Technology comfortably lies within the existing notion of the current fast paced culture, in which the only way to sustain a user’s attention is through gadgetry, that aims to be innovative and actively engrossing, while it usually does the opposite – it creates passive engagement of users based on limited choices in which the users can indulge in. While anything can be framed as a type of technology (which presupposes that it has evolved to the current state through advancements in societal thought in respect with the sciences), my aim is to focus on how examples of technology is currently affecting social interaction and how it could potentially alter it.
The advancement of societal thought has constantly led to formal re-organzation of public space for gathering. This process has exponentially increased since the Industrial Revolution, where the alteration of the production and consumption process has been affecting public spatial organization. When technology itself is the highlight of potential new types of social social interaction, it is usually with the purpose of displaying something that has never been done before. Whereas in other fields, ingenuity is vital to remain successful (e.g. reduce drag coefficient of automobiles and of airplanes through digital wind-tunnel testing), in architecture (specifically in urban design and planning for public spaces) technological innovation take much longer to become accepted. People are much less prone to accepting and idea that may be seen as unnecessary change (as opposed to an object-product in which a technological improvement can be seen in the way it has been improved), and as a result, it is harder to test ideas in terms of technology and public space. This argument also becomes its own anti-argument: the belief that people may not adapt to new ways of public space occupation in which technological advance may affect the public realm may cause designers to not even consider potential ways of altering something that may be seen work well as it is, without the introduction of new process of alteration. Without real-world testing of potential ideas, it is hard to determine how technological advancements can alter social interactions in the public sphere.
The modern museum is one type of typology that allows for architectural experimentation to occur (on par with technological advancements in the field), as its aim is to present new ideas of theory and practice. However, a exhibition of project environment as part of a museum exhibition does not guarantee that project will work within the existing public environment. The PS1 competition, however, does offer installations that can potentially be infused with applications of new technologies to modify social interaction within the public realm. As part of a summer exhibition series, PS1 serves as an event space, and thus the fact that there is an event that occurs creates expectations from users that within this event space could be a potential new way of inhabiting the space based on the event (as opposed to more permanent modification of the environment). If there were a similar competition to PS1 that takes place in the middle of an intersection in Manhattan with Broadway, then the altered environment would not be associated with an event, and would be understood as a technology inserted into the existing environment. In other words, in order for an idea be tested on a wider range, it must be applied outside of a pre-defined event space, in which a user expects to experience an altered environment.
White Noise White Light, Höweler + Yoon. This installation during the 2004 Olympics in Athens created an environment of fiber optical tubes equipped with sensors that detect human movement which triggers lights and soundscapes. It was built on a platform that was separated from populated streets. Similarly to PS1 installations, this project becomes its own destination. The interaction that is generated stimulates two types of responses: human response in terms of the installation and human response in terms of other human responses. The interaction that occurs during the first type is an input from movements of the user collected through sensors and output through light and sound. The interaction that occurs of the second type produces a field of outputs that generates a temporary trace, which remains visible to others. This field could potentially be applied to intelligent systems for lighting only desired areas on street, as opposed to having permanent street light systems.
LoRez/Hi Fi, Höweler + Yoon. This permanent installation consists of three low resolution screens placed as thresholds between the public street and the lobby entrance of a commercial building in Washington DC. Hi Fi consists of an installation located on the sidewalk adjacent to the LoRez screen. Sensors are attached to different vertical segments of steel tubes, which, when triggered create frequencies with a potential of creating a rich soundscape through the input of multiple users. LoRez does not provide human interaction, it only outputs imagery collected from the human, whereas Hi Fi can only be triggered through active human input. The project serves two purposes: to act as as an advertisement to the office building and to engage users on the street.
Aegis Hyposurface, dECOi. As a project that can physically alter the environment, this interactive surface offers new possibilities for creating responsive environments. The possible applications which have been showcased represent hyposurface as a potential alternative surface serving as a billboard that physically that creates physical alterations to the immediate adjacent environment. It is also equipped with sensors that can respond to human input, such as a wave triggered touch. This project is not site or installation relevant and has been displayed only as object at expos. The website associated with it (hyposurface.org) desrcibes how the creator see that it can be used:
It can be used in trade shows to enhance a company’s image and message; it can be used at events as a magical crowd-pleaser; it can be used as pure entertainment, or as an interactive stage set; it’s for dancers and singers and DJs and VJs; it can be used as an outdoor billboard, pulsing with the city; it can be an interactive game – a total HypoSPACE; it can be HypoCeiling, it can be HypoFloor, it can be limitless, or small; it’s a Braille reader, or a dynamic mould; it tunes an auditorium, makes waves at a ballgame, sets children screaming with delight; its whatever you imagine it to be – and more….
Blur, Diller Scofidio + Renfro. This project does not create an interactive environment driven through user input. Instead, stimulates an environment that allows for new forms of interactions to occur, formed through the lack of visibility which create discussions about whether there is a hard boundary, a person, or group in the vicinity. It is technology because it promotes different types of social interaction driven trough experimentation reaction of the existing state of overstimulated visual world. Similarly to White Noise White Light, it is a building where one consciously chooses to go, as it exists outside the everyday environment. As a result, it becomes a destination in which a user knows that he should expect experiential qualities that can only be experienced in a place not belonging to the daily pubic urban environment.
As built, LoRez/Hi Fi is the only project which is created within the existing environment. It is not a destination but one can passively encounter it by walking on the street. As such, it provides the opportunity for testing how users interact with it. A quick search on youtube for the project shows results of how users have recorded their interactions with the system and also their criticisms of it. Hi Fi lacks a climax that a destination would potentially have, as it is intended to serve as an environment that does not act as a destination. The ingenuity of the system is that the more people that interact with it, the more interesting, louder, and more varied the soundscape becomes. However, if there is a single user that is engaged with it, he may not immediately understand the purpose of it. The lack of an immediate climax (a sell point) may leave users accustomed to instant gratification disappointed, and only through experiencing Hi Fi with other users, does its purpose become more clear. Yet, there is a predefined number of responses (one per each sensor), restating that the necessary interaction with multiple users creates an environment that alters social interaction (as opposed to a single person playing with a variety of responses from an individual sensor). As a social experiment, the meaningful output that Hi Fi provides minimal beyond the immediate “play” with other users in the aim of creating a soundscape.
The potential of a transformed environment an object such as Hyposurface could create a destination. Hyposurface, seen as a possible mechanism for the creation of an environment would either need to be increased or decreased significantly in scale. When considered in a decreased scale along with the sensors input and output of Hi Fi and White Noise White Light, the idea of an environment that not only changes in experiential qualities but also in physical qualities as well. Once again, the sole application a physical shifts creates the potential for a destination, undermining the idea of a project that may fit within the existing in order to alter social interaction.
The experiential condition of the focused visual sensory exclusion through the use of mist in the Blur Building to create potential conditions for new social interactions provides a framework which suggests that the precise response to specific senses is more significant than a less articulated response that tries to react to more senses. Would such a level of specificity become problematic when in attempts to create an environment within an existing one? Potentially yes, yet without testing this type of articulation in real world conditions in order to analyze the user response patterns, the potentials would never be known.
Synthesis: Environment for social interaction
Sensors. The next logical step would be to combine the stealth aspect and the sensory input through distance of White Noise White Light with the fixed field and the more active input of Hi Fi. However, the result could create a blasé environment resembling an overly complex field of electronics with an appropriated outcome. The application of such a system has to be precise enough to not create an overwhelming (forcing) presence onto the existing environment that may lead the project to be considered solely its own destination (which becomes insignificant to frequent users, and thus do not offer alternative potentials to social interaction). Nevertheless, in order to respond to a varied group of users, it needs to encompass some elements that can be considered to create a destination.
Sensors + Physical Manipulation. The manifestation of a system generated by user input that creates an output which can alter the physical qualities of space provides a method of complete absorption within an existing environment. The scale of the devices used can create system that varies greatly in scale and in system outcome. A field that produces a physical space based on the users’ input in real-time can create a street, that could become pedestrian boulevard with surface shifts that can be used by children to play and can create seating and eating surfaces.
Sensors + Physical Manipulation + Sensory appropriaton. This is not an additive process of technologies and systems but a selective one that carefully considers potential possibilities with different levels of ambiguity and hierarchy between the most utilized and the least utilized defices. The testing of this type of environment may be difficult because it could become too internalized, without enough narrative between the existing environment. However, as stated previously, without experimentation of possible applicatons of systems that alter the current environment, the potentials would never be knowns, as social interaction is not as simple as prodicting a series of formulas.