Saturday, January 29, 2011

Building with ice and snow.

On the subject of living in frozen landscapes, last year BLDGBLOG mentioned a fascinating thesis project from University of California, Berkeley student Taylor Medlin: Towards a new Antarchitecture.  First, the subject matter itself: making sustainable buildings in Antarctica out of ice. 

Datasheet comparing blocks of ice treated in various different ways.  Via Taylor Medlin’s Flickr stream.

Pure ice, crushed ice, or pykrete (ice infused with sawdust) and enhancing their strength with steel or glass rods were all examined as ways of building in Antarctica with the materials that are available there (ie ice and snow).

But for a game, I think that it is the presentation itself that is the most inspiring.  Medlin made a series of dioramas with wax human figures in ice structures and housed them in a glowing box surrounded by magnifying glasses and fish-eye lenses to view the scenes.  The box itself is covered with lazer-etched text and diagrams explaining the project.

The box containing the dioramas.  Via Taylor Medlin’s Flickr stream.

The dioramas themselves depict various scenes from hypothetical frozen buildings, from a world where buildings made of ice can be habitable by people.  Most of these scenes make particular use of ice being translucent – building out of ice would make possible special lighting effects that are not possible in stone or concrete.

A sampling of the dioramas.  Via Taylor Medlin’s Flickr stream.

The figures in these scenes seem to be looking around their world with a sense of interest, in some cases almost wonderment or awe.  Apart from this guy, he looks like he’s had about enough of these lights and he’s getting ready to dish out some hurt.

A miniaturized frozen world contained in a glowing box covered in cryptic symbols, that’s an idea that could work in all sorts of settings.  In a fantasy realm, it’s Glacial rift of the frost giant jarl meets Rob Kuntz’s Bottle City.  In a Cthulhu setting, the frozen box reminds me of both Cool Air, where the diorama scenes are rather like Polaris – a magical box created to preserve someone’s life by shrinking them into this cold dreamland, perhaps?  And in sci-fi, shrinking has been a staple for a long time (Fantastic Voyage, of course, and wasn’t there a Superman story arc involving a miniaturized city?); in that case, the diagrams on the box are technical displays from the computers running the system.

There are many options for how you might play with this.  Can the players travel into the box, and once there how do they get out?  The inhabitants of the box can be observed from the outside, but can they see out themselves?  Is it possible to communicate between the inside and out?  For that matter, is there actually any shrinking going on, or is the box actually a portal of some kind that allows you to view some faraway place?

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