Material Matters: New Materials in Design, by material scientist Philip Howes and Zoe Laughlin, the co-founder/director of the Institute of Making and the Materials Library project.

Available on Amazon UK and USA.

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Black Dog Publishing writes: Material Matters: New Materials in Design discusses the vast range of materials that are available to us today, and highlights the advances predicted to prove seminal in the future. The six chapters are divided by chemical composition--Metals, Glasses, Ceramics, Polymers, Composites and material Futures--and with every material featured, the book stresses the relevance of physical material properties.

Each material featured is presented with relevant manufacturer information, material properties and current and potential applications and includes the websites of manufacturers and research institutes, making this a handy reference book for the designer. Material examples include the newly developed metallic 'microlattice', now the lightest solid known on earth; Dow Corning's 'Deflexion', a fabric capable of instantly hardening and Graphene, a material which, at 200 times the strength of structural steel despite being only one atom thick, has the potential to revolutionise the field of electronics.

Philip Howes, Materials Scientist and Zoe Laughlin, Creative Director of The Institute of Making, provide explanations of the basic chemical structure of materials--what makes a glass a glass and why not all polymers are plastics. Their discussion of the potentialities of new materials embraces disciplines as disparate as aerospace engineering and medical research, in addition to offering explanations to everyday material conundrums.

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Markus Kayser, The Solar Sinter, 2011

Microscopic glass flakes, Blood Lab-On-A-Stick, piezoelectric ceramics, Catalytic Clothing (clothes that purify the air around), noise-absorbing ceramic, titanium foam, antimicrobial copper, instantly-hardening fabric, light-reflecting concrete, self-healing concrete, soft magnets, self-cleaning glass, etc. And i had no idea that bullet-proof vests contained ceramic.

There is nothing arid nor soporific about new materials.

The authors of the book handpicked some of the most surprising new materials. Their look sometimes belies their nature, their names often verge on the oxymoron and their applications have only just started to be explored. Most materials are allocated one page in the book but some of them are illustrated further with a spotlight on a 'case study' that describes designers, architects and engineers' most innovative uses of materials: from largest optical/near infrared telescope to shape-changing architecture.

The text is as techy as necessary to explain clearly the physical properties and latest applications of each innovation but you don't require a degree in engineering to follow along.

Material Matters: New Materials in Design doesn't pretend to be the bible of all materials, the ultimate encyclopedia but it does fulfill competently its ambition to be a source of inspiration for designers and artists.

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Soft Circuits or "epidermal electronic system" (EES) is an ultrathin, electronic circuit applied on the skin. It can stretch, flex, and twist and take input from the movements of your body.

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Doris Sung, Thermo-Bimetals at Applications&Materials Gallery

Jólan van der Wiel lets magnetic fields and the force of gravity shape its stools. A mix of iron and plastic is layered between strong magnets that pull the material into unique designs.

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Jolan van der Wiel, The Gravity Stool

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Jolan van der Wiel, The Gravity Stool

Doris Kim Sung's Bloom installation demonstrates the properties of thermobimetal, a thermally responsive metal surface, which reacts to both the change in temperature and direct solar radiation. When the temperature of the metal is cool, the surface appears as a solid object, but once the afternoon heat penetrates the metal, the panels of custom woven bimetal will adjust and fan out to allow airflow and increase shade potential.

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Microlattice, the world's lightest material is 99.99% air, 100 times lighter than styofoam and as strong as steel.

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Particles of Stardust are shot into Aerogel

Stardust are made from dust that pre-existed the Sun. The interstellar samples were collected by astronauts in 1999. Scientists stored the stardust in Aerogel because its extremely light structure and thermally-insulating properties ensure that the particles are not damaged after being embedded inside the spongy interior.

Bare is a temporary conductive ink that can be sprayed or brushed directly onto the skin to create custom electronic circuitry. This innovative material allows users to interact with electronics through gesture, movement and touch.

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Bare: Skin Safe Conductive Ink

Mushroom Packaging as a 100% biodegradable alternative to polystyrene (Styrofoam) packaging.

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Ecovative Design (image Chris Crisman)

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The Climate Dress uses conductive clad fibers and responds to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere

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Jungeun Lee and Shota Aoyagi, Heat-Fusible Yarn

Ferrofluid, or magnetic liquid, is composed of ferrous nanoparticles suspended in a liquid.

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Sachiko Kodama and Minako Takeno, Protrude, Flow, 2001

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Matthew Szösz blows air between pieces of fused discarded window glass.

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P10 Concentrating Solar Power Tower

Sponsored by:





Under Black Carpets, Ilona Gaynor's new project, works with police reconstructions, cinematic culture and with 'Forensic Aesthetics' to design the perfect bank robbery. And i don't know how she did it but she managed to get the FBI New York Dept of Justice and the LAPD Archival Department on board as advisors to her study.

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Scale Model, One Wilshire

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Some legal, political and cultural fields have recently seen a shift from human testimony to material forensics. DNA samples, 3D scans, nano-technology, electro-magnetic microscopes, satellite surveillance and other scientific methods or instruments have started to play a key role in police investigations, political decisions and court room deliberations. Retinal scans, biological remains, landscape topographies and other forensic materials communicate to the judicial system. Just like human witnesses, they come with their own rhetoric of persuasion. Eyal Weizman called it Forensic Aesthetics.

Under Black Carpets is at this stage an early study that will be part of a larger project currently under development. Under Black Carpets presents a meticulous deconstruction of several bank heists simultaneously occurring in downtown Los Angeles, focusing specifically on 5 different banks that centre One Wilshire. The work presents itself as site-specific forensic study. A spatial tool accompanied by a kit of parts, presented as a dense numerical index. Each artifact is individually numbered, assuming the role of the protagonist within the collection and pin-points its own whereabouts on a grid of vertical and horizontal geographical coordinates. The viewer is invited to examine and cross-reference this collection, allowing ones own constructed interpretation of the event as it unfolds from muiltiple, distorted perspectives.

At this point, i needed to pause in my lecture of the description of the project and asked her to tell us more about Under Black Carpets:

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LAPD Police Academy. Image: Ilona Gaynor

Your project is developed in collaboration with the FBI New York Dept of Justice and the LAPD Archival Department. How easy is it to work with them? Who are you working with, i'm not asking for names necessarily, but i'd like to get an idea of the type of person these Department would delegate to work with an artist. Are they scientists working in forensics? Members of their press team? 

Firstly, I normally approach my research from a great distance to the subject, but I felt with this particular project, it wasn't going to be quite as effective without actually engaging with the scenarios I wanted to explore.

I wanted to get into the mind-set of what it takes to become a Police officer or 'Cop', so I spent a lot of time at the LAPD Police Academy, watching Police engage in intense training: learning how to drive cars in chase simulations, fire guns and partake in classes reciting American Law and its policies. But furthermore, I spent a lot of time in the Police canteen listening to everyday conversations, which led to me buying a copy of So you want to be a cop: what it takes to serve by Scott Butler and Police bible Pocket Partner by Evers, Miller, Glover and Glover - which is global emergency management manual, carried by United States police officers of all ranks and members of the US government. These books describe in detail precise procedures and policies, coupled with a philosophical mindset of what it takes to serve. I mention this, because it's the dialogue I had within the academy which led to working relationship with the justice department.

I spent sometime with detectives and ex Special Agents in the Bureau's Bank Robbery/Kidnapping/Extortion Dept in New York City, which was actually more of a connection made with my previous work. I attended various meetings and demonstrations with scientists, but not really with biochemists like you would expect in archetypal representations of forensic science, but more with spatial experts and computational homicide scientists. People who examine areas like post-impact ballistics, vessel trajectories and object reassembly.

To put their interest in the project into context If you read any book on heists or homicide published in last 10 years like Where the Money Is: True Tales from the Bank Robbery Capital of the World by Gordon Dillo and William J. Rehder, you will find that every book you come across will have been written by retired FBI agents or an ex-detectives who had worked on the cases cited in the book. The texts are framed (accidentally or not) as a form of nostalgia, not necessarily for documentation or research purposes, but for pleasure. Whilst reading you could even imagine them holding a cup of black filter coffee with a gun lying next to them on their bedside table, they are so personal.

Interestingly enough, they are mostly anecdotal. There are very little facts or figures cited, but more focused on memories and one-liners. As such they are delightful people and splendidly macabre.

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Scale Model of Banks Centering One Wilshire in Downtown Los Angeles

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Back Door Entrance, Bank of America

I'm curious about the title of the project: why "Under Black Carpets"? It makes me think of something sinister that has to be hidden...

The title is sinister. It refers to the act and image of stealing. In old cartoons such as Tom and Jerry, Tom the cat would enter the room and slip underneath the carpets, as to sneak upon the mouse (Jerry) in doing this, displaying a huge moving bulge (often cat shaped) that would continually hit furniture and objects in the room because he couldn't see where he was going - alerting Jerry the mouse as to his whereabouts, rendering the espionage futile, but hilarious. Law enforcement bodies are often portrayed in crime cinema as clumsy, often with plans turning sour, foiled by seemingly petty rules and orders given by superiors by act of protocol. The protagonist hero is often a rogue cop who dismisses the rules and catches the criminal. The black carpet; refers to the archetypal colours found in banks, federal buildings and financer's offices. It's also meant to indicate a spatial aspect to the project.

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Artifact No.274, Location Coordinates: 17,17, Presidential Limousine

Your project deals with the aesthetic dimension of forensics, a science said to have taken over 'the era of the witness' in legal systems. How much faith do you have in forensics now that you've studied it from up close (well, at least closer than most of us)? Is this science as indefectible as tv series would like us to believe?

Forensic science has blurred a previously held distinction: between evidence, when the law speaks of objects, and that of the witness, referring to subjects, forensics has become something in-between. TV dramas such as CSI in the US and Silent Witness in the UK, really are as accurately based on reality as entertainment would permit- they exist in a world of simulations, computer based conjecture and biologically stained rags in test tubes. Forensics however isn't strictly lab based nor does it always deal with bio-chemistry as I've mentioned previously, that's very much not the case, that plays a significantly small role. And it also very much depends on the nature of the crime and where the crime happened. US crime tends to be more exaggerated and extreme, due to the very nature or culture in which people live, especially in Los Angeles. The crime cases publicized, tend to be lot more spectacular then crimes committed in Britain, of course that's stating the obvious, however I honestly believe that it's related to the cinematic culture, of which we just simply don't have the ability, or want to record and transmit news cinematically. Of course why would we?

Michael Mann's film Heat (1995) was a film shot in downtown LA, with the most notably 'realistic' loud gunplay scene in cinematic history to date. It's cold, blunt and incredibly violent. But what's interesting about that scene is that it became the basis and inspiration for a very real event that happened in LA a few years later, an event dubbed The North Hollywood Shootout I watched repeatedly the news footage from the North Hollywood Shootout and Heat and found that in comparison after repeatedly viewing it intensely, I decided that actually Mann's Heat was far more realistic.

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North Hollywood Shoot out. A real robbery that was said to have been a mimicked real life version of the film Heat (as its crime inspiration)

I don't believe anything is infallible, people by nature are cunning and will always find a way to subvert and distort the truth. Even scientific evidence takes form, as rhetoric by the very nature in which is it presented, monopolized or industrialized. I'm not saying that forensic science is inaccurate but it's the way in which we construct or curate the evidence is what makes it key. There have been many miscarriages of justice, with many serious crimes going unsolved. A juridical verdict is a legal argument. The end is not normally the 'truth' of 'what happened', but one of convincing conjecture, which makes it's dimension beautifully fascinating and deadly.

With such a shift on the emphasis of forensics referring back to taking over the 'the era of the witness', I think has left the Police putting too much faith in forensic science, particularly in that of biology, so much so that they have begun to ignore human instinct and intuition, because the definition of truth and reality has never been so unclear.

But then again maybe I'm simply too much of a purist fan of film noir and crime literature.

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LAPD Police Station, located 6 blocks away from One Wilshire

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Criminal Activity, Artifact No: 83, 246, 11, 68, 69, 82

Could you also explain the part played by 'forensic aesthetics' in your project?

'Forensic Aesthetics' a term coined by Dr Eyal Weizman at the Department of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths University. It was an idea that was originally used in an architectural context and was called Forensic Architecture. The idea of using objects to form an argument, as a narration in the absence of actuary evidence is now being openly discussed at various law schools in the US as a mode of future legal practice, which is very exciting! The term is very much at the heart of this project or at least in the research. My project comes into play whereby, I would like to use this theory and expand on the research as a platform to initiate 'it' as a mode of design, by giving it form and materiality. Weizman talks about it the broad context of human rights, of course those are important, but my angle is for pleasure, aesthetic speculation and fantasy. Imagine an architectural model - a designed space accompanied by designed artifacts being wheeled into a courtroom and brought up for questioning almost to fulfill the role of the 'witness' as evidence. Design can become something to examine, question and decipher through legal channels.

It's very interesting to me to relentlessly construct narratives from traces that were left over from a traumatic or chaotic event, even if you are stitching together empty spaces that seem impossible and too abstract. The documentation of everyday detail in the construction of archives of clues and cases creates a great pool for crafting hybrid fictions and competing perceptions - a world of secret lives, lies and stories.

Under Black Carpets presents a meticulous deconstruction of several bank heists simultaneously occurring in downtown Los Angeles, focusing specifically on 5 different banks that centre One Wilshire. What are these banks?

The banks are: Bank of America, Mellon Bank, City National Bank, US Bank and Wells Fargo. These were chosen because of their geographic proximity to One Wilshire and precise distance from the LAPD headquarters in downtown LA. The narrative proceeds, a false plane collision with the 30th floor of One Wilshire, as a ruse. One Wilshire is an infamous centralized carrier hotel. It provides half of the worlds connection to the internet; currently it connects: China, Korea, the USA, east Russia and parts of Europe, directing anything toward One Wilshire would attract much attention. The surrounding street block formation would centralize Police, harboring them in one place due to the precise vertical heights of the buildings and the dense geography of those particular blocks. The visual transparency from the ground is also extremely limited. The architecture is positioned in such a way, that staging particular events or moments could be hidden from view behind protruding floors, light refractions from the mirrored glass and thick palm tree heads. Some of the streets are also impossible for helicopters to circulate and enter, however every flat rooftop has its own helipad by state law in that area.

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What will be the purpose of the deconstruction? To design the perfect bank robbery?

Yes. Exactly that. My intention is design the perfect heist. A counter measure to anticipated police reactions based on this research. But not presented as projection like a pre-planned, straight-up plot, but one told through hindsight. Using aesthetics and material form to frame the narrative as an investigation, an archive of evidence for the purpose of constructing, a legal argument.

Finally, what shape does the project take: the project page has models but do you also plan to add 3D renderings? video? essays?

This project is simply a study - a deconstruction for the purpose of seeing something from a birds-eye view (not literally) but a plot device to experiment with. This first part was completed whilst I was the summer research resident at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. The final project will take the form of artifacts, large scale engineered mechanical devices, architectural physical studies, speculative tools and materials. There will be films - my aim is to shoot Police reconstructions of what they assumed to have happened. There's a lot to do!

A book or research will also accompany the project, a series of essays and collated documents curated and co-written by Geoff Manaugh (BLDGBLOG) and myself.

The final work will go into an exhibition on display next year at the Lisbon Architecture Triennale, it will be showing in an unused bank vault comprising of 6 rooms in September 2013.

Thank you Ilona!
Previous work by Ilona Gaynor: Everything Ends in Chaos.
Related story: 21 bank branches vs. 21 architecture students.

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Photo Kristof Vrancken

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The Creative Factory (detail). Photo Kristof Vrancken

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Photo Kristof Vrancken

You might not be aware of it because i try to behave like a lady on my blog but I've spent the past couple of years shouting over the rooftops of the city that nothing bores me more than an exhibition of industrial, product or interaction design. Well, i've shouted too fast and too loud because last Wednesday i saw this brilliant exhibition called The Machine - Designing a New Industrial Revolution and suddenly, design became exciting again for me.

As befits the title, the show takes place on the site of an ex-coal mine in Genk, in the Belgian Limburg mining region. But instead of focusing on the industrial revolution, the exhibition champions the current revolution in digital production

'The Machine' is indeed a metaphor for the machinery deployed by designers who appropriate tools, material and systems and use them to help shape the future of production, consumption and more generally our relation to goods.

This new, and almost domestic machinery is exhibited among the impressive historical machines of the ex-coal mine. The work of the young designers both acknowledges and contrasts with the historical setting. The dark, heavy and now silent machines serve as a dramatic set for the exhibition, with Pantone Process Cyan hanging like the blue 'key' screen used in the cinema industry.

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C-mine. Photo via matandme

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Photo Kristof Vrancken

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Photo Kristof Vrancken

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Photo Kristof Vrancken

The industrial revolution was a revolution for engineers. Now designers are at the forefront of a new revolution. They are part of networks that enable them to develop new materials and systems, build their own machines, and seek new tools for production and distribution. These developments offer an alternative to mass production and open paths to a new economy and society.

By making production processes more transparent, designers demonstrate that production doesn't have to be completely disconnected from the consumption.

In an interview for the catalogue of the exhibition (which you can and should download), Jan Boelen, the curator of The Machine as well as the artistic director of Z33 explains: "The physical object is yours, but the information is shared between everybody. Making this exhibition demonstrates the hope that things can really change.That on the ruins here in Genk or even in Detroit, things can change because people take control and start doing things by themselves."

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Juan Montero Valdes, Hacking Hope: All I Want to do is Make Some Money, 2012 - ongoing. Photo Kristof Vrancken

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Juan Montero Valdes, Hacking Hope: All I Want to do is Make Some Money, 2012 - ongoing. Photo Kristof Vrancken

Juan Montero Valdes's All I Want to do is Make Some Money does literally what you're already suspecting: the work replicates, on a domestic scale, the industrial process used to make dollar bills. Following the designer's set of instructions and using only domestic appliances, anyone can print money at home.

All I Want to do is Make Some Money is part of 'Hacking Hope', a wider project that attempts to highlight the possible decentralisation of our current means of production by utilising the untapped potential of the many household appliances and machines we amass at home. From the tv set to the toaster or the printer, most of these devices often has only one function. Montero Valdés's project taps into the mass potential of these machines, forcing them to collaborate with each other or adopt new roles.

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Thomas Maincent, SpiderFarm, 2011 - ongoing. Photo Kristof Vrancken

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Thomas Maincent, SpiderFarm, 2011 - ongoing. Photo Kristof Vrancken

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Thomas Maincent, SpiderFarm, 2011 - ongoing. Photo Kristof Vrancken

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Thomas Maincent, SpiderFarm, 2011 - ongoing. Photo Kristof Vrancken

Thomas Maincent's SpiderFarm is a bio-factory that reconstructs the environmental conditions of a Madagascar silk spiders' natural habitat.

SpiderFarm from Thomas Maincent on Vimeo.

These spiders might produce the most spectacularly golden silk, but they are also territorial and may cannibalize each other if they are kept too close to each other. Maincent's answer to the challenge is to build a high-rise indoor farm that gives spiders enough space to live until they're guided to a "milking" area that coaxes the spiders to produce silk for human use.

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Jinhee Kwon, Stupid Machine

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Jinhee Kwon, Stupid Machine

Jinhee Kwon's Stupid Machine is a catalogue that charts the history of redundancy of the typewriter in reverse chronological order.

Each page describes one step in the rise and fall of the typewriter. It provides hand drawn illustrations of each specific model of typewriter and describes its peculiarities and also the reason for its demise. The catalogue ends in April 2011 with the closing of the last manual typewriter factory in Mumbai, India. The catalogue is typeset using a typewriter and a specially designed typewriter generated display font.

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Thomas Vailly, The Metabolic Factory, 2011 - Present

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Thomas Vailly, The Metabolic Factory, 2011 - Present

Thomas Vailly used human hair as the main material for a set of cups. The hair melts into a type of bioplastic resembling leather when mixed with glycerine and sodium sulphite. The designer sees this new polymer as a 'vanitas still life' that might revolt us but also invites us to consider the natural process of deterioration as well as the realistic options for the creation of new materials.

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Mischer'Traxler, The Idea of a Tree, 2008 - ongoing. Photo Kristof Vrancken

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Mischer'Traxler, The Idea of a Tree, 2008 - ongoing. Photo Kristof Vrancken

Katharina Mischer and Thomas Traxler from Studio Mischer'Traxler

The Idea of a Tree explores the relationship between machines and the natural environment. The installation constructs an object that documents its own production by expressing the amount of solar energy harnessed during a 24-hour period. When activated the machine uses threads to construct an object, with the colour depicting the intensity of sunlight.

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Mischer'Traxler, Collective Works. Photo Kristof Vrancken

The duo is also exhibiting Collective Works, a device that works on a similar principle. The machine manufactures a basket, but only if it is being observed. Production is activated by the physical presence of a viewing audience, with the colour of the wooden veneer-strip getting darker as more people gather around the device. Each basket bears the unique traces of the interest in its own fabrication.

According to Studio Mischer'Traxler, Collective Works attempts to question the relationships between man and machine, with the spectators transformed into 'workers' - observation becomes labour.

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Tal Erez, (Waiting for) the People, 2012 - ongoing. Photo Kristof Vrancken

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Tal Erez, (Waiting for) the People, 2012 - ongoing. Photo Kristof Vrancken

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Tal Erez, (Waiting for) the People (The End of Retail), 2012 - ongoing. Image Tal Erez

For Tal Erez, new production methods construct new socio-political systems. From the development of guilds in the Middle Age's to the labour unions of the 20th century, workers have always influenced political power. Erez's project questions the demise of the workers voice and proposes ways to reinstate it within our post-Fordist society. '(Waiting for) the People' is a set of 14 protest signs that call for change. The recto of each sign bears an image that hints at a possible future, where the home has become the site of production thanks to a wider availability of 3D printers. The verso shows a documentary image that depicts a workers' protest from the industrial era - proposing a link between production methods and socio-political change.

Each project in the exhibition deserves a post of its own or at least a mention in this one but you can read about the other works exhibited in the catalogue. It is available for download from the press area.

More images from the show:

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Photo Kristof Vrancken

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Photo Kristof Vrancken

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Unfold, L'Artisan Electronique. Photo Kristof Vrancken

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Historical photos. Credit: Hasselt city archive - LRM

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Historical photos. Credit: Hasselt city archive - LRM

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Historical photos. Credit: Hasselt city archive - LRM

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Maya Ben David and Jon Stam, Save as Mine. Photo Kristof Vrancken

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Christian Fiebig, Flatform. Photo Kristof Vrancken

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Christian Fiebig, Flatform. Photo Kristof Vrancken

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Eugenia Morpurgo, Repair It Yourself. Photo Kristof Vrancken

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Photos i've taken in the exhibition.

The Machine - Designing a New Industrial Revolution remains open at C-mine Designcentrum, in Genk, Belgium until 07.10.2012.

As i mentioned a few days ago, the Barltett's student show is one of my favourite events of the Summer in London. It is however so overwhelming and turbulent that you need dedication and pure chance to spot the works that might interest you the most.

I'm glad my Bartlett expedition led me to The Theatre of Synthetic Realities.

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The project, authored by architectural designer Madhav Kidao, is miles away from what you'd expect from an architecture work. No model, no plan. In fact, it rather looks like an essay made of photos, short videos and texts. Together, they reflect on immoral architecture, unsympathetic machines, reality filtered by artificiality and more generally, our symbiotic relationship to technology. In fact, Kidao likens his project to "an exaggerated caricature of our present and near future relationships to technology as is stands."

What made the project remarkable is its focus on how new technologies prompt new behaviour and new ethical questions and decisions. I realize i might be accused of heresy and crucified in front of the populace for writing this but ethics and social concerns are usually not the nerve centers of architectural exhibitions.

Allow me to do a bit of copy/pasting and let's see each other right after that for an interview with Madhav Kidao.

The Theatre, as illustrated in the film Making Friends and Other Functions, is a vehicle in which to explore the relationship that exists between the designer/creator and his or her repertoire of increasingly intelligent collaborative tools, be these tools to create or tools to think. The machines, under the selective guidance of the designer, construct their own reality based upon the information they extract from their environment and its unwilling occupants. This is ultimately a task with no beginning or end, and fundamentally questionable ethical integrity. As result we are left to question the role of the Architect, both in regard to creative authorship and ethical responsibility.

Making Friends and Other Functions v.2 from Madhav Kidao on Vimeo.

Hi Madhav! What are the 'Unsecure Webcams' that are mentioned in ACT I - The Observer? What makes them unsecured?

As I'm sure you are aware most live feed web and surveillance cameras can be accessed remotely through the internet. It is possibly one of the Internet's worst kept secrets that by simply googling specific codes for particular camera models, for example "intitle:liveapplet inurl:LvAppl" a list of all the live webcams of that particular make and model is given. Often, however, the owners of the cameras, usually domestic or small businesses, fail to password protect them, this is what makes them unsecured. Therefore in theory anybody is able to view the camera's live stream and with many cameras actually control the pan and tilt of the camera. As long as you have not cracked any passwords, this is entirely legal.

Whilst the feeds are usually pretty innocent, and frankly often mundane, every now and then you come across something that you no doubt shouldn't have done, an insight into a private world completely unconnected to our own other than through technology. It's quite a peculiar relationship that exists between the remote observer and the realities of an unknown space that is unfolding before them. Time is of particular importance as you are viewing in real time a world in which you have no knowledge of its past beyond the moment you logged in, yet our extended embodiment into the animate camera somehow immediately embeds us into this unfamiliar space.

This is not too dissimilar to the tele-assistance relationship between a drone pilot and the drone. Initially we are completely ignorant of where and what it is we are looking at other than what can been interpreted from the point of view of the camera. It's in our nature to be inquisitive, to people watch, and there is some perverse pleasure in trying to comprehend the events unfolding before us. However due to the lack of context more often than not this is simply educated speculation. The more I explored this strange paradigm the more I found myself just making up wholly fictitious scenarios in my head based upon the slightest clues garnered purely from body language, perceived interactions and the environment. The epistemologically variety of this action means that truth soon begins to seem irrelevant compared to the desire to fabricate an alternative reality.

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Machine Vision Portrait - Gesture Recognition

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Machine Vision Portrait - Skeleton Tracking

The name of the project, The Theatre of Synthetic Realities, places your work in the realm of fiction. Yet, it was inspired by elements of reality. Could you tell us about the trends, behaviors and technologies that have inspired the project?

It was from this point that the concept of a Theatre of Synthetic Realities emerged, a kind of reinterpretation of Hitchcock's Rear Window for the 21st Century, in which the binoculars are replaced by the the vast interconnected complexity of our computing networks; with each input - be it a camera, a sensor or even another person - acting as a portal into a parallel environment. In much the same way as the binoculars are a prosthesis to extend our vision, the global technological systems that we symbiotically rely upon extend our powers of perception and influence around the world. In Rear Window the architecture of community and society defines the story. I was keen to explore how technology facilitates new forms of social interaction and redefined concepts of neighbourhood and community, and how this in turn redefines our concepts of architecture.

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James Stewart in Hitchcock's Rear Window, 1954

The impact technology has had upon our social systems, access to knowledge and global influence is nothing particularly new, Marshall McLuhan famously introduced the concept of a Global Village and Global Theatre almost 50 years ago. For me what is more interesting is how this has evolved into the relatively more recent concept of the Internet of Things. The trend I believe that we we will see with the Internet of Things is that it is not just objects that can be tagged and categorised but also the spaces they inhabit and the actions and events that they are associated with. In this way spaces, buildings and environments are becoming encompassed in the Internet of Things. This is not limited to architecture though, the social activities, and routines that are contained within that architecture add to the data history of a place, a form of artificial psychogeography. What this means is that in much the same way as we exist in a duality between physical and digital social circles, the spaces that we occupy do too. What we begin to see is a physical environment and the live updating digital representation of that environment. This is facilitated by new advances in sensory and scanning technologies, computer vision and biometric analysis.

I, like many others, was investigating the potential of the XBox Kinect as means of capturing complex real time data. Its capabilities have been widely publicised but in simple the idea that a machine can see in three dimensions and then also recognise human gesture is incredible. It allows any machine created using such technology to become actually embodied in a physical world. It begins to transcend the border between the physical and the digital which is a very powerful concept when thinking about intelligent environments. And as we increase our dependence upon the internet as our primary source of knowledge and interaction, our interpretation of truth becomes more reliant upon the technology that we assign to gather and interpret the real world. So fundamentally we start to view the physical world through the filter and perception of machines, in effect, a synthetic reality.

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ACT III - The Vision Machine

Could you describe the Vision Machine, the way humans would 'interact' with it and its ultimate purpose?

The idea of the Vision Machine originated from Paul Virilio's book The Vision Machine. In it he discusses the concept of the "automation of perception", predicting a machine that sees for itself not for the benefit of man. This concept coupled with an interest in how artificial intelligence feeds into responsive/adaptive environments intrigued me. The capabilities that a computer has to extract a significant amount of information from a physical location combined with its ability to comparatively analyse that data with the vast amounts of data stored online through a neural network is almost enough to simulate perception. The resources that a computer has immediate accesses to - such as The Internet of Things - and its methods of analysis are completely alien to our own, therefore it could be predicted that its interpretations of the physical world would be alien too. Building upon the idea of how a human would perceive a space as viewed remotely through a webcam, I wanted to create a sensationalised demonstration of how the camera itself could possibly perceive the space it inhabits in relation to its learned perceptual world.

In regard to the Theatre of Synthetic Realities, the Vision Machine is in essence a robotic actor, cameraman and director in one. Whereas in the initial webcam scenario I was in complete control of the camera and was free to make my own conclusions of what I saw, with the Vision Machine at the other end I am relegated to a more collaborative role in which the machine dictates what it is I view however provides information that I would never have ordinarily been able to extract. Working from this principal we could then predict that the collaborative relationship between myself and the semi-autonomous machine could lead to an emergent performance unique to the relationship. The next stage in the Vision Machine was to then suggest that, much like I had done, it too begins to fabricate elements of reality and as such distort the reinterpretation of the digital model of that environment as well as what the viewer believes to be true.

The project has never really been a serious proposition for a machine to be developed. In fact it was supposed to be an exaggerated caricature of our present and near future relationships to technology as is stands. The machine is portrayed as more of a mild irritation that we just coexist with rather than any kind of interactive companion. Its ultimate purpose is as an analogical device to critique and explore our concept of what digital fabrication is or could be. In this project we are fabricating reality and the representation of reality as part of the Internet of Things. It is very much an attempt to question the relationship we have to tools and technology in a world in which we continue to transfer not just physical but increasingly cognitive faculties over to those tools. The is not seen to be necessarily a negative thing but rather an interrogation of the possibilities this presents, especially in regard to new forms of collaboration.

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ACT IV - Making Friends and Other Functions

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ACT IV - Making Friends and Other Functions

I found 'ACT IV - Making Friends and Other Functions' a bit daunting: here is a machine that observes human beings constantly and then assesses them and assigns them a character. Do you see current technology going in that direction? And what would be the benefit of having such machines around?

In Making Friends and Other Functions everything is real and works to some degree. Somethings I have exaggerated or simulated to communicate the ideas more coherently, however they are all based upon pre-existing technology, most of which is already incorporated into our smartphones. So rather than technology heading in that direction it is in fact already there. In fact casinos have been using some of the most advanced computer vision systems for sometime to catch out those attempting to cheat as well as identifying individuals who have been banned. But what I am more interested in is the relationships between the designer, society and emerging technology rather than necessarily a specific technology and its implications.

One of my aims for the project was to see how technologically advanced I could make it for the least amount of money; so begging, borrowing and hacking spaces, hardware, open source software and code. Then was an attempt to demonstrate how the role of the designer is changing, particularly in the world of open source projects. Practically any designer can now create they're own tools and machines for any job-specific purpose with a relatively low budget, the RepRap being the archetype. As complex and powerful technologies become cheaper and easier to hack, like the Kinect, the designer is gifted with power and responsibility that is free from supervision.

That sense of malaise you have from the idea of camera watching and judging you is in large part due to your loss of control and empathy due to the unpredictable nature of a non-human agent. I think this is an issue that as designers, and particularly architects, we will have to address. As architecture reacts to shifts in social habits I think we will see a lot of unforeseen challenges in regard to what technologies we use and the manner in which we do so.

Fundamentally my project is an immoral one and I think the concept of an immoral architecture is something that will become increasingly prevalent in the future.

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ACT IV - Making Friends and Other Functions

The text of your project says that "The Theatre (...) is a vehicle in which to explore the relationship that exists between the designer/creator and his or her repertoire of increasingly intelligent collaborative tools, be these tools to create or tools to think. The machines, under the selective guidance of the designer, construct their own reality based upon the information they extract from their environment and its unwilling occupants. This is ultimately a task with no beginning or end, and fundamentally questionable ethical integrity. As result we are left to question the role of the Architect, both in regard to creative authorship and ethical responsibility." Is ethical responsibility already an issue architects and designers encounter nowadays when working with new technological tools?

Ethical responsibility has always had some part to play in the design process but I think that is slowly coming to the forefront. The explosion of open source has really brought ethics into the design process as it not only transfers power from the institution to the individual but it also provides new forms and channels to disseminate information, this recent article actually being a perfect example.

For me, consciousness and intent are just as important as categorical right and wrong. For exploring emergent technology is just that, emergent, it is unknown. While a particular technology may have positive society changing impact it may well have dire consequences too. I'm not one for speculations upon utopian ideals and believe that we will have to tread and adjust the boundary of what is acceptable to progress civilisation, however whilst the unquestioning embrace and exploration of new technology is exciting we often fail to question its merit beyond novelty. As Joseph Weizenbaum suggested, just because we can do something doesn't mean we ought to. I think we have to take a utilitarian stance and ask ourselves is doing something in a new way beneficial to design and society? And if so is it not to the detriment of others?

Admittedly I think architecture is a bit slow off the mark when it comes to these kinds of issues. This is understandable when you consider the timescale architecture operates on compared to other design fields. However Architects have always been eager to incorporate new design methodologies and the ethics of the technology used will undoubtedly become an issue.

In terms of the Bartlett show, I'm guessing there is a particular reason you have asked this question so I would ask the same of you. The show is always a dazzling array of phenomenal work and the mastery of a variety of mediums used is breathtaking. I do feel the density and complexity of the show does however sometimes make it overwhelming and distracting from the work. Of course as with any degree show the work on display can only ever be a vast reduction of the full scope of the project and as such the viewer is never going to get a comprehensive understanding of that project.

Thanks Madhav!

All images Madhav Kidao.

This one might be the last project i'll blog from the Design Interactions graduation show.

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Diego Trujillo had two interesting projects in the exhibition. The main one was The Generated Man, a software work that flips around the way Google usually creates a digital persona of web users based on their previous behaviour.

For some abstruse reason, i decided that i'd focus on his other project: the 300 Years Time Bomb. There's something both disquieting and strangely appealing about a bomb engineered to explode in exactly 300 years time. Even if none of us will be there to experience it.

The bomb's timer displays the years in seconds making us question what meaning such a large number holds and changing our dramatic relationship with countdown timers.

The explosive is found 100 years after countdown is initiated, by this time it has acquired historical importance and is put on display in a blast proof building. Several generations await for the moment when it finally goes off in this controlled and safe environment. Time and efficient electronics make the nature of the explosive change from an immediate threat to a spectacular display.

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Extracts of a Q&A with Diego Trujillo:

300 Years Time Bomb sounds like an action movie to me. Not just the title but also the drama, the fact that it is found 100 years after countdown has started. hence two questions:
One: Was cinema an influence at any point in this project?

The project is in fact very influenced by film, specially the design of the bomb as an object. I realized that the image of a bomb most of us have comes from action film. Real explosives are reserved to such a small portion of the population that most of us don't know what they might look like. Hence, common concepts of a bomb rely on fiction.

After I choose a time bomb as an illustration to talk about time, my research focused on the many ways bombs and countdowns are shown on films. This research is broad enough to write a book on. Some of my favourite explosion countdown scenes are from Alfred Hitchcock's Sabotage, the card countdown from Last Action Hero and the spherical bomb rolling down the stairs in The Shadow. However I decided for a more standard Die Hard style or 007 explosive, as they tend to be easier to read objects in which the detonation mechanism can be read on the design.

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And Two: The project comes thus with the skeleton of a scenario. Do you want us to fill in the gaps and think about who created this bomb, to what purpose and why wait 300 years? Or did you elaborate a longer scenario?

There was originally a longer scenario. I consciously cut the maker and the purpose of the bomb out of the project as I felt it was getting too political. The same happened when I thought who would make a building to display it. The risk with a detailed scenario was that the focus could shift to a broader debate on terrorism, warfare, politics and economics rather then time. I feel there are many interesting implications that the existence of such an object would have, but I felt it was more interesting for an audience to imagine them under their own ideological standing rather then run the risk of going off topic.

Why wait 300 years was a question I answered quite thoroughly, but again it added many layers which were hard to fit in a gallery based installation. Several ideological and political stands are represented in architectural structures that do last hundreds of years. To a radical mind, many of these buildings would represent a threat to future generations. Another scenario would be manufacturing a perfect crime, if the explosive goes off after the maker has died and has been forgotten then there isn't even a suspect. Once more I felt that these two scenarios could be projects on their own and that there were enough elements for people to make up their own stories.

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Sorry for the silly questions but is this a working prototype?

As much as humans enjoy seeing things blow up, this is not a working prototype. I don't have the knowledge or materials required to make a real explosive. I do like that it is convincing enough for this question to get asked though.


What will happen to the time bomb after the show, are you planning to keep it at your house? put it in a super safe place in case an accident happens? (i guess this question makes sense only if you answer 'yes' to the previous question.)

I will keep it in my house. Since it is not a working bomb I am not worried about accidents. However, the home I will store it in is in Mexico City meaning that getting it on an air plane could get a bit tricky, I still have to figure that out.

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I suspect that as an interactions designer you're quite comfortable with working with electronics. But with this time bomb, you had to think extra long term. Pieces of electronics are usually not meant to last more than a few years or decades in some cases. So did you change anything in the way you worked, the materials you used, knowing it would have to last 300 years?

This was the thing I spent the most time with. I had to make electronics that would at least be perceived to last 300 years. The first thing I thought about was the battery (represented by a glass cylinder filled with black liquid). I found an experimental battery being developed at MIT called Cambridge Crude which is supposed to be efficient at storing and delivering electricity.

Then I thought about the display. This is where most of the attention would be as this is where the concept of the project is represented. I had to redesign the standard 7-segment display in a way that it would be read as energy efficient for my scenario to be plausible. I started designing a typeface based on it being energy efficient rather than readable or elegant.

When I started looking for materials to manufacture this, I came across organic LEDs (OLEDs) which are very energy efficient and can be printed in any shape. They are however still very experimental technology. By chance, I met with people from Polyphotonix, a U.K. based OLED company that sponsored and manufactured the display. They made all the individual panels for it by printing the OLED compounds onto conductive glass, this was particularly hard to connect as glass cannot be soldered and I had to come up with a mechanical way of getting electricity to the glass.

The nice thing about using custom made OLEDs is that they are very different from any existing display. Not being a standard part, no one really knows how long they'll last so the scenario becomes plausible as a result of looking at a new technology that people aren't used to seeing.

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Your text says "The bomb's timer displays the years in seconds making us question what meaning such a large number holds and changing our dramatic relationship with countdown timers." could you explain in more details what you mean by that?

Being heavily influenced by action films, I realized that any countdown timer has a dramatic element to it. That was the first thing I explored when I thought of the bomb, how will the suspense hold for so long? That would be the first effect very long lasting electronics would have on this system. I made a short animated video early in the project to explore how that 5-4-3-2-1 moment would collapse when the countdown has a massive number on display.

Thanks Diego!
All images courtesy DIego Trujillo.

Question of the month: How often has that ugly toaster appeared on my homepage?

This is already the 8th episode of the art and science show i've been recording for ResonanceFM.

This week i'm talking to speculative designer Thomas Thwaites. We will discuss that toaster of course but we also look at some of his other projects. In particular, Unlikely Objects: Products of a Counterfactual History of Science, a work that explore what our scientific knowledge would have been like had the Darwinian revolution never happened.

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The radio show is broadcast today Monday 9nd July at 16.30 (GMT.) There will be a repeat on Thursday at 22.30. You can catch it online if you don't live in London. And of course we have podcasts (i just need to find a good place for them on the blog.)

I hope you like it!

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