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Joana Rafael (b.1979) is an architect practitioner, researcher and writer, currently based in Porto. Holds a PhD in Visual Cultures and a MRes in Research Architecture from Goldsmiths, University of London, and a MA from the Metropolis program, once administered by the Polytechnic University of Catalonia and the Center for Contemporary Culture in Barcelona. She dedicates herself to the development of projects and provides architectural consultancy. As a researcher, Joana develops interdisciplinary work centred on (issues of) ecology, contemporary, digital and material culture, technology and natural sciences. Uses writing as a research tool. Joana received the Erasmus+ grant (2001), FCT´s PhD Research Scholarship (2008), a study grant from Concordia University, Montreal (2008) and the Research (2019) and Production (2020) grant from Digital Cultures, Creative Industries NL, Netherlands - which led to the development of Lost Zone: Hiking the Dawn of the Metaverse, published by ViaIndustriae, Italia. Joana has been Assistant Professor at Central St. Martins, London (2009 – 2015), the University of Creative Arts, Canterbury (2013–15), the Instituto de Ciências Educativas, Penafiel (2017–20) and Escola Superior Artística do Porto (2020-2022). Teaches Contextual Studies and Contemporary Culture-related courses, and is a member of ISPUP (Institute of Public Health of the University of Porto) and CEGOT (Center for Studies in Geography and Spatial Planning). Joana is also a certified farmer.

editorial research About

Lost Zone

with Andrea Belosi
208 p, ills colour & bw, 14 x 22 cm, pb, English

Publisher ViaIndustriae
Funds provided by Creative Industries NL



Preface: ActiveWorlds is one of the longest running multi-user virtual environments that is currently available online. It was for a decade the most popular user-created virtual environment using avatar figures as a means for users to interact with each other, graphically immersed in the same simulation. It has been publicly accessible since the spring of 1995, the year The National Science Foundation Network (SFNET) was decommissioned, and restrictions on the use of the Internet to carry commercial traffic were lifted. From its start, AW allows users to open worlds, claim land and carve out customised spaces in-worlds, to socialize through chat in an alternative universe of virtual reality. It was advertised both as a platform to create anything a user can envision as well as a 3D global shopping mall: i.e. the El Dorado county of cyberspace. The early AW pioneers faced with an unstable system, dialling in over slow modem connections to access the Internet, were rewarded with the promise of a new World.
Lost Zone documents a journey across the 655 digital kilometres that separate Alphaworld’s northern and southern limits, the first built and also the - seemingly endless - flagship world of the Active Worlds (AW) universe, and of which vast amounts are in reality virtual ghost urban clusters. The world's shared earthly built environment is still fully downloaded to our computer machines, open for exploration. We hope, this publication helps draw attention to nearly abandoned and thus almost lost virtual worlds, in terms of its cultural significance. The publication aims to contribute to the debate around and to the work of preserving geographies of social networking systems and engage with the ruins of its social fabric, to gain insights into our hybrid present and point towards futures yet to come.