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Introduction

Alice in
Technoland
At their most supernatural, interactive design environments can have a
transformative effect. They take the visitor to somewhere else. By actively
involving the public they are both porous and responsive, beckoning us like
the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland to enter and participate in another world.
Here Lucy Bullivant kicks off her introduction to this issue of AD by looking
at an installation designed by Daan Roosegaarde for the Netherlands Media
Art Institute in Amsterdam which epitomises this approach.

We want it to learn how to behave and to become more


sensitive towards the visitor, says Dutch architect Daan
Roosegaarde of his new interactive landscape, Dune 4.0. The
installation consisted of two long bushes of swaying, reedlike fibres fitted with microphones and presence sensors that
recently lined a corridor of the Netherlands Media Art
Institute in Amsterdam. There are several moods within the
landscape; when nobody is there, it will fall asleep
glooming softly but then as soon as you enter, light appears
where you walk, as an extension of your activities, he
explains. When you make a lot of noise the landscape goes
crazy lightning crashes.
Interactive design environments like Dune 4.0 promote the
personalisation and customisation of not just architecture,
but also of their wider physical public contexts. They assert an
architecture of social relations that invites the visitor to
spontaneously perform and thereby construct alternative
physical, architectural, urban and social meanings. This is
facilitated by the multidisciplinary ability and teamwork
architects, artists and designers increasingly apply to program
spaces, turning the traditional concept of ephemerality as a
nature-based phenomenon into something supernatural.
Through the activation of embedded, custom-designed
software and responses to its effects, the identity of public
space itself goes beyond its constitution through generic
formal givens, and becomes porous and responsive to specific
information and communication conveyed to it. The
installation of Dune 4.0 in the Media Art Institute is a pilot:

Studio Roosegaarde, Dune 4.0, Netherlands Media Art Institute,


Amsterdam, and CBK Rotterdam, 200607
The initial pilot made of fibres with concealed microphones and sensors
reacts to the behaviour of visitors, its fibres lighting up in response to their
sounds (30 per cent) and movements (70 per cent). A continual stimulus will
after time be ignored so the work stays fresh for new human input. Another
version is being planned for installation in a public place on a dyke by the
River Maas in Rotterdam. Software designed with Peter de Maan, digital
technology with Axis + Stuifmeel.

UVA, Volume, V&A, 200607


In this LED grid of 46 columns, each of which plays its own piece of music,
the notes generate changing colours in real time. UVA designed the
installation to work well as an experience on different scales: with no people,
with one person, with less than 10 and with much larger numbers of people.
They avoided determining colour according to visitor density and struck a
balance between pure responsivity and controlled composition. Each visitor
entered into a personal exploration of the installation, and their actions
influenced others, and this was fundamental to the work, with people
regularly switched from viewing to participating.

the next stage takes an evolved version of this adaptive bush


outdoors on to a dyke beside the River Maas in Rotterdam,
where it will be a future public artwork for the municipality.
Apart from the more convincing fake nature associations
possible, one of the appealing features of many interactive
environments is their anthropomorphic qualities.
Roosegaarde could easily be describing a pet or even a wild
animal in captivity. One day he found an old lady testing
Dune 4.0s sounds by barking at it. She told him she was
trying to see if it would respond like her dog at home did. It is
the behavioural aspects the unpredictable, live quality of
installations that is compelling and with the active
involvement of visitors completes the identity of the work.

The growing appetite of


museums and galleries to
focus on interactive
installations created by
artists, architects, designers
and other practitioners
enables a range of responsive
technological applications
for instance, proximity
sensing to be evolved
through public use, and even
tested out in what is an ideal,
controlled setting with a
variety of types of visitor.
Roosegaarde usefully typifies the materials and the context
as the hard construction, and the software and the human
behaviour as the soft construction. But while creating a
Pavlovs Dog cybernetic model would be repetitive, a certain
pattern of responsivity to the subject would seem to be more
important than a work exhibiting consistent waywardness.
Ultimately, each installation is a prosthetic device for human
creativity, whether or not one agrees that this also opens it up
to the interpretation of playing God. By involving visitors
and passers-by so intimately in an installations responsive
operating system, they too become part of the prosthetic
impact, and the public space it occupies becomes, for a
limited time, prosthetic, too. Roosegaarde emulates nature in
a number of his works and, like an implanted field of
bulrushes, Dune 4.0 has the capacity to become a new layer
over the existing architecture and merging its intelligent

qualities in an ongoing game with the actively involved


human body, it is hoped, avoids becoming predictable.
Works like Dune 4.0 could be perceived as a kind of second
nature, interventions that make their entire environmental
setting supernatural, like Alice in Technoland, to use
Roosegaardes phrase describing the effect of his installation.
There are undoubtedly analogies with the Victorian
childrens story set in a fantasy realm, its unfolding narrative
full of riddles and plays on meaning. In interactive
environments, as in Alice in Wonderland, cultural codes are
fluid, and function is defined as a more open-ended concept
influenced by in-the-moment behaviour.
This makes them potent curatorial devices in a museum
context, where handhelds are already common, but works
on display to be touched and played with are rare. The
cultural transformations digital technologies bring to
traditional associations of a museum space are discussed in
Playing with Art in this issue. UVAs Volume, installed in
the courtyard of the V&A last autumn, broke the customarily
reserved, contemplative atmosphere of the museum. An
interactive pavilion in an open garden setting that visitors
could touch, push on and run through, it became, albeit
temporarily, their space, perhaps a form of physical parallel
to the many user-generated content sites such as MySpace
proliferating daily on the Internet.
The growing appetite of museums and galleries to focus on
interactive installations created by artists, architects,
designers and other practitioners enables a range of
responsive technological applications for instance,
proximity sensing to be evolved through public use, and
even tested out in what is an ideal, controlled setting with a
variety of types of visitor. Paris-based designers Helen Evans
and Heiko Hansen of HeHe did this when they built a
prototype of their Mirrorspace project for remote
communication, originally conceived for the interLiving
project of the European Disappearing Computer initiative
(200103) focused on communication among family members
in different households. Taking the Mains dOeuvres gallery,
the Pompidou Centre and later La Villette, all in Paris, as their
venues throughout 2003, they hoped to prove that the work
created a sense of shared space, overcoming the failure of
many video-mediated communication systems to take
proxemics into account by being designed for a specific task
or a certain interpersonal distance.
As HeHe point out, artists like Dan Graham already use
time-delay mechanisms in mirror-based installations to let
viewers see themselves as both subject and object.1 By
presenting Mirrorspace to a broad mix of gallery visitors,
HeHe found friends and relatives freely overlaying their faces
on the surface, and even kissing each other. Pursuing their
design-led agenda, they were able to conclude that their
mirror was an ideal enabling metaphor for a new
communication system. Testing showed that it was perceived
at this level rather than as a video camera set up on a wall.
After the exercise, the design, and the software and hardware

HeHe, Mirrorspace, Pompidou Centre, Paris, 2003


Enabling remote participants to look into each others eyes, the work has a
screen and a mini camera at its centre. This setup is repeated in a second
installation, so people who look into the mirror can communicate with each
other. An ultrasonic sensor calculates the physical distance that separates
the spectators and, depending on how far away they are, will blur the images
returned in real time. The two reflections are blended together on the surface
of the mirrors, transforming the visual contact between two people and
altering the space between them.

From peripheral awareness to close communication by moving


towards the device.

of the device, which was connectable to similar ones in other


places, could then continue to be evolved.
This common interest in user-generated input,
personalisation and dynamic relations between action, space
and object is shared with practitioners across various sectors
including designers of wearable computing (discussed by
Despina Papadopoulos in this issue), but for some artists such
as Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Scott Snibbe, Eric Schuldenfrei and
Marisa Yiu, all of whose work is profiled in this publication by
Maria Fernndez and myself, a projection takes the place of an
object. In contrast to visual art media that privilege the visual,
interactive environments engage the visitors body and assert
his or her agency. In Lozano-Hemmer and Schuldenfrei and
Yius case, although working with different social agendas, a
common objective is to transform the dominant narratives of
a specific building or urban setting by superimposing new
audiovisual elements that recontextualise it. Snibbe invites
visitors to turn the orthodoxy of linear cinema narration into
a more organic interface between subject and object.
This prosthetic capacity of interactive architecture in its
more design-oriented tendency can be assigned a range of
innovative social roles. It may take on the form of social
infrastructure, a feature typified by Flirtables, designs
currently in development by Tobi Schneidler (as featured in
AD 4dspace: Interactive Architecture, 2005). Social networking
tables, intended to be assembled in a group in bars and
clubs, their dimmable light surfaces contain a sensor that
picks up vibrations and responds to music. Knock them with
the hand and a glowing streak of light is propelled across
the table. With a stronger blow it jumps to another table,
but can also be specifically aimed in the direction of another
individual sitting at one of the tables. This is the unique
selling proposition of Flirtables: the movement of light is a
social icebreaker to attract the attention of someone nearby
you dont know but want to meet. For metropolitan centres
like London or Stockholm where inhibitions make
engineering meetings with strangers a fraught process, and
singles bars are felt to possess a definite stigma, this
introduces a playful new socio-spatial programme for a bar
or club likely to be eagerly explored. The concept seems
adaptable for other scenarios, such as informal learning
environments in museums that utilise play as a means to
educational involvement.
As an inventor of commercially viable design solutions
straddling art and commerce, Schneidler has a kinship with
other practitioners such as Jason Bruges in the UK, Scott
Snibbes Sona Research and Antenna Design in the US, the
Interaction Design Lab in Italy and Daan Roosegaardes studio
in the Netherlands. Frequently adopting a laboratory-like
working environment, practitioners pull together
multidisciplinary teams for the research and prototyping of
new concepts for widespread use in various public domains.
Industry backing is clearly beginning to grow, with a more
intimate public awareness being engendered by innovative
initiatives of specific cultural sectors like museums and

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Mirrorspace installed on an advertising hoarding in the street, showing two participants looking into each others faces
and the image sensors in the centre.

galleries. In the last 15 years these have moved away from


hermetic, immersive black box or kiosk models of digital
spaces into ones that colonise and adapt the public spaces of
these cultural places of learning on many levels.
The methodologies of interactive architecture are heavily
borrowed by architects, artists and designers from interactive
media art, and this process continues. But as Mark Garcias
showcasing of some new examples in this issue underlines,
the field continues to evolve its own hybrid identity as
solutions that are innovative in artistic, behavioural and
technological terms are developed for different sectors. In an
era of pervasive computing we need to think further about
how humans, devices and their shared environments might
coexist in a mutually constructive environment. Everyday
buildings are embedded with tracking technologies that
watch people. The ubiquitous presence in the environment of
an invisible web of electronic activity in the form of
surveillance systems, but also a wide range of electromagnetic
sensitivities, can be harnessed to change peoples
relationships with space.
As Hugh Harts feature on the Los Angeles-based
architectural practice Electroland illuminates, they can also
illicit a further feeling of ambiguity about what is
happening in a positive sense, by building in customdesigned systems of responsivity that intercept occupants

and visitors and invite them to play, co-opting the tracking


function of digital technologies, and turning ordinary
spaces into stealth art venues.
The recent full-blown evolution in interactive environment
methods and means brings the need to explore the words
used to describe aspects of this practice and examine the
provocative counterpoints to their uses. Considering
interactive architecture as an architecture of social relations
and effects, it is vital to distinguish between interactive,
reactive and responsive, and to understand the evolution of
theories of interaction and the interdisciplinary subject of
cybernetics, the study of control and communication in goaldriven systems in animals and machines.
In his two articles in this issue, Usman Haque provides
both a personal lexical guide to interactive art and
architecture, and an assessment of the contemporary
relevance to the field of Gordon Pask, one of the early
proponents and practitioners of cybernetics, whose work set
the foundation for authentically interactive environments.
Pasks concept of Conversation Theory, a generative activity
that gives identity to participants and leads to what is new,
put cybernetics into a conversational frame depicted in his
Architecture of conversations sketches, rather than being
merely a matter of communication, exchanging messages
containing what is already known. His intellectual

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Antenna Design, The Door, Walker Arts Centre, Minneapolis, 2000


For their commission to feature over 40 Web-based art projects, Antenna turned the solitary, any time, anywhere Web
experience into one that was here and now, requiring the visitor to physically perform in order to get results. They
created a physical portal, referring to the portal metaphor of Web design, in the form of a freestanding revolving door
that enabled visitors to navigate various websites simply by rotating it. When it is not used, it is a mirror-surface
monolith; on pushing it, a door bell sounds, indicating that the visitor is entering a new website, which appears on the
other side of the mirrored glass. The visitor can continue to interact with it via a trackpad integrated into the door
handle, or continue spinning to visit the rest of the sites.

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Usman Haque, Moody Mushroom Floor, Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, London, 1996
This early work of Haques was a field of anthropomorphically defined mushrooms that developed a range of moods and aspirations
in response to the ways in which visitors reacted to their outputs in the form of different lights, sounds and smells emitted at intervals.
Assigned pet names including spoilt brat, sullen and capricious, the responsive mushrooms tested out a range of behaviours on
visitors to try to achieve their individual goal before settling on the most effective one matching their ascribed personality.

frameworks and prototypes centralised the subjectivity of the


observer and his or her individual knowledge within any form
of scientific analysis. His work made it easy, for instance,
according to Pask expert Paul Pangaro, to write software that
nurtured individual learning styles.
Increasingly, the personality of artefacts, whether objects
or environments, is made up not only of appearance and
materials, but also of behaviour, say Masamichi Udagawa and
Sigi Moeslinger of Antenna, the New York City-based
designers. Their interactive work, ranging from public
information resources (their Civic Exchange installation is
discussed later in this issue), subway ticket machines, window
displays and gallery installations, crosses the now no longer
solid threshold between product and environment, public and
private, physical and digital interfaces, and has a strong
prototypical element to it. In responding to deep sociocultural and technological changes, only a broad inclusive
approach and capacity to invent new programmes,

something 4dsocial celebrates, will do if these


transformations are to be creatively interpreted in a way
that opens up the civic potential of public space in a
postindustrial, digital era.
The promise of our evolving supernatural facilities
thanks to a myriad imaginative prosthetic applications of
digital technologies demands that creative practitioners
fully involve people in their development on both subjective
and objective levels, enabling them to make their own
connections between what are increasingly permeable
cultural thresholds of perception and being. 4
Note
1. Nicolas Roussel, Helen Evans and Heiko Hansen, Proximity as an Interface
for Video Communication, IEEE Multimedia paper published by the IEEE
Computer Society, 2003.
Text 2007 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Images: pp 6-7 Daan Roosegaarde; p 8
United Visual Artists; pp 10-11 Helen Evans + Heiko Hansen, HeHe
Association; p 12 Antenna Design New York Inc; p 13 Usman Haque

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