Interview by Susan Kolber
Leading up to the EQxD U Workshop 4: Architecture And 10/22 AIA SF , EQxD will explore architects, designers and firms pursuing multidisciplinary paths. In April of this year San Francisco hosted an experimental three day prototyping festival to re-imagine the city's, "civic spine," Market Street. The Market Street Prototyping Festival was an incredible collaboration between the San Francisco Planning Department, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and the Knight Foundation. They sponsored the event and an international idea competition encouraged everyone from citizens, makers, artists, architects, engineers, performers to submit ideas to help create spaces and activities that would invigorate Market Street and connect the communities surrounding it.
Ideas were selected for their, "creativity, sense of community, potential to make Market Street a more vibrant public space and ability to identify Market Street as uniquely San Francisco." The event was a huge success and inspired endless participation as pedestrians walked, learned, played, spun, looked, and met strangers at each prototype. The festival's ideas and results are helping shape the actual Better Market Street urban renovation project the city is pursuing. While several San Francisco architecture firms' ideas were selected and fabricated, the festival truly embraced and supported ideas from people and collaborations of all backgrounds. Check out the selected projects here.
One prototype that peaked the curiosity of many pedestrians was the MeetWall. Inspired by the opportunity to participate in the Market Street Prototyping Festival, three colleagues, Louise Deguine, Matt Bowles, and Chad Kellogg who at the time were all working at a San Francisco based architecture firm wanted to encourage more interaction between strangers on Market Street. They submitted an idea called The MeetWall, "an interactive intervention," which would use Kinect sensors to detect people as they approached the wall and signal the wall of tiles to open and allow people to see each other.
After their project was selected the team spent 5 months after work, in between classes, and on weekends figuring out how they were going to fabricate the wall and have the tiles move as people moved around the wall. The experimental nature of the festival allowed participants to submit ideas without knowing the fine-print of how it was going to come together. This trust in and support of participants allowed for highly imaginative projects like the MeetWall to manifest. As designers and architects Deguine, Bowles and Kellogg used their architectural experience and learned many new skills including how to program and work with electronics in order to make the wall come alive. The team collaborated with consultants Michael Chamoures and Paul Tiplady on the electronic system, and they also helped build the wall which was composed of hundreds of pieces. Deguine an intern at the time they submitted the idea returned to Paris to continue her architectural studies, so the team worked remotely on different aspects of the wall. Bowles and Kellogg spent months designing and fabricating the moving tiles after work most days. Deguine focussed on the electronics and programing of the wall. The project came together and was a popular attraction as participants stopped, jumped, waved, and danced in front of the sensor and watched the wall of tiles mimic their movements. Watch the MeetWall interaction. Louise Deguine (LD) shared her insights on the project in an interview below. She is currently completing her Masters in Digital Knowledge at École Nationale Supérieure d'Architecture de Paris-Malaquais in France.
How did your team figure out how to make the wall move?
(LD) The main questions that arose after we got selected in October was first to figure out how to make the wall move, and secondly to have it react to its environment. The wall is composed of about 150 tiles that can rotate independently. Each tile contains a small servo-motor, and receives a signal from a microcontroller connected to a raspberry pi, which is collecting and processing data from a computer. The computer is running a program in processing, using the Kinect data as a dynamic input.
How it reacts- the software part:
We considered our wall as a screen made of pixels. Each pixel corresponds to a tile, so we have a 8x19 resolution screen. Each pixel depends on the opening of the tile, and it goes from 0° to 90°. If you compare it to a grayscale value, 0° corresponds to white and 90° to black.
The Kinect sensor scans the street with infrared. Using the Kinect and the Simple-OpenNI library, we collected data like the body center mass point and the skeleton joints position of each person in the street. We used those coordinates to design a dynamic pattern determining the rotation value of each tile, or if you prefer, the value of each pixel of our screen.
How it moves- the hardware part:
Each tile is composed of a mechanism that allows it to move with its servo motor's mechanical rotation. The design of these tiles is the result of several constraints, in which we tried to answer in the most optimized way.
The first constraint was the budget. We used plexiglas for the tile structure, a cheap material but robust enough to handle the tile's function. We chose to laser cut it because it allows accuracy and serial production in a very simple way. Our second constraint was that our three-dimensional object was built from two-dimensional components. The third constraint was creating a design that could be easily assembled because we had so many tiles and would need help putting them together.
How did this project allow you to experiment/ explore architecture in a new way?
(LD) Once we were selected we asked ourselves: what is the project about? architecture? art? urban furniture? Matt Bowles, Chad Kellogg and I are all engaged in architecture, and it maybe surprising that we proposed such a small scale project; but for me, architecture is first about giving a special experience to people with their built environment.
Exploring this small prototyping scale allowed us to detach ourselves from most of the constraints that one can meet as an architect, and to focus mostly on the kinetic aspect of the project. Having the opportunity to test the wall with the public was great and will inspire our future architectural projects. It allowed us to observe the kind of intuitive interaction that one can have with an object, without instruction. It also showed that the more simple this interaction is, the better it catches attention.
The second question we explored was how new technologies can be introduced into a design project. We noticed that technology, when it is used in an interactive way can bring people together, and not only through social networks!
What kind of reactions did people on Market Street have with the MeetWall? Did their reactions surprise you?
(LD) The first type of reaction we saw was a person would stop, stare at the screen and look at other people interacting with it and wonder until they would understand by themselves that the wall is moving with them. Then they would start playing with it.
The second type would look for us and ask us what it was. As soon as they knew that they could play with it, they would stay and have fun.
In those two situations, what was enjoyable but also very surprising is that people would start moving and dancing without any shyness, and quite unconsciously. We could see them lose their inhibition and start to feel more comfortable. In this sense, we were happy to reach the main goal of our project, which was to encourage people to slow down, take the time to enjoy public space around them, and finally allow some good conditions for kinder social interactions.
How will this inspire your architectural studies?
(LD) This experience inspired me for several reasons that will definitely influence the rest of my studies. I had the opportunity to learn a lot during this project: computer programming, electronics, networks, project management, and also how physical constraints can be so basic and so concrete at the same time. The inspiration I get from all this learning is that I want to make more in order to learn more!
Don't Miss EQxD "U" Workshop 4 !
Architecture AND...Exploring Meaning & Influence by way of Multidisciplinary Practice
Thursday, October 22, 2015 from 6pm - 8:30pm @AIASF 130 Sutter St, San Francisco
We will explore alternate models of practice that expand the avenues of influence for architects. More than 50% of all respondents to the 2014 Equity in Architecture Survey stated that they were dissatisfied with their current job situation. A large number responded that they were interested in alternative career paths. Rather than leave architecture behind completely - and have the profession lose ever more talent to other fields - how we can cultivate expansive multidisciplinary practices that are innovative, exploratory, and meaningful?
The workshop will feature four professionals who have taken their work beyond the traditional boundaries of the field. After a review of key survey findings on the topic we will hear from the panelists about their paths, entrepreneurial thinking, and lessons learned in a question and answer session. This will be followed by design thinking exercises to guide us in thinking freely and widely about our career futures and the new kinds of practices we can create. Gain the courage and knowledge to turn your interests and ideas into a new work reality at our workshop!
10/22/15 Architecture AND… Workshop Agenda
Networking & Refreshments 6pm - 6:15pm
Introductions/Welcome 6:15 - 6:25pm
Panel Discussion 6:25 - 7:15pm
Break/Transition 7:15 - 7:20pm
Design Thinking Exercises 7:20 - 8:10pm
Conclusions 8:10 - 8:30pm