KSU’s Esplanade goes virtual

Margaret Thompson

Graduate student uses Second Life to start community discussion about renovations

Graduate student uses Second Life to start community discussion about renovations

Alex Koch’s graduate architecture thesis project is about more than just a great design. He wants to get students involved in planning the extension of the esplanade.

“Just because somebody isn’t a designer or an architect doesn’t mean they can’t have really good ideas about how the community could be shaped,” Koch said.

As his thesis project, Koch is investigating the Esplanade extension project between the university and the city of Kent.

“There is a plan that Kent State put forward saying that they want to extend [the esplanade] into downtown, but they also want to create this bus depot/hotel/conference center/university building area,” Koch said.

He also said the university seeks to make a defined “entrance to campus” through the extension.

Koch is using the university’s plan as the basis for his thesis project. He created a virtual section of the renovation area on Second Life, a virtual world online.

His thesis calls for students and local residents to view the virtual world at Secondlife.com and then discuss their opinions on a Facebook group titled “Kent State Second Life Project.”

Koch said the virtual world is an “experience because you can see what it is like before it is actually built.”

“I’m trying to take advantage of Facebook’s discussion boards,” Koch said.

After individuals walk through the project on the Second Life site, they can “come back to Facebook and discuss their likes and dislikes.”

Koch said he plans to use the suggestions to alter the original plan.

Koch, who lives in Cleveland, knows what he would like to see happen with the Esplanade extension, but he is more interested in hearing the opinions of Kent residents.

“What I am really hoping is that by the end of the semester, I can get feedback from people and say, ‘This is a very different plan that what you had originally proposed.

Here’s what everyone is saying. Take it or leave it, but this is what the students want,’” Koch said.

Several dozen people have already joined Koch’s Facebook group to share their opinions on the extension plan.

The Facebook group indicates that Koch’s plan is simply for his thesis and holds no guarantee that it will become a reality.

However, he said his professors at the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative are the local architects working with the original plan, and they are genuinely interested in his findings.

“What I can do is present Kent State with my findings,” Koch said.

Koch’s architectural adviser, David Jurca, explained the requirements for Koch’s thesis. Jurca said fall-semester students “get the opportunity to craft a thesis question.”

For Koch, this involved researching various virtual games in which to create his project. “A lot of it was filtering video games,” Koch said.

“The idea is that you can look at a TV screen, you can look at a monitor and, in your head, you can actually go in that space,” Koch said.

He is working to answer the question of how virtual architecture affects an individual’s thoughts on it.

Jurca said his role as adviser is to help Koch “hone in on design and decisions.”

While Jurca said architects do use tools to show their plans in virtual landscapes, he’s never seen it specifically used as Koch is using it — to “help public dialogue” before construction.

Jurca said in the spring semester, students implement their research. For Koch, this is setting up the Second Life site and Facebook page, where “other people can come in and talk to others and experience the design before it is built.”

At the end of the semester, Koch will report on his findings and present his proposal for a changed plan. He will graduate in May with a master’s in architecture and urban design.

“Kent State is expanding,” Koch said, “and if students can influence that and tell Kent what they want, I think ultimately it would have a much more successful project.”

Contact features correspondent Margaret Thompson at [email protected].