Archive for Movement

Design and desire

30 January 2009

Last Sunday the New York Times ran a fascinating cover story called “What do women want?” on a group of female researchers who are trying to understand what ignites female lust. It’s a really diverse treatment of the subject, with theories ranging from intimacy to narcissism, all explored through robust clinical studies.

My particular interest in the piece relates to the arousal-sensing dress I’m working on as part of my biodynamic clothing project. The premise of the project is for the garment to sense when the (female) wearer is aroused and to move in response. My original framework was based on an internal/external model, where the goal was to take an internal emotional state and project it outwards onto the “skin” of the body, much like a peacock or any of a series of other animals. Using that construct, it seems most plausible to use light or some other display technology to communicate the output. But all along I’ve really had my mind set on using motion for the output, a decision that has created numerous design opportunities, as well as many obstacles.

Reading the article, a passage struck me that I believe illustrates another possible framework for viewing the movement aspect of the garment. In this section, the author is explaining a theory relating to the disconnect between female test subject’s subjective self-evaluation of their arousal and the physical biodata, and a contrasting tendency in men.

The penis is external, its reactions more readily perceived and pressing upon consciousness. Women might more likely have grown up, for reasons of both bodily architecture and culture – and here was culture again, undercutting clarity – with a dimmer awareness of the erotic messages of their genitals.

Motion, then, is indicative of a totally different construct – that of a leveling between men and women. Female arousal, as the article makes plain, is mysterious and often impossible to detect. Arousal in men is, by contrast, apparent, and its mode of expression is through motion. Therefore it is natural to imagine that a prosthesis (for clothing is prosthesis, at its root) depicting female arousal would also exhibit motion.

This passage also suggests to me a powerful justification for the arousal-sensing garment: to conceptually bridge the gap between mind and body for wearer and/or audience. The dress is not intended as a ready-to-wear piece – it’s an exploration into the power of technology to bring responsiveness and emotion to previously static products in our lives. But the idea of using technology to bridge this mind-body gap is very intriguing. One macro interest area for me in my work is the notion of how objects can transform our interactions with others. But perhaps this idea of biodynamic clothing could also hold potential for self-discovery, so that in the process of interacting with an object, you strengthen connections within yourself.

PS: As to why the graphic above, it’s the first pull quote from the article and I just really loved the type treatment!

Transformative architecture

19 January 2009

The New York Times last week had a marvelous piece on an incredible apartment designed and inhabited by Hong Kong architect Gary Chang. Chang remodeled the apartment he grew up in to contain 24 different  layouts made possible by sliding and folding configurations. I love this example of architecture applying itself to the needs of living in today’s world. We know that density is going to be an increasingly important strategy for more sustainable urban environments, but density also creates problems. For cultures that have spent the past two or three generations migrating out of cities into sprawled suburbs, the move towards denser cities and communities is going to be difficult. We are going to have to learn to live with less space and more people around us.

When space is at a premium like this, it becomes less negative volume than positive element. Like clay, it is a medium to be sculpted and shaped. Chang’s apartment is a great example of how designers and architects can shift their thinking when they really consider the space, rather than the container. This may be a radical example, but it is easily distilled into practical, novel solutions for accommodating many functions in a small space. It is transformative, both within itself, literally, but also as a forerunner of the kind of solutions we will soon be seeing in our cities.

My favorite view is this one, with the hammock. If you could have 24 rooms in your apartment, certainly at least one would have a hammock, wouldn’t it? But all the views are wonderful, and worth a look.

Theo Jansen mechanism

3 October 2008

More on Theo Jansen… This lovely little animation shows the movement of the legs. I particularly like how the author traces the paths of each pivot point as it moves. It’s especially interesting to me that such a graceful and complex movement originates from a purely rotational orbit in the center.

Beyond the beauty of the motion, there is also the intriguing mechanism he uses to effectively store the energy of the wind. I don’t understand all the details of the setup, but essentially he uses nested electrical tubing as a pump that feeds air into a series of bottles. The bottles store the air pressure so it can be converted into kinetic energy. It’s basically a non-electrical form of battery.

I also love the casual invite he proffers on his website to his Ypenburg Laboratory. He offers directions with the coda: “At the end of the hill, on the top, you will see a green cottage. That is where you can find me.” It’s all very zenmaster-on-the-mountain and makes me want to get in my transatlantic rowboat and see what wisdom he might offer.