Applied Design Research: Sensibility Space

Can architecture react to your feelings?

I really enjoyed the way this project was demonstrated–amazing to see a physical structure react to your presence and in such a way that reflects how ‘it’ feels that you are feeling. This is yet another example of ‘slow’ technology that calls for engagement and learning with its use. Affective computing is a relatively new area of focus in ubiquitous computing that caters to users’ feelings and attitudes while relaying to them that computers have feelings too or at least the capacity to understand theirs. Sensibility Space is a large physical structure that talks to a computer to which assesses facial expression for emotion. Once the computer identifies the facial expression of an emotion in its database, it rearranges the architecture to respond directly to the users’ affect with colour and movement as visual indicators. The piece is still under development but what is interesting to question is whether a truly affective machine would respond to us or simply reproduce or identify our feelings. What would this response have the capacity to tell us …

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Applied Design Research: Autopoiesis

Ken Rinaldo’s ‘Autopoiesis’ work is an interactive piece that reacts to user participation and evolving as a result. The work is comprised of a group of large robotic arms suspended from the ceiling. The move and make sound in unison so as to suggest the performance of a symphony by members of an orchestra. Each robotic arm is equipped with a camera and has a wide viewing angle that detects human proximity to the machine–this leads to a change in the affected arms’ performance and this also changes the audio soundtrack of the piece. User participation is learned by the piece and it augments itself accordingly. Because the piece reacts and evolves on its own it is considered ‘autopoietic’, which is a buzz word for my thesis project.

I had been interested in the term and its presence in new technology because I believe it brings to light certain questions about our concept of what posthuman life entails. I feel that Hayles’ idea of the cyborg was one that involved autopoietic technologies that were associated with the human but not …

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Applied Design Research: Hylozoic Soil

One of my favourite projects which is a great example of research, theory, and provocation that meets technology includes the ‘Hylozoic Soil’ by Philip Beesley.

In this project Beesley presents a technological structure that is intended to ‘live’ and behave as though it were an organism. The many features of the piece mimic those within our own body; the reef is aware of the presence of people in a space and reacts accordingly, wet chemistry mimics our lymphatic system–in this case used as analogous to a filtration processes, microprocessors and memory serve as the life centre of the structure, allowing it to move, react and conform as it remembers and learns its environment. Overall the piece is reflective of a living material that responds as though it were living in relation to its context–this is the epitome of living architecture that adapts to its environment.

This project offers inspiration to the thesis project because it is working piece of technology that is both crude and refined and so, appears as an ideal blend of technology and nature while evoking responses …

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Design Process: How will I get there?

Literature and academic research are good sources of background information that have helped me draw connections between points of convergence for my thesis, however design methodologies will be key in the development of the interactive thesis project.

My first year in the Digital Futures program at OCAD U has given me the opportunity to build and experiment lots of interactive pieces, using sensors and visual displays. The process of this creation had always been grounded in research–for me my interest in emotion and psychological expression and of course, nature always found incorporation into my projects. I feel this approach will serve me well in developing my thesis project, I have broken down the iterative design process below:

RESEARCH [consulting valid sources of interest that have conducted thorough investigation]

BRAINSTORMING [connecting research with ideas for application, focus on aesthetics and functionality, bringing a creative project to life out of research]

MAKING [building, coding]

LUDIC ENGAGEMENT [experimenting, evaluation, play]



Where design methodologies are concerned I feel that it is important to acknowledge the multidisciplinary approach I will be taking in …

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Applying thesis research

The previous post I made includes a report I had written to refine my motivation for the area of investigation for my thesis.

In treating a heightened sense of self as synonymous with wellbeing, I feel that not only does my thesis progress towards a more specific solution but I feel that my understanding of one’s relationship between communication technology and his or her identity has broadened. In addressing the complex issue of recovering one’s sense of self (or perhaps preventing its loss) I seek inspiration from technologies that have appropriated the medium overall, a deviation from practices that promote productivity and information exchange. Of course, digital/technological art projects come to mind as examples of provocative and ‘unproductive’ (in the context of human capital) experience pieces but what I have maintained interest in and would like to incorporate into my thesis is the role of nature in helping us recover a sense of balance, calm, and self-reflection. Just as there is literature and research on the self being inadvertently consumed by technology, there has been a vast amount of psychology …

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Refocusing Wellbeing: The Importance of Sense of Self

The following is a report I wrote to refine the motivation for my thesis and to articulate on the concept of wellbeing that I have discussed in regards to my thesis project:

Refocusing Wellbeing: The Importance of Sense of Self

by Harjot Bal

1.         Introduction

In an effort to refine the wide scope of research on the problem area conducted in writing the thesis foundation research paper, this report will specify insights from exemplary texts and draw threads across the literature in order to highlight points of interest, further directing the thesis project. In the foundation research there was a general interest in the convergence of technology and wellbeing. Factors that were investigated during the foundation research include self-reflection, emotion and cognition, human-nature interaction, and design practices for technology that serve wellbeing. In refining previous research to give the thesis project a narrower focus, this report will revisit the initial problem area or motivation for the thesis and redefine wellbeing and the relevant role it plays today in relation to the self. Wellbeing will be considered synonymous with heightened sense …

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Ian Hacking: Rewriting the Soul

I recently met with Paula Gardner, my Independent Study Supervisor, with whom I discussed Nikolas Rose’s ‘The Politics of Life Itself’ and we started to look for new points of interest that were geared towards my thesis. After getting through Rose’s book I felt there was a sense of gloom about the human race–is the mind really just a product of modulation that the brain undergoes? Where is the soul in all of this?

Paula recommended that I read ‘Rewriting the Soul’ by Ian Hacking as a means to dig deeper into my residual curiosity. I have read a complimentary chapter of this book online but will post my notes on the book, and its relevance to my thesis, once I get my hands on it–I remember Paula had a copy.

Post to follow.

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N. Katherine Hayles, Cyborg–augmented self?

Having read Nikolas Rose’s “The Politics of Life Itself” I found some connection to Hayles’ work on the cyborg and augmentation of the self. If biomedicine and the study of genetics in general lends to empowering the medical gaze of the molecular self, which in turn suggests that individuals can alter their own biology to achieve an optimal state of being relative to some ‘normal’ standard, then perhaps this is a realization of the cyborg. Modulation and augmentation of the body allows us to live optimally–of course this is the ideal supposition. What I feel both Rose and Hayles–especially in her works “How We Became Posthuman” and “Cyborg to Cognisphere”–touch on one central idea that is the loss of self. Technology grants us new ways to intervene ourselves, our minds, our bodies, and so with the ability (or rather the possibility) to edit and modify ourselves we surrender to the understanding that the mind is simply a product of our biology and that it has no stable, fixed, pre-destined identity. The self therefore is no longer of importance and is …

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Philip Beesley

In addition to immersing myself in research and readings over the course of my independent study, I found it equally important to explore digital projects that blend art and technology. What I find fascinating about such projects is the dialog they afford–a quality I look to integrate in my final thesis MDes project.

I was led to Philip Beesley’s portfolio by Barbara Rauch, Principal Advisor for my thesis, as she found he would serve as an inspiration. Philip Beesley is an Architect and Professor with an extensive portfolio of industrial design, digital prototyping, and mechatronics engineering. He is interested in creating pieces that break traditional boundaries between art and technology and mimic lifelike processes in doing so. He uses nature, the hybridity of organic and inorganic materials, as well as emotional reaction in crafting his works–much of what appeals to the direction in which I would like to drive my interactive thesis project.

Philip Beesley:

Orgone Reef and Hylozoic Ground are two beautiful projects that have really fed my imagination. See pictures below.

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William James, The Dialogical Self

I’ve wanted to dip back into some psychology research for my thesis as I feel at home there, considering the nature of my undergrad. I’ve also pulled a lot from psychology where human-nature interaction is concerned so I feel that self-reflection would be the next area I’d like to tackle in this vein. Once I’m back in school I look forward to investigating William James’ work in more depth–I also feel this will give my discussion on the ‘self’ a sturdy foundation.

Officially on the reading list.

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