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DESIGN ACROSS BOUNDARIESAn Event and a Conversation about

Cross-Disciplinary Design Practices

The Design Across Boundaries Open House and Symposium was hosted by the Stuckeman Center for Design Computing (SCDC) at Penn State in May 5, 2015.

ISBN 978-1-941659-02-1

9 781941 659021





DESIGNACROSS BOUNDARIESAn Event and a Conversation about

Cross-Disciplinary Design Practices


SCDC Executive Committee Felecia Davis David Goldberg Tim Johnson Peter Lusch Daniel Cardoso Llach (chair)

The Stuckeman Center for Design Computing (SCDC) is a multidisciplinary laboratory at Penn State devoted to advanced research and learning in computational design. SCDC researchers explore computation as a subject of creative and scholarly inquiry in design and engage different scales and methods: from the territorial to the micro, from the theoretical to the material, and from the applied to the speculative and critical. The SCDC is supported by a generous gift by the Stuckeman family. Imagined as an annual event, the first SCDC Open House combines an exhibition of computational design research and coursework directed by faculty in the Stuckeman School and the School of Visual Arts, and a symposium with emerging scholars and practitioners of computational design. Under the theme of “Design Across Boundaries� the Open House and Symposium were hosted by the center on May 5, 2015.

Advisory Mehrdad Hadighi Kelleann Foster Open House and Symposium Organization Daniel Cardoso Llach Design Peter Lusch Student assistants Ardavan Bidgoli Shokofeh Darbari Administrative support Rynne Crissinger Karen McNeal Video, Photo and Original Music Henley Kim Web Design Scott Tucker This Publication Editor Daniel Cardoso Llach Student Assistant Xiao Han Cover Image Credit Athina Papadopolou SCDC Press ISBN: 978-1-941659-02-1 August 2015

Contributors Courses Advanced Typographic Systems, Assistant Prof. Peter Lusch Algorithmic Tectonics, Assistant Prof. Daniel Cardoso Llach Co-Lab, Assistant Prof. David Goldberg Crafting Technology with Textiles, Assistant Prof. Felecia Davis Introduction to Scripting, Assistant Prof. Andrew Hieronymi Machine Sessions, Associate Prof. Marcus Shaffer Symposium Participants Athina Papadopolou, MIT Architecture Somnath Ray, Timescape NY Laia Mogas-Soldevila, Mediated Matter Group, MIT MediaLab Orkan Telhan, UPenn Fine Arts Daniel Cardoso Llach, SCDC (moderator)


Opening Remarks Open House Advanced Typographic Systems Algorithmic Tectonics Co-Lab Introduction to Scripting Machine Sessions Crafting Technology with Textiles Symposium Laia Mogas-Soldevila Athina Papadopolou Somnath Ray Orkan Telhan Conversation

opening remarks



Welcome to Design Across Boundaries —an exhibition and symposium on novel design practices emerging across disciplinary boundaries hosted by the Stuckeman Center for Design Computing (SCDC). This event comes as the center seeks to establish itself within the School, the university and beyond as a forwardlooking design research and learning laboratory focusing on computation —broadly understood as a medium but also as a material for both critical and creative thinking about design across scales and disciplines. This aligns both with the spirit of the Stuckeman gift and of the School, which joins excellent design programs ranging from architecture and landscape architecture to graphic design. What we have sought to make evident today is our vision of the center as a space of possibility, closely linked to research at the faculty and graduate levels in our different fields. At this inchoate stage, the center works as a loose coalition of different research groups that we invite you to discover. Imagined as an annual event, the first Stuckeman Center for Design Computing Spring Open House combines an exhibition of computational design research and coursework directed by Stuckeman School and School of Visual Arts Faculty, and a symposium joining emerging scholars and practitioners of computational design. The exhibition displays interactive work, physical prototypes and posters produced by Stuckeman Center faculty and student affiliates. These range from responsive artifacts and environments to generative typographic systems, explorations into architectural robotics, video games and speculative software for designing and making.


The symposium brings together innovative scholars and practitioners whose work crosses boundaries between different disciplines, scales, technological paradigms and modes of inquiry in design. Ranging from biologically inspired approaches to material formation and design expression, sensory pedagogies of space, and platforms for geo-located interactive storytelling, the symposium offers an opportunity to consider a new landscape of cross-disciplinary practices in design. We are interested in discussing the opportunities and limitations of recognizing disciplinary specificity in the design fields, as well as new modes of collaboration emerging as designers seek to establish a legitimate claim to research practices within the university context and beyond. By thinking of design as a field in constant flux, we seek to unpack the methods, tactics, and risks that reveal how design’s technological imaginary is constituted today. We decided to call it a “flash” symposium to evoke something that is short in duration (a single afternoon), not very formal, and very focused topically. We hope that this flash, if short, has a powerful and long-lasting impact. Daniel Cardoso Llach


open house

Advanced Typographic Systems Assistant Professor Peter Lusch Graphic Design Algorithmic Tectonics Assistant Professor Daniel Cardoso Llach, Ph.D. Architecture Co-Lab Research Practitioner Instructor David Goldberg Landscape Architecture Crafting Technology with Textiles Assistant Professor Felecia Davis Architecture Introduction to Scripting Assistant Professor Andrew Hieronymi New Media Machine Sessions Associate Professor Marcus Shaffer Architecture

Advanced Typographic Systems Assistant Professor Peter Lusch Graphic Design Peter Lusch, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design, works across areas of environmental design and installations and has exhibited in the experimental design journal Margin, the Communication Arts Typography Annual, the Art Power International book Way of the Sign III, and at the Zaha Hadid-designed Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum in East Lansing, Michigan. He has also studied and worked internationally with Shanghai University in Shanghai, China. Peter holds a B.F.A. from Eastern Michigan University and an M.F.A. from Michigan State University.



Advanced Typographic Systems (GD397a) is a special topic elective in the College of Art and Architecture at Penn State with students from across the departments of Integrative Arts, Landscape Architecture and Graphic Design. It advances knowledge of foundational typographic hierarchy systems through practice-based assignments leading towards environmental applications of navigational language systems. The course investigates open source communities and the communicative potential of emerging methodologies, such as the Processing programming language, on visual systems in our culture.


Algorithmic Tectonics Assistant Professor Daniel Cardoso Llach, Ph.D. Architecture Daniel Cardoso Llach is an architect, design scholar and researcher whose work explores issues of automation in design, interdisciplinary creativity, human-machine interaction and technological cultures in art and architecture. At Penn State he teaches design, creative computing, and the history and theory of computational design media, and serves as the chair of the Stuckeman Center for Design Computing (SCDC).



Algorithmic Tectonics is a course on creative computing in architecture and design. By learning to create computational design artifacts (such as experimental software, responsive objects and robotic fabrication applications) participants explore computation as a territory for speculative, critical and poetic thinking about design (rather than merely as an instrument of production or representation). Departing from the conventional approach of programming courses based on lectures and problem-sets, the course introduces each topic in a projectoriented fashion through design questions. Organized in three modules, design, visualize and make, the class prompts students to develop an appreciation for current developments in computational design, and to create their own projects with an incremental degree of sophistication: from simple interactive computer graphics to architectural robotics applications. Works by Ardavan Bidgoli Shokofeh Darbari Dhaval Chedda Clarissa Ferreira Albrecht Xiao Han Matthew Kenney Rohan Mohana Vernelle Noel Vina Rahimian Nastaran Tebyanian Angela Urbano Seth Waldman

Project by Ardavan Bidgoli Photo by Henley Keme


Co-Lab Research: Virtualizing the Collaborative Studio Practitioner Instructor of Landscape Architecture David Goldberg (PI) with Scott Wing, Charlie Cox and Valerie Miller (Co-PIs) David Goldberg teaches in the Department of Landscape Architecture and is Technology Operations Manager for The Stuckeman School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture.



Design studios are the primary means of educating architecture, landscape architecture and architectural engineering students. They are problem-based, synthetic learning environments bringing together complex real-world scenarios, clients, and various design parameters. The studio structure typically encourages independent work and is conducted through oneto-one faculty guidance. In contrast, complex projects in the professional practice world require large, highly collaborative, interdisciplinary team members often widely dispersed geographically. As we teach by modeling the new normal of professional practice and expand the disciplinary breadth to reach widespread technical expertise, how do we best deliver the studio experience to those connecting online? As a proof of concept, the award-winning Collaborative Studio (Co-Lab) is used as the focus of a virtual studio study. The Co-Lab is a 30-person design course that groups architecture, landscape architecture and architectural-engineering students in six-person interdisciplinary teams to design a project based on a real site and program. Team Technik Cory Clippinger Dylan Friday Qi Jiang Patrick Nelligan Nicholas Ross Hannah Valentine Other Co-Lab Students Andrew Aumiller Nathan Bires Stephen Buccellato Andrew Brouwers Edward Colligon Jenna Collins Yuqing Dai Chang Deng .


Crafting Technology with Textiles Assistant Professor Felecia Davis Architecture Felecia Davis develops computational textiles that respond to commands through computer programming, electronics and sensors, transforming how we communicate, socialize and use space. Felecia has taught architectural design for over 10 years at Cornell University, and taught design studios most recently at Princeton University and the Cooper Union in New York. She is the director of the SOFTLAB at Penn State. More information about her professional and research work may be seen in her website feleciadavistudio and blog fadstudio.



The Crafting Technology with Textiles course provided a place for students to experiment with computational textiles by hands-on making, integrating and programming electronic yarns and threads into textiles they designed. The purpose of the course was to discover what opportunities are afforded by soft electronically active materials for architecture and the environment. Work exhibited Please Touch Gently, 2015-2016 A responsive knitted textile panel exploring and developing the affordance of knitted expression and touch response. This project is ongoing research work lead by Assistant Professor Felecia Davis with Research Assistant Niloufar Kioumarsi. Other Student Projects Light Responsive Textile Screen, 2015 by Dhaval Chheda. A textile screen which changes its degree of shading according to light intensity by overlapping multiple layers of screens. The Smile Machine, Wearable Instrument, 2015 by Matthew Kenney. A music making machine which is played by manipulating the degree of smile on people’s faces and people’s behinds. These projects may be seen at https://softbuiltstudio.wordpress. com/student-work-2/week-9_-sensing-workshop/

Photo credit: Henley Keme


Introduction to Scripting Assistant Professor in New Media Andrew Hieronymi Andrew Hieronymi’s recent work focuses on the sensation of movement in digital games. He creates interactive installations emphasizing the physical relationship between player(s) and interface during the act of playing. He has talked and exhibited internationally in art venues and media festivals and is an Assistant Professor of New Media at the School of Visual Arts at Penn State University.



Students are introduced to object-oriented programming fundamentals for the production of expressive, interactive experiences such as animations, interfaces and games. Student Projects HanselandGretel - Thanh Le CommanderCow - Tyler Greer AreaGame - Michael Regan Palmistry - Megan Koren Trick Book Flip Book - Fred Bryant Drawing_tool_4 - Justice Lee VisualBeats - Dave Zygmunt

Photo credit: Henley Keme


Machine Sessions Associate Professor Marcus Shaffer Architecture Marcus Shaffer focuses on works, theories, and practices that engage the Machine as an architectural extension of our impulse to examine and re-make the natural world. The goal in their production is to enhance, extend and transmit the essentially human act that is architecture.



During the Spring 2015 semester there were two Machine Sessions projects attached to the SCDC space: 1) Integrating Design Programing and Control Systems for Digi-mechanical Formwork and 2) Machines Making Machines: Employing an Industrial Robot to Fabricate Paper-based Mechanical Formwork Housings. These projects began in a 2012 Engineering Capstone Project in which students developed and built full-scale components of a Shokushu Machine Model 9 –a semi-automated construction machine to be deployed and used remotely in response to largescale humanitarian disasters. The first team (Ryan Majeski, Daniel White, and Steven White) worked to develop a lighter, more powerful control mechanism for the latest iteration of the Shokushu Machine (Shok-Mod 9FAT). They collaborated with a second team (Justin Teufel and Seth Waldman), which was dedicated to using an industrial robot to produce lightweight housing components. Justin and Seth successfully used the Stuckeman robot to prototype a machine housing by winding resin-soaked paper around a form manufactured using a numerically controlled machine.




Photo The ‘Fab credit: Bar’Henley at the SCDC, Keme in preparation a few hours before the Open House.




Attendants interacted with student projects. Photo credit: Henley Keme




Attendants interacted with student projects. Photo credit: Henley Keme




Guests Laia Mogas Soldevila, Athina Papadopolou (top). Open house guest and Assistant Professor Andrew Hieronymi (bottom). Photos by Henley Keme 29




Laia Mogas-Soldevila Mediated Matter Group, MIT Media Lab Athina Papadopolou Department of Architecture, MIT Somnath Ray Timescape, NY Orkan Telhan Penn Design


ATHINA PAPADOPOLOU Department of Architecture, MIT



WE NEED TO EXPAND THE BOUNDARIES OF OUR SENSORY PERCEPTION BY DEVELOPING TOOLS FOCUSED ON THE INTERACTION BETWEEN OUR BODIES AND THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT. Abstract If we are to extend our spatial understanding we need to expand the boundaries of our sensory perception by developing tools and situated learning strategies focused on the interaction between our bodies and the built environment. I propose the Perceptual Prototypes as tools through which we can sense and experience space. My hypothesis is that the Perceptual Prototypes can augment our understanding of space by allowing us to focus on each of our senses individually. As precedents I discuss pedagogies of the Montessori method and the Bauhaus school, which focused on the separate training of the senses. I then draw upon studies in psychology and cognitive science to suggest that we can train our senses by ‘sensing through’ and ‘experiencing through’ the tools we use. Architectural education, usually enclosed within studios and focusing mostly on the formal qualities of spaces, has been detached from the direct experience of space and has prioritized vision over the other senses. To demonstrate the pedagogical implications of my project, I first discuss the procedure and results of the workshop ‘Perception Creatures.’ Students designed their own ‘creatures’ using sensors to study the body-space interaction. I then proceed with an experiment where I ask participants to explore a physical space by using a wearable tool, the Perceptual Prototype, that I developed. In the experiment the tool takes again the role of a creature, which is limited to a specific sense. Asking participants to act as host for this creature, I study how they experience the space by focusing on each of the different senses. The results of the case studies demonstrate the enriched experiences and perceptions that emerge through the use of the Perceptual Prototypes suggesting a direction towards a sensory pedagogy of space through the use of tools as ‘objects to sense with’ in the learning process.

Bio Athina Papadopoulou is currently a Research Specialist at the Department of Architecture at MIT, working as a lead researcher at the Self-Assembly Lab directed by Skylar Tibbits. Athina holds a Masters of Science in Design Computation from MIT and a professional Diploma in Architectural Engineering from NTU of Athens. She is registered architect in the EU since 2008 where she holds her own practice. Athina’s recent research includes the development of computational tools for the study of spatial and sensory interactions as well as the development of transformable material environments. She has received academic merit awards as well as professional distinctions for her work as an architect. Her research and projects have been published in exhibitions, conferences, design and scientific journals. Along with her research and practice, Athina has co-taught workshops in the area of architectural design and computation at MIT and is currently an instructor at Boston Architectural College, where she teaches Design Computing Research.




Project by Athina






Abstract Timescape is an online map-based storytelling platform. It enables you to work collaboratively and engage a global audience through media-rich map-based narratives. A new way to build, explore and exchange knowledge on the web by creating and evolving stories about our world.

Bio Somnath Ray is the co-founder of TIMESCAPE and the architect of its geo-temporal navigation interface. Ray’s background is in Design and Computation and Architectural Design from MIT, MediaLab and Columbia University. Ray’s works are driven by the motivation to imagine and design new ways to interface with the world, both physical and virtual. Ray actively seeks collaborations across disciplines to produce design ideas and artifacts towards virtual, architectural and mobility futures. Recipient of the Humanitarian award for design innovation from MIT TechReview for the design and prototyping of a low-cost mobility solution for the disabled, Ray is currently building a new way to construct and explore online, non-linear narratives in geography and time.




Project by Somnath


LAIA MOGAS-SOLDEVILA Mediated Matter Group, MIT Media Lab



DESIGNERS CAN NOW NOT ONLY MATERIALIZE HIGHLY COMPLEX DIGITAL CONSTRUCTS, BUT ALSO ENGAGE IN A NOVEL UNDERSTANDING OF MATERIAL FORMATION Abstract With the advent of advanced digital fabrication hardware, design research is pushing towards novel approaches to computational design that re-integrate material thinking in architectural practice. By exploring direct manufacturing techniques, designers can now not only materialize highly complex digital constructs, but also engage in a novel understanding of material formation. Material-driven digital design processes are emerging that start from the physical and arrive at the virtual restructuring traditional digital design steps. A project exemplifying such restructuring is the inter-disciplinary Water-Based Robotic Fabrication research by the MIT Mediated Matter Group. In this work, variable property materials are designed from natural polymers and a water-based technology is implemented to allow novel fabrication of large-scale multi-fucntional structured objects.

Bio Laia Mogas Soldevila Is currently a Researcher at the Mediated Matter Group, MIT Media Lab, focusing on design and digital fabrication of biologically-inspired material systems. She completed her Architectural diploma minoring in Visual Arts at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, School of Architecture (UPC-ETSAV) where she graduated with honors. In 2010, she studied a post-professional degree in ‘Advanced Design and Digital Architecture’ at the Pompeu Fabra University (UPF). In 2010-2011 she was awarded research grants to pursue the ‘Architecture, Energy and Environment’ program at UPC-ETSAB and the ‘Master of Science in Architecture Studies’ at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Design Computation Group. Since 2008, she co-leads the DumoLab design research studio with Jorge Duro-Royo at the intersection of architecture, material practices and advanced computation (http://dumolab.com).




Project by Athina


ORKAN TELHAN Mediated Matter Group, MIT Media Lab



THE LIQUID ENVIRONMENT THAT LIES WITHIN THE LIVING IS A NEW DESIGN SPACE WHOSE PRIVATE INTERIORITY CAN SHIFT INTO THE PUBLIC DOMAIN FOR HOSTING NEW ARCHITECTURES. Abstract Today it is possible to design cell-like vesicles for encapsulating new types of living, semi-living, or biological hardware to build new materials, medicine, or biological circuits. Such vesicles—known as artificial cells, protocells, or chemical cells (chells)—can function inside living organisms or in external fluidic environments where they deliver chemical, biological, or computational instructions. Based on emerging methods on vesicle-based design, I will offer a systematic framework to compartmentalize liquid media and build encapsulations, assemblies or structures within the interiority of a living body. I will present a number of case studies for the vesicle-based design framework and discuss the practice of space making— as encapsulation of living matter—that would not only serve for scientific outcomes, but also claim aesthetic, symbolic, and cultural affordances. I will discuss the liquid environment that lies within the living as a new design space whose private interiority can shift into public domain for hosting new architectures.

Bio Orkan Telhan is interdisciplinary artist, designer and researcher whose investigations focus on the design of interrogative objects, interfaces, and media, engaging with critical issues in social, cultural, and environmental responsibility. Telhan is Assistant Professor of Fine Arts - Emerging Design Practices at University of Pennsylvania, School of Design. He holds a PhD in Design and Computation from MIT’s Department of Architecture. He was part of the Sociable Media Group at the MIT Media Laboratory and the Mobile Experience Lab at the MIT Design Laboratory. Telhan’s individual and collaborative work has been exhibited internationally in venues including the 13th Istanbul Biennial, 1st Istanbul Design Biennial, the Armory Show 2015 Special Projects, Ars Electronica, ISEA, LABoral, Archilab, Architectural Association, the Architectural League of New York, MIT Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, and the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York.




Project by Orkan




Photo credit: Henley Keme




Photo credit: Henley Keme




Orkan Telhan during his presentation. Photo credit: Henley Keme





Laia Mogas-Soldevila Mediated Matter Group, MIT Media Lab Athina Papadopolou Department of Architecture, MIT Somnath Ray Timescape, NY Orkan Telhan Penn Design Daniel Cardoso Llach SCDC (chair)





D. Cardoso Llach: Is there a critique of architectural education in the work you’re putting forward? How do you think of your architectural background —that many of us here share? Athina Papadopolou: It’s not a rejection of architecture. I love architecture as a discipline, and I still like to call myself an architect; but from my perspective a lot of architectural education is focused on formal design criteria —most of the studio critique culture is structured around the concept of form. We don’t talk so much about use and experience nowadays. It’s more about making a flashy design and presentation. I get this feeling from the reviews I have participated in while in the United States. The experience and the human parameter in space… We just don’t talk about them anymore. Somehow that’s the architecture we love today. And it’s not universal, but maybe I felt like that because I come from Europe, where we have more of a humanistic perspective on architecture. There we are always talking about how people would live in a space. It is the first criteria we consider when designing and evaluating a building. So I feel that this question is not asked here, or is missing. It’s not about “bringing back the human,” it’s more about bringing back other qualities of space beyond the formal, such as function and environmental factors —we should bring them back. D. Cardoso Llach: Going back to your project, where would you like to expand to? You have these very provocative and interesting “perceptual” machines that collect and give us information. How do you see them being incorporated into


architectural design? I’m curious to hear whether you’d like to move forward in that line of work, and if so, how you see it evolving. Athina Papadopolou: One way is, as I mentioned, to dig deeper into materials and sensory perception. Because I consider risky for my work to stay entirely digital. I wouldn’t want my work to be totally digital, or totally “cognitive.” It’s risky in the sense that you wouldn’t have to engage with what you make. You would just analyze the environment and then come up with some map and say “that’s my recipe for my house.” So, instead of a digital or a cognitive approach, how can it be more like “making”? I’m thinking about engaging these aspects: “making” and “materials”, through a lab approach. I’m thinking about them as a techaer now in a studio. How to get to be citizens through making stuff? But I haven’t taken it further. I think that would be my next step in terms of research. D. Cardoso Llach: Let’s go back to the question about architectural education. L. Mogas-Soldevila: What we’ve been observing in the lab lately is that, nowadays, design research not only lives in the digital, but we’re actually closing the full cycle of the design and manufacturing process. We —and I see it here everywhere— can invent, design, test, and make in one space, so it’s like everything is compressed and we are able to execute all the steps. So, the design process is not “virtual” anymore. It happens, of course, because of the digital tools we didn’t have in our hands before. KUKA robotic arms, high resolution, multimaterial printers, etc. can now materialize what we think, and that’s why I believe we’re thinking about materials now more than before —because it’s happening before our eyes, and it’s feeding back to the process in a way. And it’s not a critique of design education —but it’s a new opportunity to actually teach in another way.


IT MAY SOUND LIKE I AM RELYING TOO MUCH ON COMPUTATION, BUT IN MY UNDERSTANDING COMPUTATION IS QUITE BROAD. IT’S ABOUT DEALING WITH KNOWLEDGE ACROSS DIFFERENT SYSTEMS. Orkan Telhan D. Cardoso Llach: Here I also see a reaction, perhaps even a rejection, of the over-specialization that often comes with professional practice. It’s been traditional within the space of universities and research laboratories to provide a space for these compressed workflows to evolve, and that’s interesting and fascinating. Perhaps we can move to Orkan or Somnath and engage with the original question about those larger spheres of design concerning your work. Orkan Telhan: Some of it was already answered, but let me add a couple of things. Different fields give themselves different kinds of licenses to work with certain materials. The reason why architects have never given themselves a license before to work with living matter, such as genetically modified organisms is beyond me —I have no idea why. The license to work with such living matter today is only given to biologists and people in the medical fields who are given special resources and environments to be able to deal with this stuff. But we need to break down these boundaries; we need to make this knowledge more accessible. That’s why today, in the 21st century, we still have no idea how to deal with cancer. Everyone has poured billions of dollars into it, but it remains a complex design problem that I think every designer should have dealt with over the past one hundred years —but it didn’t happen. So, one thing is to, you know, open the doors, but it’s also about educating people, giving the tools and materials they need so that they can deal with their complex problems. Such as the scarcity of the planet’s resources —from food to environment, bacteria that can’t be killed with any antibiotic, etc. All sorts of issues that we need to work out together. D. Cardoso Llach: And that’s something that I think comes across really clearly in your work. The idea that we can use the language and tools of design to explore fields that are not within the traditional purview of the profession. And I see that as a very bold move —but perhaps also as a critique of the professional identity of the designer or the architect as someone 58


who’s medium-specific. Rather, it’s about weaving a web of meanings and deploying that web of meanings onto other fields, allowing for creative or critical engagement with different sub-fields. Orkan Telhan: Yes, I think I’m very “antidisciplinary” in the sense that I don’t think we need disciplines to specialize in, but rather we should find fields of knowledge that we can learn. Computation, for example, does not belong to any discipline. It’s a field of knowledge every discipline makes use of. So, instead of just sending people to school to learn to become an engineer, you sign up to learn computation and learn that computation can have a chemical domain, a biological domain, etc., and that it’s not only computation. There are other things… D. Cardoso Llach: Do you think there may be a certain naiveté in thinking that computation is a sort of “privileged” epistemology? Do we not see a certain nostalgia in the cybernetic idea of a “science of sciences,” a “science of messages” that connects it all? And how do you engage with the question whether this science is also a historical construction —embedded with assumptions about culture and about knowledge…? Orkan Telhan: It’s a good point. Yes, it may sound like I am relying too much on computation, but in my understanding, computation is quite broad. It’s about, you know, dealing with knowledge across different systems. It’s about finding out, inventing a new algebra, grammar, syntax or logic to be able to deal with information and making processes to control different things. So, it’s very broad. It may belong to cybernetics if you look at it from the perspective of systems theory, circuit making, and so on, but if you look at it from the world of representation, it’s a different thing. The way one makes images has nothing to do with cybernetics —and different parts of the digital culture that surrounds us, and the media, are also talking about computation. But it’s a different kind of computation.

D. Cardoso Llach: This conversation reminds me of a concept developed by a historian of science, Simon Pfaffenberger, who talks about “triangulation” as a potential risk for researchers such as you and many of us here who are crossing different fields, making use of other disciplines in ways that experts in those disciplines may consider dubious… And yes, vulgar. Pfaffenberger uses this concept to describe how an expert is able to build legitimacy in one field by pointing at another —like a game of mirrors. It’s a critique of a certain kind of science that became common under cybernetics and under the postwar experimentalism with computation. The concept raises a question for me, as someone who’s also engaged with these issues, and understands the power of the metaphor, and the power of these translations (that the work that you have presented today exemplifies so richly): the power of translating or seeing something as something else. These translations are fascinating and perhaps essential to design. So, I’m not making a critique, I’m deploying a question that I also have for myself. Orkan Telhan: One thing that you haven’t touched on is pragmatics. The critique of this narrative [of interdisciplinarity] should also consider pragmatics in the sense that the way science is done in academic environments today is very expensive. To be able to get a faculty job in a scientific domain you have to convince your department to invest millions of dollars in your lab space. Then they expect you to bring back enough funding to sustain your own research —or you’re out. So, you get hired to work on a particular set of questions, but if you want to be very creative with your research, and work on questions that are going to take the next ten years to explore, good luck with that: you will likely not be funded. So, we are pragmatically arriving to a point where we either do this kind of work elsewhere, or we lock ourselves in an academic bottleneck. That urge for openness is what you see in the DIY, biology and DIY medicine communities. They are opening up a lot of their expert knowledge to the public —like the open source software movement did— because they want the knowledge to be out so that the field can survive.


Otherwise, people will not get in, and it will dry out of resources. Sometimes it’s intentionally dried —think of the Koch brothers giving funds for pursuing research that proves anti-climate research. There’s a lot of politics in there, so it’s a survival mission to be able to open this up. D. Cardoso Llach: And how do you position the epistemological inquiry that you’re putting on the table with your work in relation to that space? I have a theory —it seems that the word “interrogative” you use may be appropriate here— but I am curious to hear your thoughts. Orkan Telhan: I studied design, but not architecture. Architecture has a history of criticism, and history of architecture is a well-established field. However, at the time of my training, the history and criticism of graphic design, media, or product design, were not. So, I had to find different ways of doing criticality. In both of the projects that we have seen today, there’s a very fundamental critique in the process —in terms of thinking, in terms of looking at the history, looking at the tools. It’s not only “design evangelism” to produce in a different way. You just couldn’t make these materials before in this way. But now, with this new thinking, you can bypass that, and you can arrive to a different thing… D. Cardoso Llach: …As long as you are in this privileged space [of well equipped laboratories], right? I’m thinking of your explanation of how today’s science is made and the huge demands that faculty 59

THE LACK OF RESOURCES IS NOT THE PROBLEM, THE LACK OF IMAGINATION IS THE PROBLEM. “PRIVILEGE” IS ACTUALLY THE ABILITY TO EXERCISE YOUR IMAGINATION IN ACADEMIA. Orkan Telhan has to confront in order to get a position that allows them to establish or engage with these laboratories… Orkan Telhan: Yes. So the KUKA robot. You may or may not have a KUKA robot to build and manufacture things, but I find another useful argument. I’m more concerned about how imagination gets constrained by disciplinary knowledge. The lack of resources is not the problem; the lack of imagination is the problem. So “privilege” is actually the ability to exercise your imagination in academia. D. Cardoso Llach: Yes. But… Are you suggesting that there is no link between the imagination and the technological platforms that are available? Orkan Telhan: In the pragmatic sense, there is a dependency or reliance [on technological tools]. But, you know, I work with living organisms, and nature has primarily four different technologies: it heats, it shakes, it cools down, and it breaks apart. Replicating these four technologies today is not so complicated, but the knowledge is very hard. The knowledge —finding the protocols, understanding, digging up— is the hard part. It’s not the engineering. Surgeons obviously rely on very expensive equipment so I can’t generalize, but what is crucial is the ability to really access this knowledge outside the certain privileged environment. Somnath Ray: So, to go back to the original question you asked, as creative agents, the lure is always the lure of invention, of discovery, of knowing or finding something that is outside a total epistemological “set.” And the way interdisciplinarity becomes important is that we look at all the sets within this larger set, and we imagine various possibilities that could lead to some new set —a new overlap or combination which would be in a sense new. Or a set of “learnings” that provide us something else other than that one thing we knew 60


about. So in that sense it’s kind of interesting how you set up conditions for such learnings and, a lot of the times, these are all accidents. These are not, you know, rigorous methodologies that produce results. Which is why I’m a big proponent of “play,” and play for play’s sake, and “messy play,” to set up conditions for these “accidents” to happen. Enabling this kind of contamination can really do something. I don’t know what that is yet. That’s where I think my work has been. You know, not being skillful in any one particular thing —a question going with your point— and forgetting about becoming an absolute expert in something. Rather, it’s more interesting to me to be working and playing with a lot of systems and producing (or rather, precisely setting up the conditions for) interesting results. D. Cardoso Llach: That seems to be consistent with the kind of deliverable you’re putting forward. You’re putting out a platform. You’re putting out a system that is a space for possibility, right? And you were very persuasive when you described the kind of engagements you expect people to have with this system. You want people to write their own histories, to create new unexpected themes, and it seems to me that part of the pleasure you derive from this project is to see unexpected things, things that work, or that are strange, or that you learn from —that is very interesting. So, the question of how your work engages larger spheres seems almost obvious in your case, because your work seems to be all about putting this project outside as a company. Perhaps the follow-up question would be whether or not you encountered limitations and problems in trying to create this open system, this open platform, when having to comply also with the demands of users and potential investors. Do you want to tell us a little bit about this? Somnath Ray: Constraints sometimes are an interesting scaffold to build around. One constraint is obviously that of Timescape needing a revenue model

and of us having to build a company around it. One could argue that a platform like Timescape might be a lot freer in a purely academic environment. And I have stepped on both fields —I’ve been in academia and worked within the space and tolerances it affords, and I’ve also worked outside of it as an entrepreneur. It’s kind of tricky; I don’t know how to answer the question, actually. It’s almost as if you choose who you want to engage with outside of academia. So, you choose your collaborators, you choose the right set of people, the right set of institutions, and you kind of mark a general trajectory of the potential plays that you want to set up. And then you wait for accidents to happen, and then you keep expanding it as you move forward, as I see it. D. Cardoso Llach: It’s fascinating. I also wanted to put something on the table that comes to mind —following up on Peter’s earlier question about the limits of our systems: could Timescape start to deploy information about smells and textures? I’m thinking of Athina’s perceptual creatures, which could be seen as bots sending data to Timescape —I think there may be opportunities to think about such cross-mappings. Before opening the floor to the Q&A session, I want us to think for a few minutes together about the role of metaphor in the work that you’re doing as it came across in your presentations —these translations, these metaphorical uses of both design and scientific languages, this exploring of territories. And I wanted you to say just a few words about the way in which you see those shaping the culture of design today. So, I’m asking you to get grandiose about your answers and in fact to think as if you were to see your work as a little seed of what may become the future of design. How would you define that future? Is this question at all relevant concerning your work? You may reject the question, or engage it. I’m just putting it out there for you. L. Mogas-Soldevila: If I had to choose the future, it would be that designers become seeders. We are “templating” materials, biology, spaces, so that something emerges by itself. Not only by production, not only through rule-based systems, swarming, or genetic algorithms, but in all of those ways. So, we are becoming the shapers of other stuff that can grow.

use biology, design smell and taste, and then we can combine the materials of biology to make, for example, clothes. All these flexibilities, given by interdisciplinarity, allow you to re-think the idea of interaction with space and with sensory experience —with these new materials that other fields provide. So, I would expect to develop the sensory aspect of my work. Yes, maybe moving forward I would start a sensory-computing lab. But I don’t think of the idea of sensory computing in the traditional sense —like, using a phone app to capture the senses. It would be a more material-based approach… D. Cardoso Llach: I think I may have a possible name for your lab: the hypersensitive lab. Athina Papadopolou: (laughs) Thanks for the suggestion. Maybe I’ll use that! D. Cardoso Llach: …Because it seems to me that the imaginative idea of design that comes across from your work, and the kind of exploration that you’re doing, takes into account all of that… capturing of data, charting, mapping and —in certain ways— informing design. Orkan Telhan: I’m ready to even drop the word design in that context. I think it’s becoming a little bit of a burden —as you keep adding up; it really becomes a very heavy thing. We need to be now in five, six different fields to be able to get a full sense of the designer. I could spend my

D. Cardoso Llach: Breeders? Orkan Telhan: Growers. L. Mogas-Soldevila: Growers and breeders. D. Cardoso Llach: How about you, Athina? If you had to put on the hat of the utopian… the hat of the visionary… “Design is…” Athina Papadopolou: I don’t know… I always think about the interconnections. Maybe now we can invent our own materials, 61

I THINK ALWAYS ABOUT THE INTERCONNECTIONS. MAYBE WE NOW CAN INVENT OUR OWN MATERIALS, WE CAN USE BIOLOGY, THEN DESIGN SMELL, TASTE, WE CAN COMBINE THE MATERIALS OF BIOLOGY TO MAKE CLOTHES. Athina Papadopolou entire life in grad school, be in debt, you know, forever. I think the big challenge is to really go back —or go forward— to look at very, very difficult problems. Very difficult research problems; they can be speculative, fictitious, or they can be grounded in reality. I think that if you really want to think about the survival of this planet —and there is a certain group of people who are worrying about that— we need to address that kind of problems. For example, certain people are thinking about moving to another planet —difficult challenges there. We should stretch our brain muscles for further problems. I was thinking of the question What is the designable? What are we going to design in the future? What is going to become the next product of design? If we forget about biology, chemistry, thermodynamics… What is the most urgent thing to design today? Then you can think back to which field is going to design it. It may sound philosophical, but for me the most important question is Where is the urgency in that thing? But it’s also being very pragmatic: we have an impact. What is that impact? What is the footprint? How are we going to be accountable for the environment, for the social relationships [that we help create]? It’s very complicated and I don’t know if it’s fair to expect everything from design or technology or computation, but we need to… we need to work together. That’s my only thing. Somnath Ray: Well, to me, the essential nature of the designer is that of the Mad Hatter, of a provocateur: someone who’s always asking those stupid, foolish questions and has the ability to be unafraid of stupidity —or unafraid of just feeling out the various kinds of combinations, the various types of layerings, the various kinds of possibilities. I think that’s how it used to be. I mean, designers, architects, they used to be the people who bore the brunt of coming up with bizarre ideas when technologies did not exist —like Paul Otlet talking about the Mundaneum as the physical internet as it exists now back when 62


there was no ARPANET, nothing. Or the wonderful mad work of Aby Warburg, the Mnemosyne —well, he actually was quite mad. Those are the kinds of people who are generally classified as mad… that is the kind of breed that needs to be inculcated. D. Cardoso Llach: With that, we open the floor to questions from the audience. Marcus Shaffer: I really enjoyed this. Thank you all so much. Really amazing things to think about. And at the same time, I kind of sit here really happy and not necessarily convinced that this conversation about design changes anything. Because having sat through, what is it, 40 hours of talk to Mr. [Buckminster] Fuller, it seems like the same conversation with just new components, new rules and ideas. One question that I have for you —as people with some design training, formal training in architecture, training in graphic design: I had a girlfriend whose father was a chemist and, you know, away from the lab, so away from this privileged place of a lab, he would sit in the house trying to devise what became wet wipes; and the way his intuition worked was, you know, glasses of water, and different kinds of fabric, and cutting a patch of underwear and soaking it in some kind of stuff. And whenever my girlfriend and I were around and we would draw, he was always kind of astonished that this was the way we exercised our intuition. And I wonder, in a disciplineless place, do you still have those kind of times where you kind of reach into the past and sit down, and you kind of exercise your intuition in a way that really makes a kind of profound change with design training, or is the discipline in this place also a kind of leveler or changer of the intuitive act that in some ways puts the work forward in a leap? Does that make sense as a question? Athina Papadopolou: Yes. I’m not sure I will answer your question exactly, but I’ll try to answer with some comments. First, yes. It’s true. It’s not about arguing that

this moment of history is very different from other moments of history when we had shifts and interdisciplinary breakthroughs. I think that these moments are repeating, I agree. And architecture in a way will always remain basically the same in the sense that people are not going to live in a radically different way in a hundred years from now. So, the social structure will not be radically different, and so a lot of things are not going to be changing within the discipline. But, on the other hand, you mentioned intuition. Crossing disciplinary boundaries gives you a different intuition to build within your own discipline. It may also be the case that when we invent outside our disciplines — when we’re crossing the boundaries— maybe we’re not doing architecture, we’re doing something else. You can say “yeah, but you haven’t contributed anything to architecture,” and this might be true, we might have contributed to some other crossdisciplinary problem instead. But then, in the end, it will give feedback to architecture. When thinking about how to design a building, maybe this intuition will reflect back to architectural space in the same way that the chemist you mentioned played with those wipes. Orkan Telhan: I have a very simple take. I’m very much against this whole heroic designer who goes back to his hut, sits, and comes up with things by himself or herself. For me, the most important moments are when I exchange my knowledge with somebody else —when I teach— but it doesn’t have to be in an academic setting. I go around the world and teach workshops. I share the knowledge with other people so that this privilege of an acquired knowledge can be disseminated. I think that’s the only thing we can do at this point: to share with other people so that they can share with other people and so on. In these moments I learn a lot from these interactions. You know, a new idea, a new project comes from a conversation —and it’s not a hand over, knowledge never gets handed over; you listen to somebody else, you get to take something from somebody else, and eventually something sparks from that. That for me is a more important model than just going back to my notebook and experimenting in the lab by myself. Everyone has a different model. I talk. I learn from other people’s experiments. For example, today’s presentations were very good because


we don’t have to repeat the same experiments and their failures anymore because we listen, we learn —and we know how to do that. That’s my thing. Somnath Ray: I think one answer in that context concerns the use of language to describe reality or experience. What I understood or received from your question was a distinction between one way of articulating a certain experience using physical objects versus another way of articulating it using a drawing or, you know, words, or poetry, or cinema. I’m not quite sure if this is the right analogy, but you could not imagine expressions in different languages that don’t exist across each other —in a sense, there are certain experiences articulated in one language that don’t appear in another. It’s a matter of being able to, you know, have the courage to engage with someone who does not speak your language. I don’t know, it just makes it easier, I suppose. L. Mogas-Soldevila: Back to the drawing question. In our lab at MIT we have finally found ourselves not modeling anymore — as a way of representing— because most of the time we have no idea of what the design is going to be or become. So, we find ourselves sketching, testing, making the tools, and going back to sketching. And it’s more like physically encoding. We don’t really model the full representation anymore, because we don’t imagine what that can be yet. 63

Peter Lynch: I think this was an amazing panel that you put together, because each of the speakers is so different, each one not a philosopher in their own way. And each one militantly not approaching, let’s say, philosophical questions. And because each of you are not dealing with questions that are beyond a certain range, but in a different way, it opens up the possibility —or the search for possibility— of some kind of deeper knowledge. But the blind spot is very, to me, from the outside, looking at MIT —this is a portrait of MIT in a way, unless I’m wrong— the blind spot is very specific to this notion that “expanding possibilities,” “solving problems” is the field, but that’s what I mean by the blind spot. That it actually excludes philosophy. You said we’re not philosophers. D. Cardoso Llach: I’m not sure I would agree that the experiments that we saw were confined to the realm of solving problems… Peter Lynch: No: “Expanding possibilities,” “solving problems...” But behind that, there is an outlook. There is a perspective. Orkan Telhan: Yeah. I would say we’re not philosophers because I think the production of knowledge should not belong exclusively to philosophy. I would take the interdisciplinary exclusivity from philosophy, and consider designers and architects who may contribute to philosophy in many different ways, more or less valid than philosophers. In that respect, mathematicians can be allowed to make an epistemological question as valid as a philosopher who studies continental philosophy. But that’s a very good point —because everyone has a blind spot, and the only way we can overcome blind spots is by looking at each other’s blind spots and to learn from



them. It’s not about doing the philosophy that philosophers would do, but rather to ask how can the philosopher learn from the chemist, the chemist learn from the biologist, and so on. And if the whole endeavor is an inquiry towards the human condition, it’s really not about anything too specialized. Every method is to be dealt with, to be learned about, and to study. I don’t think that we should limit ourselves to be problemsolvers or problem-finders, but rather we should work towards expanding the fields of knowledge, contributing to the fields themselves. So, while you’re abolishing your field you are also contributing to it. You show where the limits are. For example, I could show what architecture’s limits are, but this wouldn’t mean that architecture is disappearing —architecture learns from its mistakes. Peter Lynch: But that perception of the world kind of what it is and “beyond,” beyond certain repertoire of forms, repertoire of thoughts, repertoire of ideologies… “we’re beyond that,” “we’re tired and we want to move on.” That’s an ideological position, too. Somnath Ray: But that leaves us with the question of where does invention lie in the world? I mean, does the repertoire of all that exists today —with the limits of what we have achieved in terms of human production— leave any spaces for invention? Where are those spaces for newness? And that’s where I feel the spaces for newness exist in either the various combinatorial possibilities, or the many layering possibilities between existing expressions. Athina Papadopolou: I think that we’re talking about invention because we’re all doing research, and we’re searching for something that’s going to be new — something that’s going to be published, it’s going to be funded. The urge to invent makes you critical, because you need to find what is missing in other work: the missing piece that you are going to fill in.

ideologies at the same time, as opposed to just subscribing to one. You have to enable the people to understand what ideology is, and then how to work with it. And that can be very validly done through design.

If you don’t want to do research, you can do it differently. If you want to be an amazing design practitioner you don’t need this criticism necessarily —because you may not want or need to convince anybody about your research. I think that critique will always go along with research. That’s how it goes. D. Cardoso Llach: That’s an interesting point. It indeed is an ideological position, but also a circumstance of the kind of space where a lot of these practices thrive and evolve —within the realities of funded research in universities, where there’s a pressure to represent any work as a next step. That’s the way science works —and is in fact ideological. However, I do want to highlight that I don’t think that what we saw were solutions to anything. They were mostly new problems that we’re trying to weed out and articulate. And yes, there’s some “technocratic idealism” in the notion of creating problems. But perhaps we can agree that there is something generative about the conversations that stem from this kind of approach.

D. Cardoso Llach: There is also an interesting aspect in your question, and that is our tendency to separate, and say, “well, yeah, if you know how to write software, you probably don’t know how to think appropriately” right? Or how to make sophisticated philosophical statements, and I think that, increasingly, we need to be open to new forms of knowledge production, new forms of interrogation, new forms of questioning that may or may not be informed by technical structures. I think there’s an opportunity for expanding the space for that conversation. Athina Papadopolou: And at the same time, I think that even when you decide to be a designer and you make an object, even if you choose to avoid articulating a position when you present it, it will always express an ideology. It will have a stance towards the world because of the way that

Orkan Telhan: Ideology is always going to be a part of this —having knowledge framed with a very limited point of view. A philosophical study of ideology is key, but also of ethics, morality, of the implications of this work. I mean, as part of my design studio I teach how to genetically modify an organism, but we need to consider what would happen if people go and dump their GMO bacteria carelessly. What happens tomorrow? So, what’s very important for me, at least in my pedagogy, is to make informed intellectuals. You want to inform the intellectuals with the practices, so they learn how to perform them, but they alsoave to learn how to think about it, and they have to be responsible for the consequences of their actions. Ideology is always negotiated. It’s never one single ideology ruling. You have to teach people how to deal with different 65

WHEN YOU DECIDE TO BE A DESIGNER AND YOU MAKE AN OBJECT, IT WILL HAVE A STANCE TOWARDS THE WORLD BECAUSE OF THE WAY THAT YOU DESIGNED IT —EVEN IF YOU DON’T WANT TO ADMIT IT. Athina Papadopolou you designed it —even if you don’t want to admit it. Even if you don’t want to label it, it will mean something. Andrew Hieronymi: I want to ask Laia: you said that you see the future of designers and of architects as seeders, instead of their traditional role. I want to interpret that not only theoretically but also literally: how do you see the prospect of doing something similar to what you did, but different in some aspects, for example using the robots to inject organic matter so that a genetically modified organism grows enough to exist autonomously and still help control the environment, as architecture. I want to hear about that. L. Mogas-Soldevila: Exactly. It’s this idea of templating — setting the scenario for something to grow. Theoretically, but it could also be real. Imagine, for example, that we grow a house. And that we engineer a type of plant that can make trusses and joints in a way we have never thought of before. So, today we solder, or we make special joints to connect beams and columns. But what if that is a negotiation of material properties? We could go from really porous and slender to really dense and stiff conditions because the joint is happening there, and then it changes into something else. So, it’s not that we design the shape, but we design the material gradation. It would be unbelievable if we could do that as architects. Andrew Hieronymi: So you see this as a teacher? Because it’s somewhat different from your approach, which is... This is somehow more flexible, more adaptable… L. Mogas-Soldevila: Yes —that would perhaps be a project for the next 400 years. But now, maybe in ten, we may be able to “template” by tuning the materials via a platform, for now. I see what you mean. I don’t have a full answer for the future.



D. Cardoso Llach: If there are no more questions, let’s thank our guests —but before we do that, on behalf of the Stuckeman Center of Design Computing I would like to thank the students who put so much work into the courses and the work exhibited here. We would also like to thank Karen McNeal and Rynne Crissinger, who were crucial to this event’s organization, including the amazing dinner that awaits us right here —and the wine. And thank you so much to all of you for coming, for being curious, for posing questions, for opening up this conversation, and now I want to thank our special guests. Thank you for coming, and yes: we will continue the conversation with some good food.




Laia Mogas Soldevila, Athina Papadopolou, Orkan Telhan and Somnath Ray. Photo credit: Henley Keme




Laia Mogas Soldevila, Athina Papadopolou, Orkan Telhan, Somnath Ray and Daniel Cardoso Llach Photo credit: Henley Keme




Profile for Penn State Stuckeman School

Design Across Boundaries  

The Stuckeman Center for Design Computing (SCDC) is a multidisciplinary laboratory at Penn State devoted to advanced research and learning i...

Design Across Boundaries  

The Stuckeman Center for Design Computing (SCDC) is a multidisciplinary laboratory at Penn State devoted to advanced research and learning i...

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