Architecture of Responsive Spaces

Sha Xin Wei

Tuesdays 2:00 - 5:00

Skiles 349 and IDT Lab

In this course we design environments configured of physical materials and responsive computational media as meaningful responses to our urban condition. Students will have an opportunity to work substantially on aspects of creating responsive installations using physical computing and realtime media synthesis. This course combines studio and critical work.


Media technologies such as the radio, video and more recently, computer simulation have profoundly altered our conceptions of reality and virtuality, of our experiences of habitation and urban life. This course explores several moments in the history of hybrid architecture that question how we imagine, construct, navigate and inhabit computational and physical built spaces.

Roughly half of the course explores architects', artists' and urban designers' approaches to patterning the urban world. The other half of the course explores the construction of meaningful habitable or playful spaces by combining physical materials and responsive computational media. We explore how computational image, speech, text and gesture may be used as material in hybrid urban habitation.

In the studio part of this class, teams of students will create small responsive installations. Depending on lab resources and student interest, we may expand the introduction to MAX or related technology to more systematic applications. Students will subtly tilt a part of the built environment, based on some critical and social studies of the city.

A prerequisite for this course is either some technical facility with mechatronics or an interactive or realtime media authoring system (Director, MAX, MSP, NATO, jitter), or design familiarity with materials: paper, clay, print-making, metals, fabrics, liquid dyes, electro-luminescent wire, etc. Students without such background but who are interested in gaining such experience may contact the instructor.



This class will be run as a combination of a seminar in which students will discuss their responses to the readings or artifacts and as a studio in which students will build and critique prototypes of responsive media environments.

Students are free to construct responses as short written texts, animations, videos or physical constructions, using tools with which they are familiar. The term project will be a working prototype of responsive media artifact or environment, to be designed and built in small teams.

You"ll be evaluated on the basis of your seminar participation and on your group project.

A modest studio fee likely will be collected to acquire commonly needed resources.



The CoWeb archive contains readings, show and tell notes, and student projects.

Christopher Alexander, A Timeless Way of Building, Oxford University Press (1979) ISBN: 0195024028.

Michel De Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, Univ California Press (1988) ISBN: 0520061683.

Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus. Univ of Minnesota Press (1987) ISBN: 0816614024.

Felix Guattari, Chaosmosis: An Ethicoaesthetic Paradigm. Paul Bains & Julian Pefanis (Translator). Paperback, Indiana University Press (November 1995) ISBN: 0253210046.

Barbara E. Hendricks, Designing for Play (Design and the Built Environment Series), Ashgate Publishing, ISBN: 0754613208, 2001.

Brian Holmes, "Reverse Imagineering, Toward the New Urban Struggles,
Or: Why Smash the State When Your Neighborhood Theme Park Is So Much Closer?," 2004. ( )

Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-element in Culture, London: Routledge, 2000 (1949).

Intelligente Ambiente (Intelligent environment ), Ars Electronica 1994 editors, Karl Gerbel, Peter Weibel ; editing, Katharina Gsöllpointner. PVS Verleger (1994).

Rem Koolhaas, Stefano Boeri, Sanford Kwinter, Nadia Tazi, Daniela Fabricius. Mutations: Harvard Project on the City, Actar Editorial (2001) ISBN: 8495273519.

Humberto R. Maturana, Francisco J. Varela . The Tree of Knowledge : The Biological Roots of Human Understanding, Shambhala Pubns (1998) ISBN: 0877736421.

Simon Sadler, Situationist City, MIT Press (1999) ISBN: 0262692252.

Sha Xin Wei, "Resistance Is Fertile: Gesture and Agency in the Field of Responsive Media."

Situationist International Anthology Edited and translated from the French by Ken Knabb 1981 (2nd printing 1989; 3rd printing 1995).

Ken Knabb (ed), Situationist International Anthology Edited and translated from the French by Ken Knabb 1981 (2nd printing 1989; 3rd printing 1995). Web archive:

Studio Azzurro, Milan Italy.

Brian Sutton-Smith, The Ambiguity of Play, Cambridge MA: Harvard UP 2001.

Topological Media Lab, TGarden Research Project,

William H. Whyte, ³ The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces,³ Los Angeles, CA: Direct Cinema Limited (1988, c1979) videocassette, ISSN/ISBN IS: 1559741473.

Krzysztof Wodiczko, projection artist. ,
Early work with "personal instruments" (1980's)
Art Forum article



Sensors, Electronics and Physical Computing

Data from the physical world can come from a variety of sensors that detect bend, acceleration, incident light, sound and pressure. Conversely, we can use computational logic to move and otherwise physically change an environment.

For applications using sensors and effectors, Tom Igoe at ITP and Dan O'Sullivan at ITP have written a very good handbooks about physical computing : .

The TML has some common tools and a few parts, including a BX-24 board which is commonly used for mapping between sensors or actuators and a Macintosh or PC serial port. We have software extensions for Max and Director to read serial data.

Jameco Electronics is a good source of electronics hardware.

A more sophisticated platform for wireless sensor experiments is the TinyOS mote developed at UC Berkeley.


Realtime Media Authoring Software

MAX is a realtime control programming environment originally designed to coordinate MIDI-based instruments. It now has become a standard authoring and control system for interactive aural and visual environments, and as such is a convenient vehicle for experiments with time-based media in physical environments. References include and

MSP is an extension of MAX to perform digital signal processing on data at audio rates. NATO is an extension of MAX that performs realtime video and some OpenGL 3D graphics transformations. MAX, MSP and NATO run under Macintosh OS.

PD is a more limited public domain analogue of MAX, written for UNIX and offhandedly for Windows. It's good as a training system if you can't get access to Max, but

jitter is an array-processing system that transforms video under MAX in realtime.

Other media authoring environments such as Director are fine as long as the source can be read and execuated by peers and instructor.


Physical Materials

As for physical media, we will rely on what tools and material are appropriate to the projects, and can be found ready to hand or can be easily manipulated on-site. Students will typically find their own materials.

We will also rely on expertise from related departments in affiliated schools.

For industrial fabrics and sewing materials, try

Discount Fabric Center: 3451 Memorial Dr., 404 289 8811, or 2581 Piedmont Rd NE, 404 233 8855.

Hancock Fabrics: 6332 Roswell Rd NE Sandy Springs, GA 30328 404-256-5768.



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