Fans: Constructed Invisibles

art portraying six shadows in varying shapes in ink on white background

by Catty Dan Zhang (MDes ’17)

Gabriele d’ Annunzio described the “richest events occur in us long before the soul perceives them“, and “when we begin to open our eyes to the visible, we have long since committed ourselves to the invisible“. While unmediated human eye perceives the built environment from the visible forms, this thesis intends to build towards a volumetric perception of the environment with the awareness of the “void” in between. It experiments ways of perceptually measuring the interaction between human behavior and imperceivable air movements; and explores in depth the methods, techniques, materiality of designing with this invisible medium. Through tracking precedents in creating forms with airflow from principles of natural physics, this project seeks precision in articulating the invisible forms and patterns interactively following the geometric language. Points, lines, curves, surfaces and volumes are generated through heat and motion as agent.

“Fans” contains a series of experimental devices with various strategies of utilizing thermal and aerodynamics. Operations on the duration, interval, and electric current in controlling the thermal components, as well as on the speed, direction, and sequencing to manipulate the movements, allow invisible forms of the airflow being created, sensed, and choreographed. This project presents the integration of multiple systems, fabrication processes, optical experiments and computational analysis and design, bearing questions at large on environmental aesthetics, with the potential of the invisible materials  informing the design of the “visible”.