Interacting with Possibilities of Existence

Inspired by both Futurama and Rem Koolhaas’ Eneropa in which Koolhaas re-imagines Europe as a network of renewable energy capable of reducing our carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, Dunne and Raby in their latest work describe an imaginary future governed by technology and centred around the car, posing a deeply philosophical question: What is the impact of design on ways of existence? And, to which extent does design take in consideration their consequences on the big picture (society, community, economy, etc.)?

This work entitled United Micro Kingdoms (UMK) uses the car to speculate on the future of our world and the power of design in affecting our very ways of living. The car represents not simply a vehicle for moving through space, but more precisely the object that carries out our psychology, our idea of freedom and speed. The work takes the UK as its canvas and divides its lands into 4 imaginary states ranging from the utopic to the dystopic, in this way alluding to the notion that utopia comes at a price and may have undesirable consequences.

At first glance it seemed as though this was yet another utopia initiative. Dunne and Raby started with a big idea and realised that “we knew nothing about government, or car making, etc.” so they went on to learn how to make these things possible by collaborating with engineers and scientists, in turn ensuring that these imaginary worlds are not simply imagined and inert afterthoughts, but possible and realistic new universes. It was weeks after the symposium that it dawned on me that this project was pushing the boundaries of the make-believe aesthetic.

These utopias shed light on the very power of design in shaping our worlds for better or worse. The Digitarian state represents the most dystopian world in which cars are moving living rooms varying in size according to the economic class system and using colours to distract from the idea that the city prioritises economics over everything else. The Anarcho-Evolutionist state is designed around the limits of engineering and genetic manipulation. That world places the human capital at the centre of everything, involving both notions of the individual/singular and the collective/plural community. The Anarcho-Evolutionist car is a social vehicle and varies in its sociability (i.e. multiple interlocked bikes with open hitchhikers seats for good conversationists). The Communi-Nuclearist state is a countryside styled state resting on the edges of civilisation. The Communi-Nuclearist car is the impossible vehicle within which society lives. It is a 7 foot 4 kilometres train in the form of a moving landscape operating as a nightclub door community: one in means one out. Finally, the Bio-Liberal state has bio-digesting cars made of delicate organic material representing a symbiosis with nature.

Dunne & Raby speculate and have given form to utopia(s) under the critical lens of societal ways of living and thinking. Their work considers the very economic distance phenomena taking place in civilised society. While it is important to raise the question of the majority of the world population living in accute poverty, it is quite often the poor communities within civilised societies, within our own neighbourhood even, that are neglected and suffer a lack of attention. UMK addresses that economic gap in a realistic and plausible manner. Granted much is left to be explored and perhaps intensionally so, allowing the audience to react and imagine possibilities. More precisely, the project raises a very important aspect of our ways of living and highlights the criterion whereby we project our very sense of privacy, status, and being through the tangible varied personas of the car.

What these concepts teach us is how to embody dilemmas within the larger contexts of our lives, how utopian ideas may have “complicated” pleasures engendering dystopia. It’s important to challenge our belief systems in order to push the boundaries of our reality and change what we know and incite new concepts and realities into the context of everyday life.

– Raby, Dunne. The Stuff Between Us: Designing Interactions Beyond the Object. “The Aesthetic of Unreality.” Design Symposium: At Zurich University of the Arts on October 4-5, 2013 in Zurich, Switzerland.


Startups on The connected Home, TV, and Living Room

On May 7, 2013 I attended an event entitled “The connected Home, TV, and Living Room” sponsored by MIT and Verizon at the Yotel Hotel in New York. The talks consisted of 4 startup representatives who Verizon named “Ninja Innovators”… this is I am assuming open to interpretation. Presenters were allowed a total of 3 minutes each, or so. Enough time to give you an idea of what their ideas were and share a URL, but not enough to totally grasp the incentive behind the work and how users find their concepts engaging, useful, and possibly sustainable.

The 4 Ninja Innovators were as follows: provides video distribution over IP, using singular or a combination of multiple devices. The concept was borne out of the simple question: “Can we just beam it to the TV?”

SIMULmedia is an advertising startup that practices targeted advertising as you watch TV, reaching an audience at scale looking at region frequency curves. They called this “the connected living room of the future”. (hmmm…)

KISI systems (here’s my favorite) allows users to control their multi home units with their phones, packing keys and wallet into the phone with the aid of an app suite. This means users can control their TV, doors (including the garage door), etc. Kisi enables this shift by building on top of existing infrastructures within users homes (i.e. alarm system) rather than forcing new infrastructures to replace old ones which can be costly. It does that by providing a Kisi toolkit. Their tag line seemed to be something like that: Kisi is your doorman who knows it all.

Get Blue is the latest Social TV app initiative allowing users to share reactions about content watched with friends on Facebook and Twitter. This app is about discovering, sharing, and the second screen. It works with partners that populate the screens with exclusive TV content; this way re-imagining discovery on the first and second screens.



Last summer, a group of Fjordians took an inspiration field trip to the Park Avenue Armory to experience Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller’s “Murder of Crows.” In this spatial-sonic installation, Cardiff recounts an uncanny dream through the subtle use of natural and urban sounds, machine-like distortions, intertwined with classical musical scores and a Russian anti-fascist war song.

As we entered the darkened space, Cardiff began her monologue. It sounded as though she was responding to someone in an intimately eloquent voice, as if we had been thrown into a bedroom conversation. There was a feeling of voyeurism forced intermittently into Cardiff’s dream as she dreams it in sound and music, and asynchronously as she recounts the details of it. The high ceiling and the quality of the sounds emanating from the 98 speakers surrounding us were intimidatingly appealing and immersive. Critiqued by the Helsinki Times as “an aural feast,” the installation uses sound and spatial arrangements as sole material for art. It gave the feeling of a 3D sonar experience, with particular sounds sneaking around us to map the spatial dimensions of the room and delineate the boundaries of the artwork.


Some speakers were anthropomorphized, given human status, positioned on chairs opposite the audience and staring at us from all frontal angles. Cardiff’s softly spoken voice sprang from a gramophone speaker placed at the center of the room, giving her a physical presence in the room. A spotlight shone over her metallic body, and our chairs pointed in her direction to form a circle, drawing the focus to the center of the experience.

Filled with cues for various smells, colors, times and places, the aesthetic experience is essentially about discovering the sound mixture as it distributes itself through the space. We felt immersed in the piece both as viewers and as contributors to the total energy within it. We sat, closed our eyes, stood up, walked in between speakers and beyond the experiential space, and to this end, unknowingly completed the artwork. We naturally formed a temporary community as we sunk into the experience of Cardiff’s most bizarre dream, and shared our energy with that of other participants as a distributed state of mind. Only by being there were we able to fully understand the beauty and intricacy of the musical and spatial compositions.


Walking out, each at our own pace, we could still locate the spotlight getting smaller behind us, and hear Cardiff’s fainting voice as she recounted her dream once again. We could continuously imagine experiencing the artwork in new ways by moving differently in the space.

For more information, please visit: Event page

Image sources: 1) 2) 3)

First Published Aug 22, 2012 in conversations.fjordnet

Meadows’ Leverage Points in Complex Systems

“[L]everage points” […] are places within a complex system […] where a small shift in one thing can produce big changes in everything.’ (Meadows, 1999:1)


Simple systemic flows connected together create complex systems. Flows consist of stocks moving according to set parameters, constants, and numbers. According to Donella Meadows, a system has a stock-and-flow structure. Its stock represents its state, and its flow represents the inflow and outflow that reflect changes in the system’s stock volume. This flow has temporality and depends on the parameters existing in the system. Parameters indicate the rate at which flows increase (inflow) and decrease (outflow) the system’s stock volume. A system may be stable, slow or rapid (imbalanced). Because this stock-and-flow structure entails that the stock volume and stability depends on the rate of the flows (in and out), a system’s stability requires the leveraging of a stock’s buffer capacity so that, if slow, the buffer decreases, and if rapid, the buffer increases. Decreasing or increasing the size of buffer capacity in a system stabilizes and leverages its stock.

The leverage point is in proper design in the first place. After the structure is built, the leverage is in understanding its limitations […] and refraining from fluctuations or expansions that strain its capacity.” (Meadows, 1999:8)

Oscillations in a system result in delays in feedback loops. Short or long delays account for imbalances in a system, describe the rate of changes in the state of the system, and determine the efficiency of its feedback loops. Meadows calls short feedback loops “overreaction” –oscillations that are too short, rapid, and amplified. When speed of changes and size of delays don’t coincide, one sees imbalances in the system.


Long feedback loops, those that create slowness in the system’s responses to action, cause chaos, collapse, and irreversible damage. However, most important to a system’s stability is its growth rate. Changing delays in a system can have drastic implications on the stability of the system –its inflow and outflow dilemma. Complex systems contain negative feedback loops that are responsible for regulating these changes (oscillations).

A delay in a feedback process is critical relative to rates of change in the system state that the feedback loop is trying to control. […] The strength of a negative feedback loop is important relative to the impact it is designed to correct.” (Meadows, 1999:8-10)

Chaos takes place when strong positive loops take over weak negative loops resulting in an unstable system with unpredictable growing rates –a behavior which may cause the system to destroy itself. “Control must involve slowing down the positive feedbacks.” (Meadows, 1999:12) Control, then, involves delaying the positive loops to allow the negative feedback the necessary interval to react and regulate the system.

On the one hand, positive feedback loops in a system are self-reinforcing. With high positive feedback, a system may destroy itself by self-multiplying and causing itself to collapse. On the other hand, negative feedback loops are leverage points in a system where intervention can be fruitful. Adjusting the buffer capacity (delays) and thereby recalibrating stock flows (“emergency response mechanisms”) help the system sustain itself by self-correcting in response to changes and oscillations in feedback loops. Because the strength of impacts and feedback must coincide, when one strengthens a system’s negative feedback, one raises its self-correcting abilities.

Negative feedback loops become regulating sources for reducing and slowing the growth of positive loops by giving it time and delays to recalibrate and stabilize itself.


In some cases there may be missing feedback in a system which causes it to malfunction. These instances indicate leverage point opportunities to create a “new loop” in a system (Meadows, 1999:13). Making information salient creates awareness and a bifurcation in one’s relationship to the environment, objects, and/or one’s beliefs, in turn redirecting one’s behavior towards and perception of a system. Turning no feedback into persuasive feedback generates a new systemic loop. However, persuasiveness occurs when information is configured in a meaningful and compelling way (i.e. comparative juxtaposition of selected data reveals another layer of understanding –new loop). New loops generate mass behavioral shifts as they raise the notion of accountability for individual actions and decisions –a paradigm shifter.


[R]ules for self-organization […] govern how, where, and what the system can add onto or subtract from itself under what conditions.” (Meadows, 1999:15)

Self-organizing structures allow a system to change, evolve, and sustain itself as external actors and internal entities affect and impact its systemic structure overtime; thus, developing new response mechanism and enacting new rules and behaviors. Self-organizing rules dictate the emergence of complex adaptive structures and behavioral patterns in a system. These rules help the system deal with unpredictable behavior of external and internal actors, leaving the system open to changing conditions, and variable and open-ended in itself to evolve, adapt, and mutate over time.


Donella Meadows suggests that transcending paradigms lies in one’s ability and willingness to perceive multiple mindsets where no paradigm is true or right. With this enlightened view, flexible and open-ended paradigms evolve in relation to a system’s variable purpose, goal, or belief.

Source: Meadows, Donella H. “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System.” Sustainability Institute, December, 1999.