Where did the idea to work with arches originate? How did we draw on them to develop the Data Journeys Archway thinking and prototype? The original aim of this work as part of the collaboration between the MRL and Sustrans was to get people to “notice their journeys”.
Archways are the right form on which to hang this kind of intervention, because they have a place in our common imaginations to mark the start and end of journeys: we have ceremonial arches, wedding arches and even the lychgates through which coffins enter a churchyard are shaped this way. Archways are part of an urban design language that informs how we use and understand public space, for example kerbs, barriers, trees, benches, and stairways, but archways are much more ceremonial than functional. They have a built-in narrative: rather like choosing whether to walk under a ladder, archways present a choice whether to go through them or not.
Examples include Eero Saarinen St Louis Gateway Arch commemorating the westward expansion of the US, the Mission Hill Park Archway triggering different spatial behaviours by adding interactivity and Marina Abramovic’s Imponderabilia making a “human archway”, creating a specific, uncomfortable social interaction.
In this way, archways can be used to shape a person’s journey, directing them to take a particular route, and making that route apparent. This heightened visibility can then be used to engage people in interaction with the arch itself, with the location of the arch, with the arch as computational interface, with other people and with personal data captured when people cross.
While there are many previous examples, the form of an archway is so simple that specifying “an archway” leaves a wide-open space for artists, makers and technologists to explore in any number of directions. The form of an archway can be used as a platform to allow for a range of activities. At one end of the spectrum would be the technically simple decorating of the arch for example at a primary school. At the other end might be an installation that tracks people’s mobile devices through the arch, reacts to their passing and engages participants in a discussion of personal data in public space, linking this to another arch in a different city. As an initial design exercise we began with sketching out some of the possibilities as illustrated at the top of the post. In future posts, we will detail how we developed the deployed prototype from these sketches and associated discussions.
Tags: architecture, Data Journeys Archway, interaction, Media Flagship, performing data, personal data, urban