Responsive Environments: Architecture, Art and Design

By Lucy Bullivant  |  Finished: 7th July 2010  |  Back to library

Responsive Environments: Architecture, Art and Design

Exciting things are happening at the intersection of art, architecture and interaction design. New technologies enable the creation of spaces that interact with their inhabitants, both conveying information and adapting themselves in response to it.

In Responsive Environments Lucy Bullivant introduces this field by exploring a range of projects, from large-scale buildings and installations through to proposals and prototypes. It’s a V&A publication so approaches the topic from a mainly art-world perspective, but this doesn’t make it any less interesting to readers from other disciplines. Bullivant moves from project to project along fluid associative lines, using them almost as building blocks in the construction of the book’s larger ideas.

Among the projects covered here are Usman Haque’s Sky Ear, a cluster of balloons that floated above Greenwich and changed colour in response to the array of electromagnetic interference they encountered there. The balloons also contained mobile phones which, when called by members of the public, would relay the sonic environment of the urban sky.

Another project is Litmus by Jason Bruges, a series of five 12-metre towers found on roundabouts along the A13 in Essex. Each tower displays different data to drivers, drawing upon information such as the level of the Thames, electricity generated by a nearby wind turbine, or the volume of traffic moving through the area.

In the case of Sky Ear the information represents invisible aspects of the space, the police radio signals and magnetic fluctuations in the atmosphere, while Litmus responds to information gathered from the surrounding areas. Both are examples of objects in space that embody and convey information about that space’s properties to its inhabitants. But a lot of the other works discussed are created spaces in their own right, where technology is used to shape the space and make it interact with those within it.

This is a very visual book with each project accompanied by photographs, diagrams, and concept sketches. This means that virtual environments don’t make an appearance: Responsive Environments deals instead with the manifestation of information space in physical environments and its numerous implications, a sufficiently fertile territory in its own right.

If you’re interested in this topic generally I’d recommend reading this book along with Everyware by Adam Greenfield. The same ground is approached from different directions – Greenfield as an ethical technologist (or technological ethicist, it’s hard to be sure) while Bullivant, and the artists she covers, as experimental practitioners whose work illustrates and reifies some of the threats and possibilities that Adam Greenfield sets out so clearly.

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