Empire State Building

Meet CityVille's Frank Gehry

February 28, 2011: 1:17 PM ET

Architect Yick Kai Chan once mapped out schools and banks. Now, Chan uses his skills for Zynga, to build CityVille's virtual communities one twee building at a time.

CityVille isn't just another city simulation game. As its 95 million monthly active users will attest, Zynga's latest ridiculously successful product for Facebook isn't just a hodge-podge of caricatured buildings or bobble-headed locals with emoticon bubbles -- it's an incubator for a self-sustaining virtual community you can (and must) share with Facebook friends. Its devious simplicity quickly gives way to surprising levels of complexity: planting and harvesting crops with different growth rates to supply local food merchants, hiring Facebook friends to staff community centers, and visiting neighboring cities to build your own community's reputation. To that end, CityVille offers up hundreds of items for gamers to build up their communities.

That's where Yick Kai Chan comes in. If you've so much as seen a CityVille ad, then you've seen his work. The 36-year-old China-born designer worked for 12 years at firms in Redwood City and Oakland, California drawing up blueprints for corporate campuses, city halls, garages, retail spaces, banks and restaurants in the real world before joining Zynga last April. Now, he designs exclusively for CityVille: recreations of Big Ben and the Empire State Building, farms, apartment buildings, cottages, flower shops, cafes, and community centers. Chan's position at the company is unique in that he is the only architect on Zynga's payroll, and in fact, he's had a hand in designing each and every bit of CityVille architecture.

Overkill? Not really.

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