MDes Open Project: O(perating)S(ystem)1.1

Illumination is hard wired. Lighting networks require electric grids, digital chips, insulated conduit. Material infrastructure allows for immaterial transmission. Illumination blurs a building’s boundaries, creating new thresholds and impossible contiguities.

OS 1.1 will harness the built infrastructure to extend our sensory registers. Students will collaboratively design an operating system: a lighting network driven by air. As mechanical pneumatic inputs are touched and turned, lighting outputs will change and fluctuate. Manipulation of the physical apparatus will direct sensory phenomena along new pathways. A relay of communication will be set in motion. OS1.1 will create a mechanism whose technical dimensions are profoundly social.

OS1.1_1: Infrastructure
Students will conduct an in-depth review of exhibition lighting systems in Gund Hall, the Carpenter Center, and the Harvard Art Museums. Representatives from each institution will share expertise in lighting design; the class will explore how these modular systems intersect with building infrastructure. Peeking into museum plenum spaces, we will gain a first-hand experience of what lies beneath a building’s skin. We will cross reference this embodied exploration of the physical plant with close analysis of reflected ceiling plans and mechanical drawings.

These explorations will be accompanied by a series of presentations on the use of museum infrastructure by artists throughout the 20th and 21st century.

OS1.1_2: Feedback
Turning a handle shifts a pin, lifts a latch, and opens a window. How is this energetic relay felt by the human operator? How do we sense interconnection across a spatial gap? Building upon strategies of conceptual and media art, we will explore how perceptual dissonance heightens awareness of pattern and discontinuity. Tactile experience will be used to probe, understand, and modify how physical interactions shape users’ spatial maps.

The class will design a networked lighting system with an emphasis on sensory linkage between inputs and outputs. Students will prototype linkage systems to query how spatial position, proprioceptive feedback, and temporal modulation impact our experience of cause and effect, thereby shaping our sense of personal and collective agency. These investigations will be accompanied by a review of existing technologies underpinning kinetic networks, such as cable relays and hydraulic systems.

A series of presentations will address how such networks have been embedded in the infrastructure of 20th and 21st century architecture.

OS1.1_3: Luminosity
Students will prototype and design dynamic light fixtures. Each fixture will act as a kinetic module in a larger network of inputs and outputs. Fixtures will connect with the existing building Unistrut system in Gund Hall. Functional prototypes will be iteratively fabricated and tested, with an emphasis on the human energy and gesture required to set the networked system in motion. Tuned prototypes will become an architecturally embedded kinetic relay.

Please see the MDes Open Project Website for more information.