Recently, cultural critic Celia McGee (who also happens to be my sister) sent me a link to a blog about real and imaginary library architecture in Minecraft. The New York Public Library is included, along with what to me look like several local facilities of a more pedestrian sort, but also completely imaginary ones that soar and recede into apses with more drama than any physical structure could. My favorite was a Minecraft library by user Zach Bora, who constructed it as a reworking of what looks to be a Southeast Asian temple, with a dark interior, a cross shape on the ground, and tiers of what must be stacks rising around you. It heightened the ritualistic overtones of the library, though I could not imagine reading there. Perhaps Minecraft libraries are temples to lost learning, not places to actually perform the task for which the type was designed.

I surfed around a little bit more, and it appears that this game has taken over from sites such as Second Life as a location where frustrated architectspile pixels rather than bricks to create their fantasy structures. It is disappointing how few of them actually take full advantage of the medium: Most Minecraft architects create boxes, abstract and generic in their appearance, with a preference for Brutalism and neo-Mayan design.

The buildings offer very little in terms of spatial sequences, nor do they vary much in terms of texture or scale. They are blocks, and they sit on their imagined sites with little landscape or transition. Their interiors are often vast and impressive (when they are imaginary), or, if they reflect real life, dull and diluted of texture. To a certain extent, this is the result of the game itself, which gives you a limited amount of tools with which to construct your reality. It is a bit like trying to build architecture out of LEGO blocks. (The clumsy forms of the architecture series that the toy company puts out are testimony to how many more possibilities there still are in real life.)

It made me wonder what would happen if my students, who cruise around Rhino and Maya and just about every other program they can get their hands on like practiced space travelers, actually developed a game. Perhaps they already are: When I was teaching at the University of Kentucky last year, some of the best graduates wound up working for the gaming industry in Los Angeles.

Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, Chongqing Financial Street master plan
Credit: Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, Chongqing Financial Street master plan

The most sophisticated rendering programs already turn projects into structures that look like fantasy lairs for evil warlords. Good examples are those designed by big corporate firms for Asian sites. Actual construction makes most such buildings a little grittier, but it is frightening—or maybe exhilarating—to imagine what will happen if the construction industry, not to mention our ability to accept forms, ever catches up to what those dusky renderings look like today.