HCII 2018 — DAPI — Computing Atmospheres

Writing from the 2018 HCI International conference—which includes the 6th Distributed, Ambient and Pervasive Interactions (DAPI) conference—that is taking place in Las Vegas this year.

I organized a Parallel Session entitled Emotion & Ambient Computing (DAPI parallel session, Thursday, 19 July 2018: 10:30 – 12:30) to start a discussion about atmospheres, space, the senses, emotion and technology… also from the point of view of architects or “spatial tricksters”. In the session, Zenovia Touloudi (Darmouth University) presented her paper on interdependent metabolic structures and her Cyborg Garden project, which triggers empathy as well as invites to caring and being with others and plants. Felecia Davis (Penn State University) gave a presentation of her computational textile project Felt (awarded best DAPI conference paper!). I also presented a reflection on “Computing Atmospheres”—Ironic when you think about the conference venue, with lots of indoor and… very supra-particular spaces: have a look at the ceiling height in the room where I presented (Thank you Zenovia for the photograph :) and the number of steps (and kilometers of carpet) that I have walked without leaving the hotel complex! All of this gives me more topics/angles on ambiances to research and write about.

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Summer Workshop at Confluence

Much has been written on the convent of Sainte Marie de La Tourette (1959, Evreux, France) designed by architect Le Corbusier and his then assistant, mathematician and musician, Iannis Xenakis. It is indeed an architectural masterpiece, fit for its usage. Anyone can, looking at photographs, appreciate the masterful use of light, color and the undulatory façades that bring joy to ascetic living. Yet, one needs to experience what I come to call a *friar’s habit*, a garment barely comfortable, insulating and quiet, adjusted to monastic activities: the study of religious texts and philosophy, the prayers before each meal, and meditation. When the building material and volumes amplify the sound of the worship service, light sublimes it.

It is also space where silence is obliged—any other sound is very much a disturbance as one can hear a whisper or the alarm clock of their next-door neighbor. With the concrete at times so thin and so old that it cracks, without any insulation except maybe for few rooms under the planted roof, the habit (the word translates as ‘clothe’ in French) intimates us to silence and sensory engagement.

It has been a pleasure to experience the building along with summer school students of the Confluence Institute for Innovation and Creative Strategies in Architecture. We felt extremely privileged to be given access to the rooftop and the crypt:

On the rooftop. Photograph: Yara Tayoun

We spent a couple of days producing sensory maps of a section of the building—we chose to map the corridor linking the church to the dining hall. A section of this corridor slopes up when you come out of the church highlighting the fact that we are in a “higher state of mind” as Nathalie observed—physically ascending as we are spiritually elevated!

We were trying to make sense of sensory data collection, meaning and representation:

Students collecting sensory data.

The process of mapping luminance by Nathalie Bellefleur transforming image data into a pattern using Grasshopper.

Map capturing the elements which contribute to rhythm our walk through the walkway, activating our body-memory. Work by Kailin Jones and Yara Tayoun.

Thank you Confluence for the invitation and everyone for the wonderful work!

Virtual Reality as Architectural Design Tool

As an architect exploring the meaning and design of fluid spaces, I have been curious about the potential of VR for representing and creating ambiances—not only visualizing but also feeling and testing spatial variations/spaces of affect. In 2017 and 2018 at l’Ecole des Ponts ParisTech, I have supervised the VR-related work of two wonderful students enrolled in the Advanced Master in Design by Data:  Keerthana Govindarazan (2016-17) and Bonny Nichol (2017-18). Both have been investigating how VR can be used as a design tool.

On one hand, Govindarazan developed a “rudimentary web VR system” to “user-test architectural design for behavioral patterns”. To conduct her experiment and test if behavior in VR environments were similar to expected behaviors in real life, she started by modeling a space based on an architectural principle devised by design theorist and practitioner Christopher Alexander (author of A Pattern Language, 1977):

Figure above: The time spent by the same user in each clicked location is visualized in this image for scene 1. The more time spent, the bigger the radius of the circle and the warmer the color. [Keerthana’s edited caption]

On the other hand, Nichol focuses on the concept of “attention”. She is aims at translating eye-tracking and EEG inputs captured during VR spatial experience as design data.

Design by Data Advanced Master

I have been involved in the Design by Data Advanced Master (directed by Francesco Cingolani) as a lecturer investigating with students the meaning and implication of designing “fluid spaces” and guiding them to conduct research for their computational project. I am also heading the “Art, design and knowledge” area of the advanced master.

To me, it has always been important to reflect on the ways in which technologies affect spaces and transform not only production processes but also the ways in which we relate to space and the world around us. As William J. Mitchell wrote in ME++: The cyborg self and the networked city, space has the same characteristics as the onion—“My natural skin is just layer zero of a nested boundary structure.” (Mitchell, 2003: p. 7). Every layer also connects to others and can change properties.

So it is not enough to learn how to use a software or other tool and technology, one also needs to understand which software to use and to which end, and what does it exactly do. And questions of “optimization” should not be the only ones to be taken into account when building for future generations !

I am happy I have joined the conversation with the team at l’Ecole des Ponts, the best engineering school in France, Francesco Cingolani, also co-founder of the Parisian coworking space / makerspace / food lab Volumes (Subscribe to their mailing list!) and Minh Man Nguyen, co-founder of the Woma, co-working and co-making space in Paris.

If you have any question about the advanced master, join us for breakfast March 14, 2017 :-)

Also very useful.. Twitter handle: @byDataDesign

The Cartography of Ambiance

The paper entitled “The Cartography of Ambiance” that I wrote for the Third International Congress on Ambiances that happened in Volos from September 21 to 24th semester gives a glimpse of my current research on mobility.

Abstract. This paper explores the cartography of ambiance as a means to parametrically generate ambiances that enable “wayfounding”, i.e. the ability to “keep your bearings” in contemporary hypermobile environments. It presents a process of architectural experimentation led by the author at the Ecole Spéciale d’Architecture (2013-2015) and the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Paris-Malaquais (2016) in France and Kyoto Seika University (2015) in Japan, that explored the cartography of ambiance as a spatial practice through iteratively “practicing the landscape” (Thibaud, 2015), drawing from memory, gathering data, decoding and encoding parameters of ambiance.

Keywords: Cartography, Ambiance, Liquid Architecture, Wayfounding, Psychogeography, Parametric

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