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Three Inspirations for Creative Level Design
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Three Inspirations for Creative Level Design

July 16, 2001 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

While we as Level Designers can learn a lot from classical and contemporary ideas in structural architecture, we can also draw inspiration from the visionaries that work outside of the restrictive hierarchies of reality. These experimental architects are able to spend their energies solely on the expression of their creations, as is our own modus operandi: to design and construct that which entertains or informs.

This artilce presents three great works that have inspired in me new thoughts on the nature of spatial design, and consequently new ideas on particular aspects of our art. In a vein similar to that of Duncan Brown's GDC 2001 presentation on contemporary architecture, I present three works from the realm of experimental or visionary architecture. I hope to give you insight into their ideas and processes, and toss in a few of my own notions on their expressionistic relationships to our work as geometricians of time, space and experience.

Lebbeus Woods' Terra Nova

"Experimental architecture…transcends the logic of its own construction."
— Lebbeus Woods

Lebbeus Woods is one of the planet's most renowned visionary architects. His publications can be hard to come by since most are now out of print (but they are certainly worth the effort and tragic losses required to obtain one). You may also come across his work at your local art museum where it has been known to pop up from time to time (the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art actually has a couple works in their permanent collection).

Terra Nova is a collection of six projects that Woods assembled to present a thesis on, and created nothing short of a complete rebirth in architecture, culture, and humanity — a new earth, as the title suggests.

Just looking at the physical qualities of his drawings is an exercise in rethinking spatial composition.

At first glance, you notice Lebbeus Woods the artist. Just looking at the physical qualities of his drawings is an exercise in rethinking spatial composition. The freedom and discipline with which he breaks down and reassembles typical notions of architecture using line, color, texture, and shape are worthy of study alone.

Then you sense the immensity of the environment evoked by these compositions. The quasi post-apocalyptic aspects that lend the pieces a prophetic sensation, existing somewhere between science fiction and science fact. The acceptance of architecture becoming truly fluid and organic, and in turn unfamiliar to our fuzzy, four-walled notions of a home or dwelling.

In a nutshell, these structures are accomplished by breaking down the very hierarchies that shape architecture, as we know it, partially in terms of technology, but moreover politically. For Woods, breaking down bureaucratic hierarchies is the only way to truly advance not only architecture, but the human condition as well. Some might call it anarchy, but Woods likes to think these constructs are products of an assemblage of "heterarchies", a term he borrows from cybernetics which Woods defines as "a spontaneous lateral network of autonomous individuals; a system of authority based on the evolving performances of individuals (e.g. a cybernetic circus)."

The structure exists as another thin crust among the strata of geological time.

DMZ is a conceptual project consisting of a massive structure assembled along the demilitarized zone in Korea. It is difficult to interpret all of its implications, however, what is understood in part, is Woods' simple idea of architecture being just an additional layer of the earth. It exists as another thin crust among the strata of geological time, a regenerating skin or film that undulates and transforms along with the body of the Earth from which it grows. Such seemingly unrelated concepts (such as architecture and layers of strata) when put together, can produce the most interesting designs. What else could architecture be blended with and what might that look like? What if one was to combine two unrelated objects such as a wall and tofu? An individuals initial reaction towards that combination might simply be the idea of edible architecture, where the inhabitants create their own spaces and passageways by consuming their bland tasting environment. One can even reverse engineer an architectural design to define the inhabiting culture itself. This brings up a point that makes Woods' images intriguing: you as a viewer are invited to imagine how you would interact with these landscapes and structures. This is the same imaginative leap that is often the challenge in level designing.

Solo House, another project in Terra Nova, contains an interesting narration in the art of visionary architecture. Aaron Betsky describes the project in Terra Nova's introduction as a place where:

"…Woods imagines a new home on a far away range for a single inhabitant who starts by using the instruments supplied to him to measure the universe outside of his armored egg, and then slowly turns the optical penetrators inward, so that he ends up by comparing his own atoms with those of the metal all around him. The implication of the little narrative supplied with the project is that man goes from seeing architecture as a traditional shelter that he can use to define himself in relation to the world around him…to realizing that in essence he is the same as the world around him."

Woods' designs maintain an eerily realistic quality of being functional constructs, as shown here in Solo House.

Studying Woods is great for designers of both real and fantasy worlds. As fantastic as his designs are, and as far as they may stretch the bounds of logic, they maintain an eerily realistic quality of being functional constructs (which, I suppose, is why Woods is considered an architect, rather than just a good illustrator). He accomplishes this visual functionality in part using recognizable and believable frameworks, and through the amount and scale of architectural detail. All are important elements to be aware of when designing an environment. When it comes down to it, like Woods, we all are creating nothing more than the illusion of space.

Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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