Hiroshi Ishii on Ambient Interfaces
Having waived out of the Digital Media class, I'm taking Toshiko Mori's Innovations in Structures as an elective this semester. The class is set up as a series of guest lectures to increase the dialog between architects and engineers. According to Mori, this class is, in some respects, a continuation of the work from Immaterial/Ultramaterial. This week was the first guest lecture presented as a discussion about "life at the border of bits and atoms" by Hiroshi Ishii. Ishii's Tangible Media group at the MIT Media Lab has been working on exciting projects. Sensetable, Topobo, I/O Brush, and SandScape are just a few amongst many that you may have seen before.
While Ishii covered a number of topics, most relevant to the audience here was his brief discussion of architectural space as interface. In all of his work Ishii is interested in the convergence of input space and output space. In architecture this becomes manifest in projects like I/O Bulb that propose a architecture-scale application of the sensetable technology to effectively add a parallel layer of computational actionability to normal physical actions. This sort of thinking points to interesting possibilities but ultimately one wonders about the viability of large scale, centralized, environmental computing. Even Ishii's own work tends towards an object scale, focusing instead on multiple and task-specific projects.
Ishii implicitly acknowledges this in the specifics of the architectural projects he showed, primarily Ambient Fixtures. What I find compelling about the project is its focus on the periphery, ambient experience of information as a counterpoint to the dominant, center-focused interaction we're used to. It's not surprise that Ambient Devices is a spin off from Ishii's group at the Media Lab, given that they are beginning to implement some of the ambient informational technologies that Ishii is concerned with.
With architects more and more considering information and various media as an important part of their buildings, Ishii's five points about the ambient interface of architectural space are good to think about.
Image from the Design Boom.
- Browserless Information should be glancable and require no navigation
- Calm Should be seamless with the environment
- Persistent connection Information must be current, and regularly updatable
- Decision driven data Should be personalized and summarized to help users make decisions quickly and easily. "Should I bring an umbrella with me today?"
- Private Information should be encrypted for privacy
The first hints of these ideas are just starting to emerge in architecture with projects like UN Studios' recently completed Galleria in Seoul, South Korea
and Diller+Scoffidio's Blur building
from 2002. While neither project addresses information at the personal scale, they respond more broadly to environmental factors. Indeed, as a building made of mist, Blur relied on wind and barometric sensors to help keep its cloud localized over a steel skeleton. Sensors communicated environmental conditions to a central computer which then adjusted the rate of flow to an array of nozzles covering the skeleton allowing for real-time compensation for strong winds and other disruptive conditions. In effect, the building took advantage of ambient sensing to make constant decisions defending itself from the environment.Image from the Archinect image gallery
If Blur is using ambient technology to act in its own interest, UN Studio's Galleria operates solely for the entertainment and attraction of the public. Currently the building records the day's weather and replays this footage as a slow motion sunset depicted via a facade of 5000 frosted glass discs backed with LEDs. Ishii mentioned that the Hancock Tower in Boston displays a prediction of the next day's weather based on the pattern of lights at night, but the Galleria can go one step further. Displaying the previous day's weather is pure entertainment, but with enough data built up the building could begin to use previously recorded weather videos as a premonition of what's to come. Based on forecasts, the facade's computer could search though its database of recorded days and find a past day that closely matched the forecast. Animating the facade with this video content would then give passersby an idea of what tomorrow might be like, instead of what has already passed today.
What's most promising about Ishii's conversation is that there may be a future without video projections on loop or random LCD screens regarded as avant-garde. Implicit in all of his work is the notion that static computing is boring. Computational power, storage space, and bandwidth are reaching a point of abundance that makes invention easier and, importantly, more realizable. If we're currently living life at the border of bits and atoms then I look forward to a future of dual citizenship.