Giving the Built Environment a Voice

Structuroception explores how occupants relate–with and make sense of the geographies around them, particularly on social and economic terms. The evaluation of a building or a neighborhood — as either good or bad, clean or shady, safe or sketchy — is subjective and loaded with perceptive residue and biases of our own individual histories. Just as no two individuals can share exactly the same opinion of any fixed subject — often people's perceptions of one thing can be wildly divergent — so too are people's evaluations of geographic areas, residential blocks, and industrial corridors.

Structuroception examines how sensors can be used to afford our built environments each a unique voice in response to how people move through, totally avoid, or impose their will on these spaces. What does a decaying industrial aerospace corridor in Southern California wish to tell people about its past? What does a wealthy, commercial retail district have to say to the consumers who patronize it (that it isn't already saying)?

The problem-set that Structuroception identifies is one in which our society —perhaps as an outcome of our finite capacity as perceivers moving through the various spaces of our built environment — grants certain types of environments a greater affordance for feedback than others. Through characteristic of space, scale, material and media, certain terrains — say, The Grove of West Hollywood, or the Old Pasadena business district on Colorado Blvd — are endowed with a very distinctively calculated and narrowly positioned voice in how we, as individuals moving through or occupying these spaces, perceive of them.

Structuroception interrogates a point of friction in the notion that economically marginalized or culturally neglected areas — with which Los Angeles is arguably bursting — could, in the era of ubiquitous computing, be given some manner of rich, meaningful communicative power; a say in how we might perceive (or attempt to completely ignore) their histories, contemporary situations, or potential futures.

Structuroception exploits the uniquely evocative and atmospheric qualities of consonant and dissonant audio tones, as opposed to tactile or visual feedback, to communicate across a spectrum of of Built Environment Indicator Sets (BEISs). These indicator sets would vary from building–to–building and from neighborhood–to–neighborhood, and could even be determined by the communities in those areas.

In the case of the Art Center South Campus, the building has been augmented to respond to BEISs as specific and administrative as how many pounds of waste are currently in the dumpsters, or how many days since the windows have been cleaned; to atmospheric details, such as differentials in Fahrenheit been indoor and outdoor temperature and parts-per-billion of CO2 in outdoor airflow; to more resonant quality–of–life indicators, including how many instances of aggravated assault or battery have been reported in the past month within a two–mile radius of the building, and positive and negative percentage shifts in property values in the surrounding area.

Each of the BEISs occupies a portion of the tonal spectrum, wherein values that occupants and community members have deemed undesirable — for instance, any CO2 value above 10,000 PPB in the surrounding atmosphere — would strike dissonance across the spectrum; the tone might shift marginally from a C to a C# as CO2 levels rise. It is integral to the Structuroception system that community members be encouraged to engage in a discourse in determining the right BEIS values for their neighborhoods.

Brief: Supersense!
Class: MDP–531 Lab Projects 2
Instruction: Prof. Phil van Allen, Prof. Benjamin Judkewitz
Audio Advisor: Casey Thomas Anderson
Cloud Assets: NETLab Toolkit, Cosm, ThingSpeak
Term: Spring, 2013

Media Design Practices | Lab 2014
Art Center College of Design | Pasadena, CA