is reaching out to high-achieving international students. The project began with students in seven countries from the United States to Mexico, from Guatemala to Chile, working together. The project will become more competitive as the students refine their individual designs. The process will identify the top five architecture students in Latin America with the aim that they come to Ball State to further their education — in real life, that is.
 
"This will be a highly collaborative effort, one that should produce a very provocative, useable design," Vasquez de Velasco said. "A number of our graduates and industry professionals also are working with the students. At times, there will be more than 60 people, or avatars, who could be working in our Second Life studio."
 
Virtual Construction

The Las Americas Virtual Design Studio resembles a tower with floating petals. According to Vasquez de Velasco, it's believed to be the first university studio of its kind, and certainly of this scale. The design was based on the winning entry from CAP student Brandon Hoopingarner, from Indianapolis. His proposal was selected from 11 student entries.
 
John Fillwalk, director of Ball State's Institute for Digital Intermedia Arts and Animation (IDIAA) and coordinator of Ball State's award-winning Second Life course, The Aesthetic Camera, brought Hoopingarner's ideas to life. He worked with IDIAA staff and students in their Immersive Seminar in Virtual Worlds.
 
"The pairing of IDIAA's deep understanding of design for virtual worlds with the goals of the Las Americas team created a truly innovative project," Fillwalk said.
 
The team jumped out of the constraints of traditional architecture, Vasquez de Velasco added.
 
"The nature of the tower's architecture is specific to Second Life," he said. "There are no stairs, and dynamic pods and audio bubbles allow groups to meet together or 'fly' away to have private meetings."
 
On Nov. 10, the Las Americas Virtual Design Studio will have its grand opening — complete with a ribbon cutting. The invitation-only even will begin at 4 p.m. EDT in the SimLab in CAP as well as in Second Life.
 

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