Layered Space

Proposal - Part I

The following is an investigation into the language of space in manifold contexts. The initial proposal was set up in three stages: Proposal - identify parameters, investigate digital and physical approaches; Studio - Develop media and prototype of interactions; Synthesis - Set-up and test environment. This last phase is still on-going for reasons that will be explained in detail, but in short, the second studio phase dominated the channels of investigation, with the introduction to JavaScript coding as a part of the process. As a result, an exploration of visualization software was undertaken to communicate the effects of intent, to fortify the programming objective.

The focus of the investigation can best be described as a reflection of the process {in progress}. It is not a paper substantiated with theory, rather it is a studio engagement with theoretical play; thus the medium of the blog is ideal for the versatility of incorporating media, and is a mirror of informal and unmitigated thoughts as they occur. With that being said, the report is not formalized nor intended as a research publication, but is a playground into a fluid state of tangential ideas simultaneously evolving in my method of work. It can certainly be frustrating to follow, as is often the case with creative development, but it best captures a slivered spectrum of thoughts that I constantly wrestle with and yet am never able to fully explain in the final product. In turn, I have discovered that JavaScript programming is equally frustrating and open-ended, allowing for many interpretations - the casualty of being a class-less language is ambiguity. The process is often the preoccupation I focus on, intent on communicating a method / idea / lecture / studio project / commercial design, and renders effective in incompletion. “Just because there is empty space, doesn’t mean it needs to be filled”. For that space enables others to fill it with their own imaginative possibilities.

I start with the question: Where does the material world meet the digital world? What happens at this juncture, and how do we recognize the cues that will navigate us through the interstitial space through which we can construct a road map on the hybrid landscape?

A narration such as a fictional book tells the story of a world in the virtual sense. We see and discover, interact through the author’s point of view, it involves a deep immersion of projected participation from the reader to develop the characters and the interaction. McLuhan may have categorized the printed manuscript as a hot medium replete with descriptive elements of high intensity, yet it is low in dialogic interaction and social exchange. Thus the virtual world is shared between author and reader in a prescriptive agreement demarcated by the linear patterns of words compressed in pages or bits, on {open}, and off {closed} between covers. It is a contract, a single point of navigation with a tour-guide. The social media mechanics of today, however, is low in content value, if there is anything at all, but its power is in the high-volume interaction, with few visible way-finding signs to help us get to a destination, partly because there are multiple destinations. Sociability is the currency of social affluence; prophets of informationless words translate into exchange and transaction, sometimes with real world influence. One example of current social media trends is the ice bucket challenge {Bill Gates seen below, August 15 2014},

encouraging donations to the ALS foundation. The class of influencers, however, remain divided from the majority: those with affluence maintain a privileged social circle, inviting only those within similar ranks of wealth to demonstrate altruism in humourous ways. Viral entities have discretion.

An inversion of class influence on social media is the #Occupy movement, an online community finding affinity by real-world conditions of inequality, bonding in a digital/physical network of multiple nodes, antithetical to the nucleus of sponsored brand power. Here, the virtual emerges in real physical space and time, in the event of things. There is no physical monument to navigate the movement, or a leave-behind, yet it is always transforming, generating methods with existing material in its reach, railing against the class divide.

Herein lies one potential of the borderless territory of digital interaction in “first world” action. Architecture and space has the ability to support the digital story, to latently enable communication between the worlds of virtual and real communities, concretized in the fluid event. When the day of immersive narration reaches an extraordinary engagement of social participation in human-scale environments, the hybrid collision of media will create an immediacy of interconnected noise, at once powerful and unnerving as advertorial entertainment. We often assume that the experience of a computer web browser interface will translate to the same efficacy in mobile applications, yet there are many variables that change the experience - size being only one of many factors. I hypothesize the same to hold true in ‘human scale’ digital interactions, and exponentially altered in the monumental scale. To embody the power of digital interaction is of a different medium altogether, and before intimate idiosyncrasies of individual preference can be ascertained, universal modes of interaction require exploration. Perception of objects, aperception of environments prior to the cognitive understanding of a Cartesian sense of place, physiological responses to colour and light and sound, feedback loop behaviour of self-analysing response, and preferences of environmental factors that are conducive to- or deterrent of- interaction have been studied in isolated methods, but not in the real world. Advertising is perhaps the testing ground hotbed of interactive media where the purchase of a product is the ultimate realization / reward of a generative action, which is pre-determined. The experience of the purchase process is as much of the reward as it is a brand extension, lifestyle, psychological attachment to the thing; the experience is the on-going virtuality {link to 2007 proposal of a hybrid virtual / physical vehicle ‘lab’, the experience of building and customizing a product is informative and fun. In 2012, Audi and Tesla opened just such a concept} of the product. Social media comes into play to reinforce the virtual entity beyond the possession and into the personality of the individual, for whom the product was ‘tailored’, and by extension, social media connects the individual to the community of brand advocates {or what we called “ambassadors”}. The only measure of success to these hybrid spaces is profitability, and as of yet has not been tested in public spaces at large. The power structures of corporate margins versus social political struggles are not the focus of this inquiry into programming, but the question of what programming serves and to whom is always present in the final product. And if it can be replicated, the product will become a commodity at some point, but creativity finds momentum in the edging of freedom from commoditization before the marketplace understands how to decipher the patterns.


Perhaps the road to discovery in programming may not be found in the canonical tradition - identifying categories of virtual world programs from first world environments - nor in the “commencement” and “commandment” {Derrida, Archive Fever, 1996} of executable directives in automated service providers made real from code {virtual language} to action {real world consequence}. For if programming is derived from the notion “to write in public”, then the needs and welfare of the public are to be considered as primary directives, above profitability. The writers of programs are the contemporary Archeons holding, protecting, and distributing the archives of knowledge. The way in which the actions of distribution are conducted therefore influence the culture of the community {could it be that the velocity of information creates confluences of pathways?}. So let this be an exploration fortifying the alloyed metaphysics of digital presence in an analogue, physical space. Every environment has a latent potentiality and responsiveness to actions generated by a person / people within and beyond the tangible boundary. If latency could be construed as a soul of a space, engendering a qualitative value to the space, then in so doing it transforms it into a place, a place of attachment. Programming is a parallel architecture, a kind in which enables or hinders a culture to thrive or survive with equal or even greater value than the traditional building blocks of architecture in the material world, for the public. If materialization is a form of transparency, then the real-time decision-making process constructing the feedback loop of policy-making generates an awareness of strategic and subjective positioning. What could be explored from this?

1. Layered Space. A digital overlay of information on the physical landscape acquires a hybrid value of presence.

A visualization of an interactive presence of bodies within a room can alter the space, demonstrating the dematerialized power structures of social constructs, hierarchical {pyramid} and communal {concentric} formations.

2. The intra-actions {Barad, Meeting the Universe halfway, 2008} of objects and subjects within an environment seen and invisible create a time-sensitive unique event, modified for the novel experience

An awareness of the present duration, having presence, records an event as a particle of uniqueness that cannot be copied.

3. Laws of averages provide insights in social structures and behavioural self-modification

4. The public has agency within the limitations of the program

See point 3.

5. The public has the right to critique the program

Invokes the right to open the system, even in the result of termination.

Possible scenario-building prototype:

  • Identify and convert a typology of public space in order to change its expected characteristics. The service and function of a passageway,a tunnel, a hallway or pedestrian walk / bridge are routes of access, for example, codified into transitional thresholds. The medium of transition becomes the destination.

- Engage participants in non-invasive methods of activity through means of visual or auditory feedback based on voluntary or involuntary changes in the atmosphere. Values ranging from accretive steps,velocity, directional movement, mobile electronics access, vocalization, or a simple engagement or avoidance of a directive {depressing a button, stepping in a square, activating Bluetooth, disabling Facebook…}.

- Activate a response of accretive value. Demonstrate the unique positioning of the participant in relation to the accumulative positionof many. The design of the physical space can influence the sociofugal {linear avoidance} or sociopetal {encouragement of communal} interaction {E.T. Hall, The Hidden Dimension, 1966}. Possible alternates could be: the short-circuiting effect of physical interactive spaces with atomizing technology, or privatization of space in a social-friendly communication-laden platform. {Part of the process is to discover failings through the iterative method of design. Further investigation will be conducted through a designed studio course for 4th year Interior Design Students commencing in the Fall of 2014.}

  • Offer the alternative option to turn off the digital program in order to reclaim the physical space as was predetermined.

    To be determined:

  • Incentivization. What is the goal, and how is it perceived as worthy of interaction? How does it benefit the user? - - - How could insights offer a value {negative, positive} to future scenarios?

  • If destination = transitional threshold, then threshold foretells future behaviour. ?
  • If threshold remains as threshold, then destination =destination {unchanged value}.
  • If threshold !{not equal to} = destination, then open input to user. Run infinity if shut-down bypassed.

To be considered:

  • Identity of subject
  • Identifying actions embedded in program
  • Option to change identity once determined / declared

JavaScript - a dip into the ocean

Learning a new language is as enlightening as it is humbling. The best analogy to describe JavaScript is a cryptic Haiku - no characters wasted, falls into a registered parameter, yet its strictures open possibilities with powerful imagery that is not necessarily visual. The act of Hacking has also taken on a broader appeal - more than a DIY extension, it becomes a mind-set of the creative commons, wherein the application of the code graft is far more exciting in the process than the final outcome. Without authorship, it builds on the shoulders of giants and stacks onto new plateaus that claim realms “without classes”. Although the no class clause is used in the syntax of the JS language referring to interchangeable parameters, its simple premise can be applied in universal terms. Take for example the following excerpt from Stoyan Stefanov’s Javascript Patterns {2010}:

“…there are no classes in JavaScript. This is a novel concept to seasoned programmers in other languages and it takes more than a few repetitions and more than a little effort to “unlearn” classes and accept that JavaScript deals only with objects….One of the general rules in the Gang of Four book says, “Prefer object composition to class inheritance.” This means that if you can create objects out of available pieces you have lying around, this is a much better approach than creating long parent-child inheritance chains and classifications. In JavaScript it’s easy to follow this advice—simply because there are no classes and object composition is what you do anyway.” {p.4}

This concept is at the heart of the JS innovative DNA. It also unbinds itself from other forms of monopolized languages, constantly upending, informing, and creating intrinsic values outside of any sticky nucleic bonding organism or objective, yet becoming its own “body without organs”. If such values are decoupled of gender and biased inheritance, it becomes the underlying performative directive, encoding action using the most efficient means possible, comprised with attainable materials and building blocks within reach, much like the model of sustainable architecture. A class-less structure is in constant formation with new and newer. Yet this does not wipe out history, but it debases inherited privilege. Of course, JS is not created on its own - its structure is built by architects - so there are shortcomings to the notion of an unbiased non-hierarchical order, but that is another argument outside of the present musings.

The introduction to JavaScript entailed a brief look into parallel worlds, describing particular functions. Jquery, CSS, HTML, Canvas and JavaScript had multiple dialogues, and the interchangeability of functions linking to isolated parts of the language procured mind maps of engineered pass-through logic, as in a flow chart of activity.

JS is quite conversive, and, as discovered, also has generative qualities of artificiality, such as loop errors. This often occurs when objects are not named or identified, or when directives are not assigned to an object. At this entry level of programming, logic breaks down and cannot resolve itself without a path to its destination. Thus, at this beginning stage, coding is very rudimentary and limited.


To address the first question of where the material world meets the virtual world, a problem is created to invoke the intersecting event where a program developed in virtual space could be projected into a material environment to change the psychological parameters of perception. Therefore, coordinates of a physical place has been determined to apply an intervention of digital presence. In response to an issue of personal security, community livelihood and functionality, we start with a non-descript alley way in a downtown location of Toronto: Victoria Lane.

Context: What is this space, and why?

Poor-lit alley, hallway, corridor, underground passage. Public spaces deemed unsafe during off-hours.

This lane has become designated for service use, and is not intended for public thoroughfare. This effect is evident by the lack of lights, wayfinding, indeterminate paths of pedestrian access and vehicle use, visibility and safety features, inclusive of the ad-hock materials used for the maintenance of structures. This is a prevalent tragedy of the commons throughout the urban core, as many corridors adjacent to multiple stakeholders fall into misuse and altogether avoidance. There is evident use of the lane, mainly by students of the University Victoria Lane occupies, and is a connecting artery between 3 different campus facilities as well as a bike locker room. An emergency panic alarm box is located nearby {as seen in the above image}.

There have been re-visionary ideas to counter just such a problem - in Nuit Blanche 2010, artists transformed the lane into a Nuit market for one night, simulating the night markets in other parts of the world with crowds and the buzz of transaction for goods and confections.

There are many public corridors, outdoor alleys and unplanned zones with little movement and activity due to short-sighted urban planning and development with adjacent structures. These lead to unsafe zones of avoidance, contributing to criminal activity, invoked police surveillance, psychological unrest and congestion. A future study worth investigating is to determine what percentages of vehicle : pedestrian : bicycle access is demarcated for such zone use in a city, and further, to see what percentage of alley passages falling to the sole function as service corridors are in existence. One successful case study draws attention to Jan Gehl, an urban planner in Denmark, credited for changing the city of Copenhagen from a car-invasion city in the 1950s into a dominant bike / pedestrian lane city 40 years later {Gehl was invited to speak at a symposium at the Design Exchange in 2009 to share the transformational model of pedestrian access he contributed in New York’s Times Square, proposing similar adaptations to Toronto’s Harbourfront along Queens Quay}.

With such an intervention in mind, what opportunities present itself with the growing adaptation of secondary digital environments overlayed onto a city, with its inhabitants converging and conversing in the forms of GPS, NFC, BlueTooth, QR codes, mobile and personal communications devices, in multiple channels of local surveillance and technology?


People feel safe in well-lit places with visible means of access, and others around them; they prefer not to feel alone.


Enable a public passage way with LED light sensors above and below pedestrians, becoming activated when motion is detected. The number of people entering the space determine the brightness, colour and audio cues set off by presence.
Advanced option: activate or de-activate detection with mobile opt-out non-participation. Opt-in enables features to customize audio, 8-bit inspired imagery, word-bytes {one-word messaging tags}.People feel safe in well-lit places with others around them,and they do not feel alone.

Next steps:

Determine parts of the program. What parts need to be defined?

1. Identify movement of bodies through a mapped space on a grid in X,Y,Z coordinates.

Movement is tracked and activates environment response – colour, light intensity, audio ring. Two points of entry begin tracking. Tracking stops when object exits.

  1. Volume of objects change parameters and chance interaction of layered elements {A/V}

Varying objects {bodies} facilitate environment effects: single object creates clear singular path of light, with 0 colour {white}, path is direct. Two objects intersecting or moving in tandem create variants of audio ring and two colours, sometimes blending in unexpected junctures along the path; pathways of light interact, e.g. sine waves. More than three create harmonic chord of sound, with emerging fractal patterns,diverting paths into patterns.

  1. Fade Loop

Interaction of A/V elements played-out loopin delayed tempo upon exiting passage. Delay is half the duration of the event,fading and repeating 4 times or until another event. May get cut off or be a continuous changing event, pending traffic.

  1. Static object

Audio and visual light fades after 20 seconds of inactivity. New character {audio ring and visual} starts after objectresumes activity / movement.

Objects have the option to not be tracked.

Next: Studio - Part II

Using Format