Responsive Environments: DISAPPEARANCE

This course focuses on creating digitally driven interactive experiences in our built environment derived from technological advances in embedded technologies, smart materials, and body-centric interactive media, with a strong emphasis on digital/analog inversions. This semester the theme to be explored is DISAPPEARANCE, which covers the conception, design, development, representation, and prototypical implementation of digitally driven responsive environments, and artifacts that disappear, fade, disintegrate, vanish over time, either from existence or from our faculties of sensory perception.
DISAPPEARANCE examines time as a generative component of spatial design. Throughout history, mankind has shown an obsessive concern with the fixity of its constructed environments. This has logically resulted in a definition of architecture as the practice of designing spaces enclosed by massive, durable structures, and the only way to configure places that can accommodate the habitual needs of the individual on one hand (domestic spaces), and the societal needs of the multitude on the other (publicly shared spaces and cities).
The question is, what if we could transcend the belief in time’s degenerative effects to think of it as generative, as the cradle of an ongoing process of creation and re-creation, configuration and re-configuration? Then those engaged in spatial practices of any sort could shift their attention from durability, or designing against time, to fluidity, or designing for temporality. Under these circumstances environments, architecture, and artifacts are not entities that need to resist the tyranny of time, but spatial settings that accommodate a dynamic flow of temporalities, events, ideas, and ongoing productive processes. The architecture of disappearance is actually the architecture of generative temporalities, quite conveniently accommodating the ephemeral within the concept of space as non-substantial, non-durable, or not-inert.
The course is organized into three parts: (1) a literature review of time as a generative factor of architectural or artifactual forms and spatial experiences, as well as disappearance as an inspiration for creating spatial experiences, (2) a rigorous cataloging of theoretical or practiced techniques and technologies of disappearance in art and architecture achieved by critically analyzing projects that utilize each technique, and (3) a hands-on approach to envisioning, proposing, designing, developing, and implementing prototypes of disappearing architectures and artifacts. To create these prototypical models, students are offered the basic technical knowledge necessary for programming virtual platforms, as well as platforms that allow for physical computing and electronic prototyping. These skills will be acquired in a series of integrated technical workshops focused on the use of open-source programming and prototyping platforms, such as Processing and Arduino.
The course is designed to culminate in the publication of the scholarly research and design projects produced by students, which will be launched in an exhibition of their work at the end of the semester. This course will be taught in conjunction with the Responsive Environments and Artifacts lab at Harvard GSD.