Kinesthetic Fields

Kinesthetic Interfacing with Architecture

by Matthew J. Sama


[Abstract]

Choreography within architecture can be understood in two ways: ergonomically and performatively. Ergonomic choreography is the technically determined kinetics of the human body within space. It aims to control movement in predictable and repeatable ways within the built environment. Performance choreography focuses on the kinesthetic experience (the feelings associated with movement) of the human body in space. In contrast it aims to explore how the moving body “interacts” dynamically with architecture. Throughout the twentieth century, kinesthetics have undergone a conceptual evolution. Performance art in the 1960’s challenged our understanding of how the body moves around space and advancements in media technology have addressed new possibilities for communicating and controlling the environment through gesture recognition. As computing becomes less an immersive experience, associated with gaming and virtual reality environments in which reality is simulated or re-created, and more a material layer implemented into the built environment, interfacing between the two contexts takes on spatial constructs. The resulting architectures are composites, mixed realities of physical/digital space. This thesis explores the possibilities of performance for developing kinesthetic interfaces with architecture.

[COMPONENT DESIGN]

The project is constructed as an interactive field condition; a landscape constructed from a sequence of unforeseen tactile experiences, acting as a mediator between the physical and digital environment that define its programmatic performance. It seeks to situate the participant in an environment which reveals its and identity and function through performing; a communication resulting from the participants input: a series of hits, bumps, knocks, kicks or other forms of contact.  Cataloged within the system as a series of locations and interactions, the field locates you architecturally within the stoa. The project also seeks to investigate the moving body’s ability to spatially orient itself in a terrain which must be activated in order to be perceived. As one progressively engages with the space they begin to create a more full embodied dialogue with the system, understanding the physical inputs, locations, and communications across the field.

[FIELD DESIGN]

Communication across the field is created by a series of ripple effects in the digital environment, as a result of the occurring contacts. When a column is hit, the intensity at which it is struck is translated to the speed of the ripple signal, when this signal encounters the location of another column it reveals its locations through both sound and light. Each housing contains a contact sensor, speaker, and led collar, each of which acting as mechanisms or reference points for spatially configuring oneself as well as others within the field. The field is situated as a hyperbolic form, its spatial perception attributed to the location of the housing components embedded within each column which act as ‘three-dimensional pixels’; components of the hyperbolic form, contradicting the three axis geometry within which it is situated; a counter-form.

[field conditions]

[field sections]

The experience of the environment is a collective one; to achieve this, the individual sound generated from each column is a result of its height within the field, transposed to a key of C-major. The objective of this transposition is not for creation of a musical instrument, but to remove disjunction between multiple users in the space and to provoke a sense of collectiveness; the field as a singular entity, rather than an aggregation of individual components. Through the cataloging of hits that occur the system is able to keep a trace of the paths that occur within the field, after a designated number of hits the system reaches a threshold where the system enters and second mode in which it begins to recall this order. After the trace sequence has ended the system enters back into the initial dialogue that occurred, continuing to catalog a series of hits and locations. Oscillating between these two event-modes through a series of selected thresholds (based on the number of participants: ‘x’ number of hits per person), the tracing effect becomes exponentially faster, acting as a performer itself. The issues with this are directly related to the size of the field and the number of participants. If only one participant was inhabiting the field the relation would be obvious, however with multiple people these realizations never come to fruition.

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[ISSUES]

-The knocking behavior is limiting to the behaviors that are under-developed in how the full body can encounter the field. It may be reactive to other forms of impact of the body, but once the physical communication becomes directly obvious the performance no longer maintains a didactical experience. The reactiveness of the field may be altered, but the physical input by the individual is not entirely explored; rather it should evolve along with the new dialogue of the system itself.

-The hyperbolic form of the illusionary field is reminiscent of a counter-form ideology or a sense of freedom to break away from the conventional axis of architectural inhabitance, but the ground plan and the reference to such through the presence of gravity is a continuous repellent from the bodies ability to fully immerse itself in the new typology that would otherwise provoke new signals of an alternative grade or enclosures.

-Similar to the detraction made by the presence of gravity and the flat floor plane the project lacks the ability to distract from the environment in which the field is situated. There’s a constant “knowing” to the space that occurs within the habitant that establishes a mindset more inquisitive of the workings of the communication to the individual components or groups of components rather than the perception of the new space. This may be due to the fact that the field that individuals encountered was not as a large an aggregation that would be considered to manifest such perceptions of space.

-As the field begins to setup new configurations of space, it would be important to illustrate the programming of these spaces for new performative means. What experience evolve from entering into these new enclosures, or moving within these new gradients of ‘walkable’ surfaces.

– The ergonomics of the collective is technically different from the individual task-based scenarios that the project considered, especially when it’s considered a collective performance. The project understood the conceptions of the body in relation to the rule-sets of the individual, body width/body height/ threshold width, and that by countering these conventions the body would be more likely to impact the surrounding environment through a series of contacts, although it did not understand the collective presence of more than one individual moving through the space. Because of the scale of testing and the number of people inhabiting the space, the communication of the field as a ‘ripple effect’ was never communicated from the designer to the inhabitant.

-If participants understood the layout of the space as a grid, it becomes much easier to avoid impact with the field regardless of spacing. If the field was more irregular in it’s layout, yet still dense enough, unforeseen impact would be much more likely.

-Could have taken much more advantage of the power of sound to disorient the individual. Light and sound are constantly linked in the space, while both remain separate mechanisms for point reference – spatial configuration and bodily location.

[CONTEXT]

The kinesthetic experience of architecture is manifested in our ability to move and comprehend three-dimensionally. Understanding space is the act of moving, and architecture design is an act of choreographing the human body through spatial constructs. Our understanding of the built environment is developed at a young age, the operation of windows, doors, shades and other components that allow us to control our surroundings. [1] Through our interactivity with the built environment, defined here as the ability to communicate, we develop a specific body language, with the available operations of our daily dwellings. When this language is brought into more interactive contexts, a state in which buildings begin to respond to our actions, we enter into a state of heightened architectural awareness and choice; architecture converses with its inhabitants. [2]

In the past, the experience of architecture was understood as a visually tactile feedback scenario. The spectator moved between [a series of] carefully disposed phenomena that he/she absorbed sequentially with his/her visual sense[3]; mobility dictating design. The Acropolis of Athens is one of the most prominent examples of the implications of mobility on design. The spectator was understood as a mobile body on a journey between precisely situated constructs. As the individual progressed through the sequence of visual events they developed an understanding for the built environment. This concept of the sequential experiences, or the montage of architectural frameworks, is derived from Sergei Eisenstein’s analysis of the Acropolis. Eisenstein dictates the experience of the mobile spectator through film terminology, a choreographic practice closely related to the visual perception of architecture. Eisenstein understood the Acropolis as a series of “shot” design decisions; change of shot and shot length (the duration of a particular impression.) [4] The duration of which one encounters space was one of the most critical aspects in understanding kinesthetics in architecture. As Eisenstein writes “the length at which it takes one to experience space is entirely in step with the rhythm of the building itself: the distance from point to point is long and the time taken to move from one to the other is of a length in keeping with solemnity.” To re-iterate, the assembly of the built environment has a kinaesthetic language embedded within; the pace of which is often dictated by the speed at which the spectator progresses through the sequential experience. When the journey taken by the spectator does not immediately coincide with any of our pre-conceived encounters / uses/ interactions with the built environment, new architectural experiences begin to emerge.

“An architectural ensemble…is a montage from the point of view of a moving spectator…Cinematographic montage is, too, a means to ‘link’ one point-the-screen—various elements (fragments of a phenomenon filmed in diverse points of view and sides.”

Sergei Eisenstein

The Greeks had an acute sense for the visual experience of their architectures progressive journey, both in the organization of the buildings as a whole and the aesthetic properties that comprised them. As Eisenstein describes, the buildings are situated obliquely to the spectator to create more picturesque landscapes within each framework, while a typical façade view was considered a more majestic visual. Not only was each “shot” or standpoint within the Acropolis a significant instance, but more importantly the progression or montage effect that was created through the juxtaposition of the calculated views enabled a more embodied experience of the space; each “shot” spliced together by ones movement. “Architecture, apparently static, shaped by the montage of spectatorial movements.” [5]

On an aesthetic level the Greeks paid close attention to the optical perception of the buildings through the eyes of the mobile observer. The results of which allowed the buildings to appear perfectly straight. In contemporary practice of architecture this attention to the progressive experience has become supplemented by form-finding experiments and material investigations. Projects that use these design methods experience unique architectural manifestations embedded with the familiar cues of most dwellings. If architecture were to temporarily remove itself from the standardized task based relationships, it could adopt more radical notions of the moving body that late 20th century movements have demonstrated.

The concepts of the moving spectator and the notions of kinesthetically experiencing the built environment saw a dramatic evolution in the twentieth century with the interactive movement. Performance art of the 1960’s and 70’s challenged the traditional notions of the body within space. New concepts in dance choreography defined new relationships between the body and its orientation in the built environment. Theater also engaged in the absorbed experience of the audience and technology opened up new possibilities for human-computer interaction.

Choreographers like Yvonne Rainer, Trishia Brown, Lucinda Childs, and others under the influence of Merce Cunningham worked toward alternative concepts of the kinaesthetic body, challenging the conventional approaches to choreography that traditional ballet developed in exchange for more everyday movements and gestures. [6] Theories emerged of the human body as a manipulable object within space. The body could be understood as a component of the built environment that could be organized in a multitude of ways. Within this new approach, performance broke free of the confines of the proscenium stage and explored new areas for encounter. Trishia Browns works “Walking Down the Side of a Building” and “Walking on Walls” specifically challenged gravity, the major connection between how the body moves and the built environment. Within these projects, dancers were no longer restricted to the dance floor, the stage, or even to the principles of how one typically interacts with architecture.

Both Trishia Brown and Lucinda Childs’ work also explicitly explored the ability to document the movements of their performances through kinetic mapping techniques. Brown worked directly with the moving body as a recording device, applying paints with the sweeping motions of her arms and body, while Childs worked on a more documentative process and examined the movements and how they could be abstracted into some form of drawing.  In both cases, the performer was as a physical vehicle for mapping a space. [7] The issue with these representations of dance choreography is that they do not suggest the movement between the frames. Movement is present, but its translation is diffused by its inability to be documented three-dimensionally.

Both the concepts of the moving spectator developed by Eisenstein and the documentations produced by dance choreographers like Brown and Childs also witnessed architectural application in the theoretical project The Manhattan Transcripts by architect Bernard Tschumi in 1981. Tschumi proposed to outline the movements of the various individuals transversing an architectural set. Their actions were conceived as a sequential event; de-constructed and re-constructed readings of space. The process followed closely with the cinematic principles developed by Eisenstein, the experience of architectural space not a result of a single frame [such as a façade], but a succession of frames or spaces. [8] Tschumi’s documentation, transcripts, consisted of buildings abstracted from maps, plans and photographs, structured based on the choreography of individuals in space, the sequential experience, the movement of “events.” The abstract results were based around the theatrical concept of Mise-en-Scene, the experience constructed by the observer through that which is both visually present and absent.

 “I try to get it so that people realize that they themselves are doing their experience and that it’s not being done to them.”

John Cage


[1] Kemp, Miles + Michael Fox. Interactive Architecture. Pg 142.

[2] Kemp, Miles + Michael Fox. Interactive Architecture.

[3] Eisenstein, Sergei. Montage and Architecture

[4] Montage and Architecture

[5] Guilana Bruno. Atlas of Emotion.

[6] Goldberg, RoseLee. Performance: Live Art

[7] Bruno, Guiliana. Atlas of Emotion.

[8] Tschumi, Bernard. The Manhattan Transcripts

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