a conversation with Markus Miessen
People’s Monthly, Issue 1
People’s Monthly: What does RMB City mean to you?
Markus Miessen: It presents us with a parallel reality. Although it is a virtual space, I would not call it a virtual reality. As a space, it exists in real time, produced in the non-virtual world, through an interface that allows for a reality that transcends the physical boundaries that our everyday world consists of.
PM: In SL, the state of PLAY is the crucial drive/ right for avatars, instead of survival in a society, or gravity as the Earth’s law. What do you think about how this affects virtual architecture?
MM: I am not sure whether ‘play’ is the right term here. I agree that the fact that it is a parallel reality turns the in-between, the communication between the two realities, into something playful. An avatar is a computer user’s representation of himself/herself or alter ego, a construct of the real, an interface and embodiment of the user. In this sense it is not too different from using a phone or sending an E-Mail. Now, one could argue that the difference lies in the memory of the system, the factor of growth, the factor of a history. Whereas most telephone conversations, SMS or E-Mails tend to be two-way conversations (between two individuals), SL builds up a visual and physical memory in a non-physical reality. It is not too different from building up a collection or an archive — of art, books, objects or dinge (“things”) of sorts — but this one can be accessed, altered, and interacted with in a completely different way. The question, however, is: what is really at stake here? I think that SL, if used smartly, like in your case, can become a test-bed for politics on various scales. On the other hand, if used as a simple game-tool — an interfacing facilitating the ‘state of play’ as you call it — it can easily become as banal as Facebook.
PM: What do you think is the biggest challenge to an SL architect? For real-life (RL) architects, how do essential parts of RL’s structure (such as physics, natural disasters, environmental problems, political concerns, and economic limitations) affect things like visual style, scale, and usage?
MM: Architecture is the constructing of relationships: spatial, social, and political. A wall can separate, but a wall can also unite. A single sentence, spoken out or typed into one’s keyboard can produce the same effects though. I wouldn’t necessarily distinguish between structures or architecture in reality and in SL, other than in terms of urgencies, scales of effect and economies. A disaster in SL is manageable; in the real world it is often not.
PM: What are the meanings of “to build/construct” and “building/construction” in SL?
MM: There are many different kinds and notions in regards to the act of building and construction, the most obvious one being the construction of physical structures that are both haptic and visible. There is also the construction and successive act of building up knowledge, constructing discourse, facilitating interfaces and the implementation of social spaces for physical and non-physical interaction. The only species of building that SL does not comply with is the one of haptic structures.
PM: What is unique about constructing a city, compared to an object or a building? If you can easily drag your building into your pocket (inventory), delete or remove it; or if you can fabricate your identity, education or lifestyle, how would this affect the rationality and order in city planning?
MM: I think a city cannot be consciously constructed. It is the long-term result of several professional, non-professional and everyday practices. The reading of a city, although the result of a multitude of historic and contemporary authors, is always personal. Therefore, there is never a singular New York, but countless New Yorks, there is never a picture-postcard of Beijing, but many diverse and conflicting narratives, sometimes hugely public, sometimes inherently private.
PM: In your opinion, how could SL architects inspire RL architects?
MM: Architects, urban planners and any other professionals and non-professionals that are engaged in spatial practice can learn from the interactive everyday qualities of SL. The interaction between individuals is essentially the driving force for the production of space. Any wall, any piece of physical matter places, tends to be a negotiation within a field of social and political forces.
PM: The last yet very basic question is: what do architecture and architects mean in RL nowadays?
MM: I would not make that distinction and I hope that, one day, your distinction becomes meaningless.
Architect, researcher and writer migrating between London, Berlin and Zurich. In 2002, he set up Studio Miessen, a platform for spatial strategy and critical cultural analysis. As an architect, Miessen is partner of the Berlin-based architectural firm nOffice. He is the author and editor of several books including Space of Uncertainty (Müller + Busmann, 2002), Did Someone Say Participate? An Atlas of Spatial Practice (MIT Press, 2006), With Without – Spatial Products, Practices and Politics in the Middle East (Bidoun, 2007), The Violence of Participation (Sternberg Press, 2007), and East Coast Europe (Sternberg Press, 2008). He has been teaching at the Architectural Association since 2004 and is the Director of its nomadic Winter School Middle East, which he initiated in Dubai. He has lectured widely, including at Columbia, MIT and the Berlage Institute, and is currently a Visiting Professor in Shiraz (Iran) and a PhD candidate at Goldsmiths, elaborating on his thesis regarding the Uninvited Outsider.
Want to read more articles in People’s Monthly—RMB City ‘s official newsletter?
You can buy a copy of People’s Monthly Issue #1 at
Vitamin Creative Space (Guangzhou)
The Shop by Vitamin Creative Space (Jianwai Soho, Chaoyang District, Beijing)
Or leave us a comment
You can shop for more Vitamin Creative Space/ RMB City publications at the Shop on Tao Bao