Monday, July 23, 2007

Emergent Forms - self organizing structures

Kas Oosterhuis introduces the idea of 'Swarm Architecture' in the publication GameSetandMatch II (a series of proposals, experiments, and publications on Computer Games, Advanced Geometries, and Digital Technologies). He describes Swarm Architecture as..

"..based on my postulation that every member of an architectural construct is, in essence, based on a computed behavior of discrete quanta. These quanta can represent anything from the smalles building component to the largest building blocks of a metropolis, anything from one single perosn to multinational institutions, as long as they behave in real time, and as long as their behavior can be computed real time."

Kas goes on to describe qualities of 'uncertainty' and 'unpredictability' as the swarm operates through a bottom-up process of independently operating units. With this in mind I began to think about how this concept might take advantage of the unique properties of the virtual.

Architects such as Tobi Schneidler and institutions such as the TU Delft have done some experimentation with swarm behaviors. Usually these projects consist of a physical space 'entangled' with a virtual space inhabited by virtual agents of some type. Entanglement is a word used by the IVM group (InfiniteVisionMedia) to describe virtual/physical spaces connected through custom software and MIDI components. As individuals move throughout the physical spaces, they are interacting with invisible 'agents' which are programmed with simple and predictable behaviors. Sensor devices locate the movements within the physical space and the virtual agents react in real time to these behaviors. This is accomplished through real-time communication between the two spaces (virtual and physical) Generally, the movements of the virtual agents are translated back into kinetic movement within the space (through objects or actuated devices) which allows the physical inhabitants and the virtual agents to communicate in a continuous feedback loop.

While this can result in extremely complex and unpredictable behavior patterns, the individual virtual agents actually run off simple programs. I will publish some examples of this in a future blog. These complex and unpredictable patterns are known as emergent behaviors.

Based upon this info, I started thinking about how we could take advantage of the unique environmental characteristics of SL to create a self-organizing emergent structure. This structure might consist of numerous units that emerge from the landscape or objects within the landscape. These objects may be released when the avatar approaches an object or a specific place within the environment.

(click on pictures to enlarge)

As these objects/agents/bots emerge, they approach and orbit the avatar(s). That is to say each object is scripted to approach and rotate around an avatar in an orbit of a certian diameter. Over time and within a certain distance of an avatar, these objects begin to grow an outer layer much like a seed begins to grow fruit.

The objects are scripted so when a collision occurs, the translucent outer layers 'stick' together and become frozen in space. This can occur with objects of different 'stages' of growth resulting in an asymmetrical evolving form.

As these objects continually collide and 'gel' they begin to form a crystalized architecture around the inhabitants of the environment. The objects might also contain a script which allows them to unstick after a given amount of time. This would allow the form to continually move and reshape itself as the inhabitants move and inhabit different areas within the landscape. The swarm may also adopt properties that attract an avater resulting in a more 'pro-active' architecture that does not simply respond and evolve to user behavior, but actually encourages group behaviors or movements.

So the result is we get a continually moving and evolving liquid/crystalized architectural body who's form is derived from avatar movement and inhabitation. If we wanted to include a social aspect, we might say that the objects only deploy or rotate when a certain number of avatars are within a given proximity of each other. The point is that when we work with bottom-up behaviors, we can create a whole new set of properties by just tweaking a small amount of code within an object.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Game

Ultimately, Games are devices for communication. When we engage in a game with another player we are, in effect, having a conversation. The language varies, but through this language we may express such traits as reciprocity, dominance, cooperation, competitiveness, coercion, commitment, focus, intellectual engagement, and occasionally physical exercise. The brilliant thing about games is that communication can take place at a very basic level only having learned the language of the game in a very short amount of time. A game may be based on a very simple set of rules such as hitting a ball with a stick until it gets into a specific hole. Like etiquette, game rules construct a defining framework through which people find the proper means to interact. While the rules for the game might be simple, people use this as groundwork for communication which ultimately develops into a highly complex interaction between the players. Thus, the game becomes a construct or framework which allows for communication to take place at a very basic level between people.

The game also serves to level the playing field for the players to communicate with each other. We all come from different backgrounds and experiences, and the game is a device which allows us to transcend our individual perspectives and work toward or against a common goal.
The winner of the game is the person who walks away with something more than they entered the game with. That may be knowledge, experience, or simply a new way to think about their interactions with people. The idea is to affect peoples everyday perceptions of their normal interactions that they may begin to both question those normal conventions, and begin to explore new avenues of communication.

Games become a very important component of interactive architectural works. Recent publications such as 4D Space, Responsive Environments, ia#1, and GameSetandMatch II have set out to define these unique interactions between people and interactive objects and virtual spaces. Games both inspire play and allow the user to engage architecture at a different level than simple occupation. The occupant becomes the participant as they engage and converse with the interactive game space.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Interface - The Future 1 Island

One question that always seems to arise with any interactive work is the form of its interface. Anytime we develop an environment that can analyze and respond to human/avatar behavior, there is an interface that allows the system to 'sense' or read this behavior. In some cases, the interface is distributed throughout the interactive environment, and in some cases, it is centralized into a single device.

I found this unit at 'The Future 1' island in Second Life. it seems to track and locate avatars when they are located within the islands boundaries. The avatar is displayed as a dot in a scaled down model display of the island. While this device does not display any kinetic interactivity per se, its ability

Out of the 4 categories (passive, active, reactive, interactive) I'm classifying this project as an Active work because it simply monitors and displays the location of its inhabitants as opposed to actively engaging the user (a reactive project). Say, for example, the user was able to manipulate parts of the island by directly manipulating the scaled-down model in front of them. They might be able to locate avatars in the model and shift landscapes to create an experience for other users on the island. They might be able to touch the dot representation of the avatar which would automatically set up an IM channel and allow the two to communicate. While not necessarily built for this purpose, I'm presenting these examples to suggest how this system might adopt and interactive element to its use.

It is interesting to note that the tracking device is a representation within a representation. While this holds significance for its parasitic virtual relationship to its host (the island) I prefer to consider its signifigance as an interface. By creating a scaled down 'Active' model of the island, the avatar is able to engage the island in a different manner. More to come on this...

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Form Follows Movement - Crooked House

Seifert Surface 'The Crooked House'

This project is over a year old but I feel the need to mention it due to its truly innovative kinetic characteristics. The concept of this house was based upon a mathmatical formula reminiscint of a mobius strip.

The dominant feature of the Mobius Strip is it's singular surface. As the story goes, if you walk an ant along the surface, it would cover the entire surface in its journey. There is no inside or outside to the strip, it is considered one surface formed by cutting a loop and twisting it once before reattaching. This is possible only because the 2D surface has been pulled into a 3D space which allows the surface to deform into the 3rd dimension.

Back to the house.. The Crooked House is divided into a series of rooms; each with 6 entry points. As the visiting avatar activates the house and moves from one room to another, the house reconfigures itself real-time to the path of the avatar. In other words, as you open a door to another room, the house rotates another room to the other side of the door the avatar will pass through. The result is that as the avatar walks in a straight line in one direction, they actually keep walking through the same rooms of the house again and again. This invokes the idea of the Mobius Strip because the avatar can walk in one direction and cover the same ground over and over. Like the 3rd dimension enables the 2D ring to become the mobius strip, so the 4th dimension allows the 3D house to take on these conceptual kinetic properties.

As it currently functions, I think the house only responds to a single avatar's movement. Because the house must move one room at a time, there is no function that allows multiple avatars to be able to manipulate the environment. In some sense the project exhibits characteristics of Emergence, but this is hampered by the inability for more than one avatar to engage the system at one time. For example, if we were able to track the shifting form of the building over time, we might be able to find patterns that develop as multiple users engage with and constantly reform the environment. This may also be the case for a single avatar (as form follows movement) but this would be greatly heightened by the house's engagement with multiple avatars.

I would classify this project as a 'Reactive' design becuase of its lack of proactive engagement with the avatar. The house responds to movement, but does not necessarily encourage or discourage behavior of a certain kind. This does not at all detract from the project and I think the addition of this feature might overcomplicate it. The final 4D form is both a combination of the mathematical concept driving the building's kinetic response as well as the intentions of the user. The resultant shifting form of the building is a comination of the purity of mathmatical formula combined with the messy territory of human choice and free will. Truly an exeptional idea and execution of that idea.

There is a great write-up and videos of this project at the following link..

As you can see here, the orientation of the room also shifts with the placement of that room. The result produces some interesting new perspectives on traditional spatial relationships.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Emergence - Architectural Jazz

Architectural Jazz
crtlshift07 competition entry by Jon Brouchoud (Keystone Bouchard)
One of the first projects I would like to point out is Jon's recent entry on Lebenswelt Island in Second Life. The floating piano keys emit notes as the avatar approaches each individual key. The resultant effect is an architecture which becomes a public instrument played through the movement and behaviors of its inhabitants.

This is an excellent demonstration of the idea of interactive emergence. Emergence within an interactive architectural context is loosely defined as unpredictable properties which emerge through the discreet interaction of individuals within a responsive environment. A characteristic of emergent properties is the inability to predict the outcome or patterns that emerge from those interactions. Individuals act as the autonoma operating under their own individual behaviors. Stephan Wolfram describes this in his work with digital cellular autonoma.

With regard to the virtual piano, the resultant musical piece created by the group cannot be predicted although general rule sets may be observed. For example, we might see that a smaller percentage of people are willing to fly to the top of the piece which might limit a set of notes that might be played. Emergent patterns may best be thought of as visualized or manifested probabilities of the behavior of the participants.

Jon has also engaged another important aspect of interactive works which comes in the form of The Game. A recent GameSetandMatch II conference (hosted by Kas Oosterhuis) recently accepted and published tens of interactive architectural projects that focused on architecture as a 'game' where occupants become participants in the architecture forming a behavioral dynamic between the two. This is generally enabled by digital technologies and through ubiquitous computing practices, but Second Life provides the benefit of being able to script directly into objects. By allowing the participants to freely explore the piano, they can begin to form their own rules for the game based upon their growing experience with the environment. For example, one avatar might concentrate on a favorite note as their personal contribution to the overall orchestration. As the game advances and the players' skill level increases, the game becomes more complex enabled by the growing experience of the participants.