Digital Media: Telepresence

Telepresence refers to a set of technologies that provide stimuli to a user’s senses, so that the person feels as if they are present or having an effect in another place other than their true location. This is a dynamic and rapidly expanding area of technology, assisted by recent advances in the fields of telecommunications, AR, VR, robotics, cybernetics, holograms, and more. 

Telepresence is not a substitute for being physically present in the analog space (nor perhaps should it be), but this topic presents a unique opportunity for architects and designers to understand the key elements that contribute to our sensory perception and experience of an architectural space. If one has to distill our experience of an architectural space into a few key elements in order to convince a remote person that they are at that space – what are these key elements and which elements are more important than others? How can techniques in telepresence translate the physical presence of people and spaces to create new forms of empathic connections with remote locations and occupants? At what point does one forget the technological interface and get completely immersed in the remote spatial experience? What causes specific environments to evoke different ambiances? Are there consistent elements that define these ambiances, and is it possible to capture these qualities and characteristics?

Class discussions will look at current and historical examples, and theories of psychological qualities and the sensory experience of architecture, the senses and body-centricity, proxemics, interaction design, installation design, and human-machine interface. The students will create site-specific installations and technologically-mediated experiences at their respective geographic locations, where students in groups of two will remotely work together to influence each others’ spaces, or virtually visit each other’s spaces. 

Class workshops will cover the following digital and physical fabrication tools based on project needs: basic electronics, Arduino programming, 3D scanning, AR/VR, 3D printing, and projections. 

Course format: This is a 3-hr course, which will take place as a 2-hr synchronous session on Wednesdays for lectures and projects development, and 1-hr asynchronous learning time for technical tutorials. 

Note: This course has been adapted specifically for the times we find ourselves today. Telepresence tools have become urgently relevant in the current pandemic context, and this course intends to allow students to critically investigate them, manipulate existing tools, and speculatively design their own.