A 2 week workshop conducted by Adam Greenfield and Mayo Nissen from URBANSCALE
My major project team mate: John Lynch
This workshop was an eye opener into looking at a city not just in terms of people, buildings and objects but the varied systems and the different layers in them, which people become intertwined with. We got a lot of insights through Adam’s talks about ‘ The elements of a networked urbanism’ and ‘ The History and origins of cities’ , which led to a number of discussions and arguments not just about design , but about politics, social structures, urban mobility, the invisible and visible seams in a city and so on.
Mayo’s talk about ‘The craft of Invisibility’ where he talked about designing imperfections such that elements fit into the urban landscape and purposefully making stuff ugly so that things looked like they have always been there, was rather provocative and enlightening at the same time.
The discussions and thoughts were something carried forward into exercises and projects throughout the course. I will be talking about some of the things we did below:
1. Major project : ‘Can a City speak about its secrets’ … Research and implementation over a week.
John and I tried to work out a system where a city could tell its own stories, speak about its history and the people who lived in it. The exercise made us stumble upon a lot of interesting concepts like ‘Geomancy’ , ‘The reverse gaze of buildings on people’ and tech ideas on how to convey information through subtle and near invisible means. The objective was to enable self discovery and surprise/delight in a crowded and dense urban landscape.
We stumbled upon the idea of using Infra red LED meshes to convey information on facades of buildings, which could then be seen only through the the lens of a camera. The CCD sensor systems are built to work in the IR range of 950nm and this enabled us to think of a ubiquitous tool such as a camera as a tool for ‘Divination’. Signs can only be seen when needed , to convey that something needs to be seen within this building, or that something needs to be touched, smelt or tasted around the corner.
We made a short video describing a scenario (above) as well as quick LED prototypes ( taped under a black shirt , for a dramatic entrance !!) which we displayed to the rest of the class in a presentation.
The major points of the discussion afterwards , was about who would actually put up these signs. Would it be the city commune , or could the power be given to people who could communicate with the commune about these hidden spots. This was the open end of our project which we would like to close .
2. Minor project : ‘ Subtle Interactions at the Metro station’
Mette, John and I worked on a thought that people would probably benefit from knowing that their train has just left the station at the Kongens Nytorv Metro station. As they climbed down the stairs they would not need to to hurry to see that the train has left by observing the dimming of the lights at the station. 3 short pulses of the light would act like a trail the train leaves behind and might enable the people to relax and calm down.
We took this up as a challenge to work out a simple system using ubiquitous objects just as ceiling lights and rail lights in a staircase to convey information.
[Video coming up shortly]
3. The ‘Kongens Nytorv’ excercise… The main square at the center of the city proved to be a hub of observation and research for us. Slow walks and looking at every detail in this area brought out hidden elements in the urban scape which we never thought about before. The way people sat around cafes , signs, benches , the sheer number of surveillance cameras and electronics which we live with was quite amazing to notice.
My personal favorite moment was when I sat down to watch people crossing the road at the busiest intersection to the metro. Human behaviour defined by movement of traffic and programmed lights was interesting to watch.