Project For CSIS Café
Ye Meng  Nature And The Garden.............................2
firstname.lastname@example.org Our Design Process....................................3
Robin Parmar  User Survey................................................5
email@example.com Usage Patterns...........................................8
Shaun Wallace  Initial Prototypes......................................12
firstname.lastname@example.org Exploring Ryoanji Garden.........................20
Choosing The Mapping............................22
Tong Xu  Prototype Feedback.................................23
Physical Context Revisited.......................26
Reflecting (On) Nature.............................27
About The Authors...................................29
Interactive Media in Public Spaces
greater levels of perceived safety, build-
Our Goals ings could turn to fulfilling other func-
tions. New materials and construction
Sky Grid is an ambient media installation technologies have also expanded archi-
that was derived through an iterative tectural possibilities. For example, the
design process. Our mandate was to ability to use large panes of glass has giv-
design an interactive media project for en us an expansive window on the world
the University of Limerick CSIS Building†, adjacent to our homes and offices [Sti-
specifically the ground floor public area‡. gler 1957]. Contemporary architecture is
We knew that any successful result now free to engage with nature in a vari-
would have to integrate with existing ety of ways, ranging from inviting natural
activities, and so we set out first to gath- elements inside structures, to mimicking
er detailed information on design con- natural forms through innovative design
straints and the physical context. and construction processes, to opening
up structures themselves into more per- representing growth, change, process,
Through our work we wanted to encour- meable configurations [Hwang et al continuity, purity, freedom, mystery,
age deep perceptions of nature and its 2006]. transcendence and even fantasy. Urban
relationship to the built environment. residents seek nature as a restorative, to
Furthermore, the process itself was in- Ecology has become a primary concern bring back quot;balancequot;, to quot;refreshquot; them-
tended to teach our team about the of our urban society. The ecosystem quot;is selves after the stresses of city life, or to
design process; the project had a strong defined as a discrete unit in nature that reduce anxiety. quot;Urban places subject
pedagogical component. However, tech- consists of living and non-living parts, to- you to many stimuli, often of great in-
nology and implementation concerns gether with its total environment, inter- tensity, that change quickly and continu-
were not part of the scope. acting to form a stable systemquot; [Yeang ously, while in the country most change
2006, p. 30]. The ecodesign movement is is gradual and periodicquot; [Gallagher 1993,
concerned with quot;how to design our built p. 209-210].
environment, which includes all the arte-
facts that are part of our everyday lives, The garden has long been used to imbue
Nature And The Garden so that it will be environmentally benign the urban with some of the restorative
and neither be destructive nor cause en- powers of the rural. The word quot;gardenquot; is
Buildings were initially designed to pro- vironmental problems to the natural derived from the Latin hortus gardinus
tect ourselves from the world outside, world on whose continued well-being meaning a cultivated, enclosed area. In
sheltering us from the rain, the wind, our own survival as one of nature's spe- fact, quot;the notion of limitation and closure
wild animals and other detrimental cies dependsquot; [ibid, p. 16]. lies at the very heart of the concept of
factors. With larger communities and garden, in turn indissolubly linked to the
How do we perceive the natural world in idea of paradise, a word that comes from
† This building houses the Department of Computer Sci- our society? This is a complex question the Persian paridaeza meaning enclosed
we can only touch on here. The concept orchardquot; [Portoghesi 2000, p. 408].
ence and Information Systems, hence CSIS.
of quot;naturequot; is a social construct variously
‡ We use quot;publicquot; here to mean a shared social space, Sky Grid: Project For CSIS Café / 2
putting aside property ownership issues.
We do not have to look far to see evid- The basic process model is as follows: Rapid prototyping is the third methodo-
ence of this nature/paradise link. The logy we borrowed from. This system was
myth of Arcadia, derived from Jacopo 1. Plan the human-centred approach developed from ideas in Fred Brooks'
Sannazaro's poem of the same name, 2. Specify the context of use classic book on software development,
and the Garden Of Eden from the Christi- 3. Specify the user and organisational The Mythical Man-Month . It is
an Bible are but two examples. requirements also called quot;throwaway prototypingquot; to
4. Produce design solutions emphasise the constant evolution of
These concepts of nature and the garden 5. Evaluate designs against require- ideas. It is a key part of the Extreme Pro-
will inform the development of our inter- ments gramming movement [Beck 2000]. Two
active media project. of the authors have direct experience
At this point we have finished the pro- with this from the business and software
cess if we meet the requirements. If they worlds.
are not yet met, we iterate the process
Our Design Process from step 2 [UsabilityNet 2009]. Rapid prototyping incorporates an iterat-
ive process of four steps:
Our study uses a process that contains We decided to use paper prototypes as 1. identify requirements
attributes from three different methodo- an integral part of our design process for 2. develop prototype
logies: human-centred design, paper several reasons. They are quick to pro- 3. review with end-users
prototyping and rapid prototyping. Our duce, facilitating a rapid development of 4. revise and go to step 2
use of each of these was moderated by ideas in a short period of time. They al-
the fact that our goal was to produce an low communication between people of It should be stressed that all three meth-
ambient†, aesthetic installation as op- disparate language abilities. They pre- odologies are meant for systems in
posed to a functional, goal-oriented vent the process from stalling due to which efficiency, effectiveness and user
product. We will now explain each pro- over-committment to an idea that took satisfaction are primary goals. For in-
cess in turn. significant work to develop. They provide stance, ISO 13407 is used first and fore-
self-documentation and ease of aggrega- most in software development as a
ISO standard 13407 characterises hu- tion. And, finally, they are a natural fit as means of quality assurance. It may also
man-centred design as having four at- a component of rapid prototyping, and be applied to fields where similar goals
tributes: quot;the active involvement of users as a complement to human-centred can be clearly articulated.
and a clear understanding of user and design [Rettig 1994].
task requirements; an appropriate alloca- But, clearly, this is not the case for our
tion of function between users and tech- project. Our goal is not greater efficiency,
nology; the iteration of design solutions; the accomplishment of a certain task or
multi-disciplinary designquot; [ISO 13407 the formulation of the solution to some
1999 in UPA Resources 2009]. problem. This moderated our use of
these methodologies. For example, we
did not apply the detailed procedure
from the ISO standard.
Sky Grid: Project For CSIS Café / 3
† More on quot;ambient mediaquot; later in the paper.
However, believing that similar principles centre of campus. The south side does
are appropriate for any design task, we not face any building; it is entirely green
took the top-level model as a general space, bisected by a walking path.
guiding principle. There were three steps to this process:
1. contextualising the CIS Building on A water fountain and pool are just visible
Our synthesis of these approaches gave campus from the café. At greater distance is the
us the following process: 2. mapping the ground floor public Shannon River. While this is not visible
a. set initial goals space in a plan view from the CSIS Building, it would be cor-
b. determine physical context 3. determining physical constraints rect to say the influence of the riverside
c. survey users of the space setting is apparent throughout campus,
d. determine usage patterns Though the CSIS building is located in the emphasised by the artificial water works.
e. determine physical and other con- main part of campus (see map below), it
straints from b, c, d is a good distance from other structures. From this description it can be appreci-
f. develop new prototype (or evolve a Roadways lie on two sides of the build- ated that the setting partakes as much of
previous prototype) ing, although these are buffered by the garden as it does of an urban milieu,
g. review prototype for fit with con- green space. On the east side is more remembering that the garden is a manu-
straints and goals (iterate back to f.) grass and a pathway leading into the factured and constrained setting.
h. choose and enhance solution
i. evaluate end result and the process
It would have been optimal to involve
users at all stages of prototyping. Regret-
tably this did not happen. Our main con-
straint in this area was the lack of re-
sources to organise and coordinate such
sessions. Instead, the project team de-
veloped the initial prototypes and took
them to users only after they were
deemed to be sufficiently robust.
The rest of the paper will follow the ten
steps above, with one exception. To sim-
plify the presentation, the iterative de-
velopment between steps f and g has
Sky Grid: Project For CSIS Café / 4
CSIS Building location at University of Limerick (north is up) [University of Limerick 2009]
We mapped the ground floor by the top-right is an isolated area that leads to
simple expedient of taking measure- studios and a lab room. The external
ments and working up a plan view (to door here is for emergencies only. Fol-
scale) in Microsoft Visio. Classrooms and lowing along the south side of the foyer
other private areas were not drawn, as we have a service desk, generally staffed There were three steps to the process of
we were only interested in the café, foy- by security personnel. Then there are surveying users of this space: developing
er and adjacent open areas. two lengths of benches, in between the survey, carrying out the survey and
which is the entrance to the Aroma Café. analysing the results.
The resulting map can be seen below. At
the bottom of the drawing (north) the The café has a service area to the left The single-page survey was designed to
worktops along the foyer wall have been and vending machines to the right. The be simple and direct. We wanted to gath-
indicated. Following this to the right, rest is filled with a combination of tables er responses without imposing on users'
there is a washroom entrance, elevator and chairs. There are four sets of fire time unduly, and without risking too
door and stairs. In the bottom-right the doors off this room. One set is used as an many refusals. This follows the principle
first of the two main exits is indicated. exit to the covered patio. of rapid iteration that we have adopted.
Following around to the right-hand side The second quot;officialquot; exit from the build- The surveys were conducted person-to-
of the diagram (west) we have a curved ing is located to the left of the diagram, person and at different times of the day,
wall which provides an entrance to the off the foyer. throughout the working week. Notably,
main lecture / performance hall. In the all surveys were conducted in the space
itself. We had considered sending out
surveys electronically, so as to get more
responses, but discarded this idea as not
being in line with our goals and method-
ology. People need to be in the space to
consider the space; it is best for them to
answer questions while directly engaged
with their environment.
The results of the last two questions (see
next page) give us some fundamental in-
formation about our potential users.
Most of the respondents were students,
with about a quarter being staff or fac-
ulty. Visitors are few; generally they are
on location to meet members of the two
Sky Grid: Project For CSIS Café / 5
plan view of the CSIS ground floor, north at bottom
Q5 user survey results
Q6 user survey results
Sky Grid: Project For CSIS Café / 6
Users are almost evenly divided between these individuals to answer a survey. This ionquot; without interfering with their
the genders, a result that might surprise data is from those who had a significant primary task [1963, p. 43].
some aware of the gender divide in com- stay on the ground floor.
puter science†. The fact that the building We can be confident in categorising
is also used by students of Psychology From question one we see that the ma- quot;workingquot; and quot;meetingquot; as primary
and Interactive Media helps to explain jority of users are in the building for four activities and quot;chillingquot;, quot;smokingquot;,
this. It might also be true that women or five days a week. This corresponds quot;drinking coffeequot; and quot;waitingquot; as those
are more likely to complete the survey, with the fact that few are visitors. In fact, needing only peripheral involvement. We
especially as the members of our team we have an exact match between the 6% can further estimate that half of those
performing this task were women. of respondents who were visitors and who are quot;eatingquot;, quot;surfingquot; and quot;chat-
the 6% who are in the location only a day tingquot; are doing so intently, and the other
The results of question two reveal that or two a week. half are not. Following this analysis,
the café is the most used part of the about two-thirds of our potential users
ground floor area, with the rest of the Question three gives us some useful in- are engaged in activities that require
time equally split between the outside formation about the types of activities their focused attention.
patio and the foyer. This result is initially people engage in here. We will categor-
unexpected, given the number of people ise these according to Goffman's terms. What we learn from this survey is that
who move through the foyer in transit In his analysis of the exchange of inform- our design must appeal to an audience
from one classroom to another, or on ation between people in social situ- who are on site frequently, for long stays,
their way in and out of the building. But ations, he defined a primary involve- and with directed purpose.
this disparity can be explained by the ment as one that quot;absorb[s] the major
fact that it would have been unlikely for part of an individual's attention or in- To this end we will aim for an ambient
terestquot;. In contrast, a peripheral involve- media installation, this being defined
† Only one in five CS graduates in the USA is a woman
ment provides quot;an activity that an indi- after the work of the MIT Media Lab as
[Klawe et al 2009]. A similar disparity exists in Europe,
vidual can carry on in an abstracted fash- being one which appeals to peripheral
and is a problem of growing magnitude.
involvement [Ishii et al 1998].
Sky Grid: Project For CSIS Café / 7
Q2 user survey results Q1 user survey results Q3 user survey results
In order to gain further understanding of
our potential users, we mapped their po-
sitions over time. From this we were able
to gain knowledge of their usage pat-
terns and develop a map that zoned the
ground floor of CSIS by use activity.
To do so, we conducted an observation
exercise. Every two minutes a member
of our team noted the positions of all
people within the space. This was done
by placing a dot on a plan view. These
observations were continued for an hour.
The result was 30 sheets of paper that
could be overlaid to produce an indica-
tion of dwell time.
dwell time observation results 1
This entire activity was done twice, at
different times of the day. The results are
shown in the illustrations to the right.
The darker the blue dot, the longer
someone stayed in that position.
Two observers were engaged for each
usage survey, one each for the café and
foyer. This was necessary due to line of
sight barriers and also because of the
sheer number of observations that we
needed to make. Observer positions are
marked with eye and camera icons, in
the top middle and bottom left of the il-
lustrations, respectively .
Photographs were taken in the same
manner, so that an isometric impression
of the space could be considered along- Sky Grid: Project For CSIS Café / 8
dwell time observation results 2
side the plan view. A still from this video
is shown on the next page. The field of
view covers about 95% of the high traffic
For the time lapse animation we com-
pressed each interval to 2 seconds. In
this way the full hour became a single
minute of viewing time.
This method has certain advantages over
shooting motion video. First, the most
important data is recorded in situ, as op-
posed to having to glean it from video
playback after the fact. This reduces er-
ror through problems of reduced band-
width. For example, it can be difficult to
know if a figure in the near distance is
one or two people when viewed from a
video shot from a fixed angle. When the 5. Foyer Work Zone: chatting and pho- fortable, or at least appear to be uncom-
observer is present in the place, they can tocopying (2-16 minutes) fortable following a visual inspection.
change their observation position slightly 6. Transit Zones: flow in and out of Also, they force someone sitting on them
to quickly clear up such ambiguities. classrooms, in and out of building, to face away from the hub of activity in
to patio, etc. (brief) the café. It is difficult to set up sight lines
The results from these animations were for conversation while sitting on a bench.
used to divide the area into activity We can make some further qualitative Thus they are mostly used for solitary
zones. Here is a brief description of the observations. activities, specifically laptop use.
activities in each zone and typical dwell
times. Refer to the map above. Traffic varies greatly over the course of a Certain spots on the bench are more
day and throughout the week. The popular than others. When asked, occu-
1. Patio Social Zone: smoking, eating, busiest periods are just prior to the hour, pants note that these are more conveni-
talking (6-16 minutes) since this is when class changes occur. ently located and quieter than other loc-
2. Café Commerce Zone: queuing, or- ations.
dering and buying food (<6 The work surfaces are underutilised. If
minutes) not for the photocopier, that part of the To conclude our study, we conducted a
3. Café Work Zone: working, eating, foyer would almost never see activity. self-evaluation of the working methods.
chatting (up to, or more than an Here follow potential criticisms and our
hour) The benches are never used to capacity. responses.
4. Foyer Social Zone: chatting (brief) This could be because they are uncom- Sky Grid: Project For CSIS Café / 9
Traffic at other times of the day, week or This interval was chosen based on the change the results gathered, especially if
season might not be the same as that observers ability to scan the area accur- people know they are being watched.
observed here. The data is too sparse to ately within a given period of time. In order to minimise interference with
draw any conclusions. Closer intervals would mean accuracy the subjects, the camera was triggered
Our own familiarity with the space for was sacrificed. automatically, using an intervalometer.
the past seven months leads us to be- The observer in the café wore head-
lieve that this data is typical of the site There could be errors in data interpreta- phones and appeared to be working on a
usage. However, we do not claim it to be tion. For example, a dot at the same laptop. While the observer problem can-
authoritative and welcome a more ex- place in subsequent pages might be two not be eliminated, we believe our efforts
haustive study. people who just happened to occupy the minimised it.
No first-person video is provided to sup- This is indeed the case. We would have
port a user-centred study. to track individual movements to avoid
Again, we ourselves have day-to-day fa- this problem. However, that would tax
miliarity with the space. We were initially the ability of an observer to gather
planning on shooting video, but determ- enough information to make the study We can now synthesise the information
ined that we could learn little from that worthwhile. Video surveillance would be we have gathered into a list of con-
activity, given the other data we had an alternative approach, but we decided straints that will shape our design pro-
already gathered. this would also reduce data accuracy (as cess. Here we also incorporate informa-
already discussed). tion from question four of our survey, as
The two minute interval means that the well as ad hoc interviews conducted
data points are too far apart. The presence of the observers might throughout our discovery period.
Constraint 1: Duration
A piece must cater to users who are on-
site four or five days a week and for ex-
tended dwell times.
Constraint 2: Peripheral Involvement
Since most users are involved in their
own primary activities, a media installa-
tion, to be successful, should not de-
mand more than peripheral involvement.
Constraint 3: Available Space
The ground floor of the CSIS Building is a
busy place. There is little in the way of
available free space for activities or in-
stallations. Sky Grid: Project For CSIS Café / 10
still from time lapse photo animation
Constraint 4: Transit Zones day, but does not seem to be on a regu- Constraint 9: Furniture
Zones in front of classroom doors, elev- lar timer; rather it depends on when In the café chairs and tables dictate
ator, stairs, washrooms and entrances staff change the settings. where people will sit. There are usually
are heavily trafficked. The third usable four chairs to a table, though people
exit is from the cafeteria, though this is Constraint 7: Atmosphere And Mood move these around to suit their activities
officially a fire exit. It is also a busy thor- The consensus of those surveyed is that and the size of their group. There is one
oughfare; people constantly move out- the café is a quot;chilled placequot; to relax and comfortable settee that seats two. In the
side to smoke. conduct their activities. An installation foyer the benches are sometimes used,
should respect this. but people generally prefer to stand if
Constraint 5: Regulations chatting.
Health and safety rules restrict some Constraint 8: Nature
doors from being opened, some paths There are no plants, running water or Constraint 10: Faculty And Students
from being blocked, etc. other natural elements present in the A specific demographic inhabits and uses
space. Even the patio is surrounded by the CSIS Building. Should we cater to
Constraint 6: Light well-controlled elements: sculpted their interests and personalities? Or
The natural light changes often depend- hedges, grass monoculture, pathways should we challenge their conceptions?
ing on cloud cover. However, it is gener- constrained by low-lying hedgerows. This
ally diffuse and pleasant. The artificial is a constraint we are particularly inter- Constraint 11: Café And Security Staff
light changes according to the time of ested in exploring. We cannot hinder or obstruct normal job
tasks, nor can an installation cause cus-
tomers to be lost. This rules out highly
Constraint 12: Sound Level
Teaching is ongoing in adjacent
classrooms. Students use the café to
meet and study. Sound levels should be
Constraint 13: Soundproofing
The foyer is lined with Helmholtz reson-
ator absorption tiles. These dampen re-
verberation, allowing for easy conversa-
tions at a reasonable volume level. This
could be an opportunity for a sound
work, since it could output lower amp-
litudes than normally possible in such a
hall, while still maintaining clarity.
Sky Grid: Project For CSIS Café / 11
at work in the café
However, ambient systems pose chal-
Initial Prototypes lenges to user interaction as traditionally
defined. This is evident by examining
Norman's list of design questions.
Now that we had gained a more com-
plete knowledge of the design domain, quot;How easily can one:
we began to iteratively devise paper pro- 1. Determine the function of the
totypes of possible interactive installa- device?
tions. As we did so, certain themes be- 2. Tell what actions are possible?
came apparent. 3. Determine mapping from intention
to physical movement?
Theme One: Functional vs. Fun! 4. Perform the action?
Functional solutions are those that are 5. Tell if system is in desired state?
needs-based, task-oriented, and demand 6. Determine mapping from system
primary involvement from the user. Fun state to interpretation?
solutions involve gaming or play, familiar 7. Tell what state the system is in?quot;
objects and perhaps a unique form of in- [ibid, p. 53]
teraction. But, as a rule, these also re-
quire primary involvement. Ambient systems involve subtle interac-
tion that make it more difficult, or even
Theme Two: Overt vs. Ambient impossible, to answer these questions.
Overt interactive systems might include a The root reason for this is that they
touch-screen, keyboard, floor panel, provide an experience, setting or ambi-
levers, buttons, dials, or other apparent ence rather than a task or a problem to
input device, along with an obvious out- be solved. Thus traditional industrial
put device such as a computer screen, design processes are of limited applicab-
LED or large panel display. Designing ility.
such systems involves well-established
practice, for example those principles The following seven pages contain a se-
discussed by Donald Norman in The lection of our prototypes, along with
Design of Everyday Things . brief critiques. The prototypes are
presented roughly grouping by theme, as
We brainstormed several overt designs opposed to the chronological order in
but eventually realised that an ambient which they were developed. The order
form of interaction might better fit our would be difficult to ascertain in any
design constraints by fulfilling peripheral case, as the designs were created within
instead of primary interaction functions. a recursive and interactive process. The
prototyping stage overlapped constraint
determination and other activities. Sky Grid: Project For CSIS Café / 12
Prototype: Discovery Function Prototype: Exploring University of Limerick
Description: Users select artwork they would like to view from the university collec- Description: Information on the university is displayed on a large screen, which is con-
tion. As they move about the space, the art follows them on screen panels. trolled using a foot-activated four-way controller.
Critique: The educational function is purely functional. This design does not create a Critique: Again, this is a purely functional design. The coupling between the input con-
new social interaction or speak to the location it is installed in, except in the non-spe- trol and the displayed result seems awkward.
cific sense of including images from the local area (campus).
Sky Grid: Project For CSIS Café / 13
Prototype: Mushroom Chairs Prototype: Pod Chair
Description: To improve the seating problem in the foyer, quot;mushroomquot; chairs of com- Description: This pod chair would hang in the patio area, providing a relaxing habitat
fortable fabric could be installed. These would have power and network outlets to facil- that includes a music player and built-in speakers. Pockets are available to house be-
itate laptop use. longings. In addition, the side of the chair would have strings that could be played like a
Critique: This seating would encourage isolationist activities. Space constraints would
not allow chairs to be positioned to optimise sight lines or conversation. The solution is Critique: This prototype suffers from the same limitations as the previous. It may be
functional. difficult to protect from the elements. The sound levels might be distracting to others.
Sky Grid: Project For CSIS Café / 14
Prototype: Interactive Games Prototype: Lightspace Play
Description: Tables provide surfaces for games, in order to encourage social interaction Description: A game played by four people with a virtual ball encourages teamwork
between café users. and play.
Critique: The game requires active involvement, space that is hard to come by, and is Critique: Same as previous.
unlikely to hold attention over the long term. This fills a perceived lack in social game-
play, but maybe people don't play games because they don't want to play games. Is
there a need here?
Sky Grid: Project For CSIS Café / 15
Prototype: Colour Wall Prototype: Colour Floor
Description: The half-height dividing wall in the café will display colours that depend Description: The foyer floor is divided into a grid of responsive tiles. When someone
on the volume level inside the cafeteria. walks on one, a primary colour travels in all directions across the floor, getting weaker
in intensity as it moves further from the origin. The intersection of different colour vec-
Critique: Calibration might be difficult, line of sight would limit the audience, but more tors will produce a dynamic and pleasing display.
importantly it could discourage people from entering the café: quot;Oh the café is red... it's
too loud in there; let's go somewhere else.quot; Critique: Given the high-traffic nature of the foyer, this design might be ill-placed in this
location. Most of the people walking these routes will want only to get to their destina-
Sky Grid: Project For CSIS Café / 16
Prototype: Ripple Wall Prototype: Trampolines Are Fun!
Description: People walking along the first floor corridor, which is open to the centre of Description: A trampoline in the foyer allows passers-by to burn off some steam and
the building, will transmit their footsteps as ripple images to the wall opposite. This have some fun by bouncing.
makes use of an expanse of wall that is otherwise unused. And it is a peripheral inter-
action that does not get in the way of any other function or activity. Critique: How likely is it that people would utilise this device? And how many safety
regulations is it breaking? Also, this does not meet the requirements of quot;interactive
Critique: Our mandate is for a ground floor project. In any case this idea seems to have mediaquot;.
been used several times in the past.
Sky Grid: Project For CSIS Café / 17
Prototype: Orange Prototype: In The Woods
Description: A giant orange that feels like an orange and smells like an orange sits in Description: A tree stump is installed in the foyer. From it comes the sound of the
the middle of the foyer. What recollections will it call to mind among those who pass it woods: trees swaying in the wind, rustling branches, chirping insects, bird calls. The
by? pattern of the wood surface is projected in magnified view on the floor.
Critique: While cute, fun and engaging, this design does not meet the requirements of Critique: Again, there is no interactive component here. Though this design addresses
quot;interactive mediaquot;. the issue of nature in relation to built environments, it seems to do so in a rather crude
Sky Grid: Project For CSIS Café / 18
Prototype: Sky Grid
Description: The window of the café will be overlaid with a pixellated display showing
representations of nature. Birds and clouds will move relative to the current temperat-
ure or wind. Beyond any aesthetic interest this might have, the display will act as a cri-
tique on the representation of nature beyond the window. The display will also be vis-
ible to passers-by outside, providing a shifting display that attracts attention (and per-
haps visitors) to the building.
Critique: None of our constraints would limit us from developing this design. However,
it needs to be extended to involve a greater degree of interactivity and engagement
with its audience.
Sky Grid: Project For CSIS Café / 19
and land (with or without vegetation), The most famous example of the kares-
Exploring Ryoanji Garden hills and mountains of all shapes and ansui is Ryoanji Garden (Peaceful
sizes. All these elements are portrayed Dragon) in Kyoto. This is generally attrib-
without the use of water, while gravel is uted to the artist Soami (1480?-1525),
quot;When people are in a place for used to imitate the surface of the waves. though temple records are unclear on
any length of time they need to Sometimes in this landscape there is a this point. quot;The garden consists of raked
be able to refresh themselves by karetaki, a waterfall created by mixing gravel and fifteen moss-covered stones,
looking at a world different from areas of gravel and stones. Normally sur- placed so that from any angle only four-
the one they are in, and with rounded by high walls, the dry garden is teen can be seen at once. It is said that
enough of its own variety and viewed from above, sitting on benches or only when one attains spiritual enlight-
life.quot; steps. Only the people charged with its enment as a result of deep Zen medita-
― Alexander et al [1977, p. 890] exacting maintenance are allowed to tion is it possible to see the last, invisible
step on itquot; [Portoghesi 2000, p.423]. stone with the mind's eyequot; [Jodidio
Following our development of numerous 2006, p. 9].
paper prototypes (some not shown), we This garden is designed to be walked
selected Sky Grid as the best option to with the mind, not the feet.
pursue. It engages with nature in a way
that is both playful and critical. It
provides the quot;different worldquot; about
which Alexander writes, while at the
same time making obvious the artificial
nature of that world. This dialectic makes
it the most fitting of our designs.
In order to determine how to extend this
design, we turned our attention again to
gardens, as both real and figurative con-
structs. As we saw earlier in this paper,
the garden is a contained and con-
strained version of paradise, a miniatur-
ised take on the quot;untamed naturequot; bey-
ond its bounds. In those cases where gar-
dens have been developed to their lim-
its, they become fully interiorised, a fo-
cus of contemplation.
Take, for example, the Japanese dry
garden or karesansui. This quot;involves a
landscape with rivers and lakes, islands Sky Grid: Project For CSIS Café / 20
garden at Ryoanji Temple, Kyoto [Wikipedia 2004]
Despite any mystical connotations, there response to user interaction, but in a
is something of the virtual about this mysterious way, requiring contemplation equation F -> |[5+F][5-F]-|[4+F]
garden, something which links it to our and the correct point of view for viewers [6-F]-|[3+F][5-F]-|F
Sky Grid. Maybe this is due to the fact to understand their relationship to it.
initial angle 278°
that it has been designed to be seen
from a single viewpoint, to be experi- We decided it was appropriate to create
enced from beyond and not from within. such a tree using mathematical repres-
Maybe it is due to the garden's qualities entations of self-similar shapes. We used segment 100
of simulation, the rocks standing for a Lindenmayer system for this task, since
step size 0.5
mountains, the raked gravel for waves on these iterative equations are known to
an ocean. Perhaps by looking deeper into map well to the natural shapes of plants.
Lindenmayer system parameters used
its structure we can get a clue as to what
is missing from our own prototype? The software package L-Systems Explorer
(by James Matthews) was recruited to As an aside, it should be mentioned that
Let us turn to the results of a computer map the equation using parameters de- the birds in our prototype were modeled
analysis of Ryoanji, as published in rived through experimentation. The res- after photographs of crows in flight,
Nature. ult is shown in the illustration below, taken on location. The clouds are by ne-
which shows several stages in the devel- cessity more fanciful, but hopefully are
quot;To examine the spatial structure of the opment of a tree, taken from an anima- still based on shapes present in the Lim-
Ryoanji garden, we computed local axes tion prototype. erick area. This geographic specificity is
of symmetry using medial-axis trans- important to a sense of engagement.
formation, a shape-representation
scheme that is used widely in image pro-
cessing as well as in studies of biological
vision... The overall structure is a simple,
dichotomously branched tree that con-
verges on the principle garden-viewing
area on the balcony. The connectivity
pattern of the tree is self-similar, with
the mean branch length decreasing
monotonically from the trunk to the ter-
tiary level. Both features are reminiscent
of actual treesquot; [Tonder et al 2002].
Ryoanji is a representation of a tree. And
not just any tree, but a self-similar con-
struct. With this discovery we decided to
implement a tree as a component of Sky
Grid. Specifically, a tree would grow in Sky Grid: Project For CSIS Café / 21
prototype animation: stages in the growth of a tree
Choosing The Mapping
outside temperature - lower speed of bird - faster
outside temperature - higher speed of bird - slower
The next major decision involved the
choice of mappings for our project. As barometric pressure - dropping number of birds - less
the adjacent table shows, certain input
barometric pressure - rising number of birds – more
parameters from the weather outside
wind speed speed of clouds
the café or the participants inside the
café were mapped onto display output. wind direction direction of clouds
(Those mappings marked with quot;Xquot; were
positions of users placement of tree
considered but not implemented.)
duration of users duration of tree
Given this choice, it is possible for volume of users X
someone observing the display to pre-
inside temperature X
dict the weather. This provides a func-
X growth rate of tree
tional component to the piece, and al-
lows for direct (primary) involvement of X size of cloud
users with the system. However, in most
X size of bird
cases people will simply enjoy the pas-
X direction of bird flight
sage of birds and clouds with no know-
ledge of their significance. The piece mapping of inputs to outputs
provides no overt indication that these
have any meteorological meaning.
Our enhanced prototype implemented
these features and presented them in an
animation sequence. The illustration to
the right shows several stages in the
flight of a bird. In the actual implementa-
tion, movement would be slow and
smooth, though the pixellation would be
retained. This is an important feature as
it visually reinforces the fact that the
viewer is looking at a computer-gener-
ated display. Pixels signal to the viewer
that this is a digital representation, a fact
we do not want to disguise.
Sky Grid: Project For CSIS Café / 22
prototype animation: several cells of bird flight
proposal itself. scale. There appears to be a disparity
Prototype Feedback here that indicates the prototype should
Ten people took the survey: five men and be improved.
At this stage it was important to gather five women. As we can see from the res-
feedback from the prospective audience ults of question one and two, most Questions three and four likewise ad-
for this piece. We constructed an addi- people understood the weather mapping dress the viewer's understanding of the
tional prototype in order to highlight the and most of those liked the idea. tree growing in response to someone sit-
experience from the participant's point Strangely, though 30% did not under- ting for a time. Here the response was
of view†. This consisted of a video con- stand the relationship between, say, more encouraging. Fully 90% of parti-
taining a walk-through performed by pa- wind and cloud movement, no-one rated cipants understood the relationship and
per cut-out people, again following our the mapping less than 3 on a 5 point 70% gave it their top rating.
paper prototyping paradigm.
This prototype did not represent the dis-
play interface quot;accuratelyquot;, but rather
was designed to convey to the viewer
the mappings and various possible inter-
• the activity of the birds and clouds
• a tree slowly grows if someone sits
in a particular seat, providing a “re-
ward” for staying in the café
• the installation can provide a talking
point, creating new social interac- understanding of weather mapping reaction to weather mapping (higher score better)
tions between people in the café
• it might encourage curiosity and
create a sense of inquiry
A survey was created as before, in a sim-
ilar one-page format, delivered in a
simple and direct style (see next page).
The purpose of this was two-fold: to de-
termine the efficacy of the video proto-
type in conveying key information and to
find out what participants thought of the
† Given the ambient nature of the piece, the term quot;userquot;
seems inappropriate. Henceforth we will use quot;audiencequot;,
Sky Grid: Project For CSIS Café / 23
quot;participantquot; or some synonym.
understanding of tree growing reaction to tree (higher score better)
still from prototype demonstration video
Sky Grid: Project For CSIS Café / 24
Various qualitative feedback was also thicker. Another wondered quot;Can the tree Team Commitment
gathered. Positive comments included be seen from the outside?quot; (Certainly!) We were initially to have five people on
the comment that Sky Grid enables one Someone hoped that the display would the team, but one member withdrew
to feel that quot;technology changes lifequot;. change to reflect the change in seasons. without completing assigned tasks. This
Another said that the display quot;will make hindered our early progress.
me curious about seeing new changesquot; We had two significant pieces of negat-
and quot;I am happy to see the clouds and ive feedback. The first was the opinion Timetable Conflicts
birdsquot;. One respondent commented that that the piece was not truly interactive Half of the team is in one course of study
it makes the space quot;more interesting because one can't choose the birds or and the other half in another. Due to
than before ― I will come here more of- the clouds. This foregrounds the problem conflicting timetables it was difficult for
tenquot;. Another was specifically quot;interested of an ambient piece. If there is a relation- us to meet as a group more than once a
in the movement of the birds and cloudquot; ship between cause and effect it must be week. Given the amount of teamwork re-
and relating this to the weather. A sense subtly presented, lest the audience ex- quired, this was too little for an equitable
of identification was attested to by the pect a greater sense of control and feel division of labour.
comment quot;If I can make the tree grow, I disappointed in its absence. This is a bal-
will have sense of achievement.quot; ancing act that requires sensitivity in the Technological Issues
details of the implementation. Several issues arose around video file
We also gathered several suggestions. formats and codecs, particularly compat-
One respondent desired the addition of The second criticism is that this artistic ibility from the Windows to Mac plat-
natural sounds to accompany the wind representation of nature obscured the forms. This forced us to change our
and birds. Another wondered what “real” nature and did it a disservice. presentation format at the last minute
would happen if a tree could recognise a When this paper was presented publicly (literally), forgoing certain elements.
specific person and grow taller on seeing a similar comment was elicited in the
them. (Though it is difficult to imagine Q&A session. One audience member Language Barrier
how this might be implemented without stated that they were quot;highly offendedquot; Two members of the team are not native
tagging audience members.) A third at the quot;cartoonquot; representation of English speakers. This made email com-
wondered if the tree could purify the in- nature we had proposed. We will discuss munications difficult, further restricting
door air or release air fresheners to cov- these issues in more detail shortly. the work flow.
er the smell of food!
The Design Process
We were gratified to see the degree to The ten-step process that we synthesised
which those surveyed were engaging from existing methodologies worked well
with the proposal. One person thought it for this project. We encountered no sig-
would be more interesting if nobody Before reaching our final discussion, it is nificant issues with this system and
knows which seat can grow the tree. beneficial to evaluate our experience of would apply it again without hesitation.
They proposed that body temperature or this project, since any problems we en-
body weight could be contributing countered imposed additional con- Overall we enjoyed the design process. A
factors. For example, if the temperature straints on the design process. great deal was learned along the way;
is higher, the tree grows quicker and we believe we succeeded in the pedago- Sky Grid: Project For CSIS Café / 25
gical goal of the project.
Directly in front of us is one of the four
Physical Context Revisited fire doors. This and two others are kept
locked. The door to the far left in this pic-
We now return to a discussion of the ture is propped open to permit people to
physical environment of the café, paying move outside to the patio.
special attention to the vista available to
inhabitants. We can then evaluate our Ireland's typically overcast skies means
project in light of how it augments or in- that most of the direct light is from the
terferes with this context. zenith [Griffith 1957, pp. 3-4]. This is re-
duced by the overhang that covers half
The photographs below show two views the width of the patio. Hence a signific-
CSIS Building in context (south is up)
facing south. The first is taken from just ant amount of light is contributed by re-
[University of Limerick 2009]
inside the café and illustrates the general flections from the sky and grass. The res-
layout, seating and interior lighting. As ult is that the natural light that reaches The second photo was taken facing the
can be seen, one side of the café is made the café is quite diffuse. same direction and with the same field
up of an expanse of window; this is of view. It shows the hedgerow immedi-
broken up by metal frames and doors. A Thus there is little need for blinds. In fact ately beyond the patio, behind which is
portion of the larger glass has a horizont- pot lights are called upon to augment an expanse of grass, a pathway running
al blind (here open) installed. Other parts the available illumination. The lack of at right angles to our line of sight and
of the window are partially blocked by a harsh lighting from either inside or out trees in the distance. These views can be
tray rack, an artificial plant and industrial makes this situation ideal for a low lu- interpreted in light of the map above.
fittings. minance thin film display on the window. This has been turned upside down for
clarity, so that quot;upquot; corresponds to
Sky Grid: Project For CSIS Café / 26
view of the café facing the window view outside the café window
south, the same direction the photo- maintenance. Little thought has been that light is the most important factor in
graphs face. given to aesthetics. Even less has been choosing a quot;room with a viewquot;, this is
spent on creating a view for those inside. not born out in observation [1977, p.
While at first glance we might consider 891].
this vista to represent quot;naturequot;, it is ap- Not one respondent in any of our re-
parent that it is no such thing. Every search commented on the view from the So, how might we improve the view?
component of this scene has been window. Indeed, in our time in the café
chosen for purpose and efficiency. The we did not observe people looking out-
hedgerow prevents people from step- side, for what of interest is there to see?
Reflecting (On) Nature
ping onto the grass and routes them Perhaps we might look for a friend out
either directly left to the east side of the smoking on the patio. Or we might check
building, or to the right in order to follow to see if workmates are sitting at a table.
another path. We are discouraged from But there is never any impetus to view quot;When plate glass windows be-
stepping onto the grass at any point. The nature itself from this vantage. came possible, people thought
trees in the distance act as a screen to that they would put us more dir-
hide other buildings. The slight rise in Yet, as Alexander has noted, people ectly in touch with nature. In fact,
front of us hides the pathway. The mono- quot;prefer windows with meaningful viewsquot;. they do the opposite. They alien-
culture expanse is chosen for ease of Though they might respond in surveys ate us from the view. The smaller
the windows are, and the smaller
the panes are, the more intensely
windows help connect us with
what's on the other side.quot;
― Alexander et al [1977, p. 1109]
This statement leads us to improve the
south-facing vista by creating smaller
panes. Sky Grid does this by pixellating
the entire expanse of glass. Furthermore,
the areas of pixellation change over
time, as a tree grows or a cloud passes.
Given that these movements are slow
and fluid, this has a beneficial effect.
Light passing through the translucent
portions will gain a dappled quality simil-
ar to light passing through the branches
of a tree. quot;Light filtering through a leafy
tree is very pleasant.... leaves are special
because they movequot; [ibid, p. 1106-7].
Sky Grid: Project For CSIS Café / 27
existing pattern on café window
It should be noted that our inspiration University Library, described here by tected from harm, whether physical or
for imposing pixels on the glass came Philip Jodidio: quot;When we come nearer conceptual. It could indeed be based on
from the existing design. There are in- we see that the outer skin of the building a lack of understanding of the multi-
deed patterns of dots on the windows. ―whether concrete or glass―is tattooed valent relationships of our installation to
These are found in vertical and horizont- with a texture based on a close-up photo its situation. In any case, we are confid-
al rows, as seen in the previous photo- of reed by photographer Kim Zwarts. ent that our previous discussion suffi-
graph. We root this aesthetic component Through the tattooing of the black skin, ciently answers all such criticisms.
of Sky Grid in the situation as it currently between which sunlight and outside
exists. vista are filtered simultaneously, the na-
ked functional body of the library, the
The inscription of natural forms into the apparently quot;hardquot; dimension, acquires a
exterior of a building has been imple- quot;softquot; dimension. The massive nature of
mented successfully in previous projects. the library suddenly becomes a fragile We propose Sky Grid as an ambient me-
One intriguing example is the Utrecht accumulation of reed stalks behind dia installation for the CSIS Building café.
which books and people can be de- This interactive piece will:
cipheredquot; [2006, p. 76].
• Improve the view from the café by
This points to the fact that adding an ap- creating from it a multitude of new
parent screen between the inside and views.
outside of a building can paradoxically
make the building more permeable to • Call attention to the world beyond the
the gaze of those passing. Attention is at- café by energising the boundary layer
tracted and directed within by the re- between inside and outside.
peating pattern. It is our intention that
Sky Grid shall do the same, acting as an • Provide a dynamic of dappled light to
attractor for those on the outside. But it residents of the café, like that found
will also pull inside eyes out, in an equal under a tree in leaf.
but opposite motion.
• Occupy no space, produce no sound
We can now return to the criticism that and hinder no primary activity its
this installation “obscures” the real audience may be engaged in.
nature outside, producing a cartoon rep-
resentation. This misinterpretation might • Reward attention but not demand it,
in part be the result of our oversimplified allowing for a range of possible inter-
prototype video, which did not illustrate actions depending on the viewers' in-
the true aesthetic mode the project was terests.
operating within. It might also stem from
a naive belief that a manicured garden is • Create a permeable screen of the CSIS
a form of quot;naturequot; that needs to be pro- building that will attract positive at- Sky Grid: Project For CSIS Café / 28
The Utrecht University Library [Jodidio 2006]
tention from those passing by. Shaun Wallace (USA) is studying for an
About The Authors MA/MSc. in Music Technology. He has a
• Stimulate viewer curiosity about the BSc. in Management Science and Inform-
relationship of weather effects to the Ye Meng (China) is currently studying for ation Systems and has worked as a con-
display, increasing awareness of the an MA in Interactive Media. She holds a ference planner, sound designer and
meteorological environment. BSc. in Information Management and In- computer technician. Contributions in-
formation Systems and previously cluded technical operations, statistics,
• Involve viewers in a new relationship worked as a computer teacher. Her con- presentations, mapping and brainstorm-
with “nature” by growing a tree due tributions included prototyping, inter- ing.
to their presence. viewing, brainstorming and surveying.
Tong Xu (China) is currently studying for
• Encourage participants to think about Robin Parmar (UK + Canada + Ireland) is an MA in Interactive Media after achiev-
their relationship to their ecosystem. studying for an MA/MSc. in Music Tech- ing a BA in English Literature. Her contri-
nology. He holds an HBSc. in Applied butions included prototyping, interview-
• Create new social relationships to the Mathematics (Theoretical Physics). His ing, brainstorming and surveying.
degree it becomes a talking point. roles in life have included information ar-
chitect, theorist, media artist and audio
• Foreground the dialectic between engineer. His contributions to this pro- We wish to thank our instructor Parag
nature and its artistic representation. ject included prototyping, brainstorming, Deshpande of the course Interactive Me-
photography, layout and research. dia in Public Spaces.
• Question assumptions about what is
manufactured, real and simulated.
Finally, and most importantly, we trust
that Sky Grid will be a meditative experi-
ence. Its audience can contemplate the
patterns produced, just as visitors to
Ryoanji Temple meditate on rock and
sand in order to learn about themselves
and their inter-relationship to their envir-
Sky Grid: Project For CSIS Café / 29