Design and Innovation Daily

Theatre machine redux

Posted in architecture, philosophy by Dan on February 22, 2010

It’s time for architecture to do things again, not just represent things.

Back in November, I wrote about the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre in Dallas, a 12-story, reconfigurable building, and I posted a TED talk with its architect, Joshua Prince-Ramus. Prince-Ramus recently gave another talk in which he discussed the same project in more detail. He makes it clear that the theatre, though fancy, was designed purely to meet the functional and artistic needs of the theatre company. The talk addresses the same issue that appears in graphic design and industrial design: the problematic view that the purpose of design is simply to make things pretty.

Joshua Prince-Ramus: Building a theater that remakes itself


The traffic guru; UIs that lie

Posted in architecture, interaction design, psychology, theory by Dan on February 4, 2010

The Dutch traffic engineer Hans Monderman had surprising insights into the effects of warning signs, traffic lights, and other elements of traffic safety infrastructure. His most famous idea, which hasn’t made it into American traffic engineering but has been influential in Europe, was that removing most of that infrastructure could make streets safer. By redesigning aspects of a certain town to make it seem more “villagelike,” he was able to change drivers’ perception of the environment and encourage them to drive more slowly and carefully without the influence of signs and other interventions. This article by Tom Vanderbilt explains more about Monderman’s approach and how the traffic insfrastructure affects individuals’ behavior in unexpected ways: “The Traffic Guru.”

This is a remarkable phenomenon. It shows that the framework for the usage of the system, which is, in this case, a traffic system, informs the way people use the system—but not through constraints, not through direct communication, and not through affordances. Users’ perception of the environment changes how they think they ought to drive, even though the surrounding town might have nothing to do with their intention to travel to a destination.

David Lindes writes about a similar pattern in a completely different environment. In the process of redesigning an application for a certain business process, he set out to learn about the clients’ workflow and found out that it was excessively complicated. This reflected a problem with the client’s old application. It wasn’t just that the old program was a bad match for the process, but that the program’s complicated workflow had actually changed the way the client understood the process. Even though the original business process was not to be driven by software, “user interfaces are one of the principal sources from which a person learns about his or her work.” The implication for our own design process is huge. “UIs that lie & the users who believe them.”

Systems design in Magic Highway USA

Posted in architecture, art, philosophy by Dan on December 2, 2009

This 1958 segment from the Disneyland TV show explores a vision of the future of transportation. It is not only imaginative but also a great example of systems design (systems design in general, not computer systems design) in that it considers everything from construction and architecture to human behavior and lifestyle.

Magic Highway USA

The 12-story theatre machine, and other incredible architecture

Posted in architecture, designers by Dan on November 12, 2009

The construction of the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas was recently completed. Among its impressive, beautiful venues is the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre—literally a theatre machine. Components of the theatre, including stages, floors, scenery, and seating, are stored above and below the auditorium; they can be moved and rearranged for each performance, effectively switching between different types of theatres.

To see a short animation that explains this, go to this page and choose video 5 from the list (I can’t link directly to the video).

Several years ago, Joshua Prince-Ramus, one of the architects of this building, presented at TED about this project along with two other incredible architecture projects. All three buildings are novel not just because they look novel, but because of the way the design goals, the needs, and the cultural challenges that defined each project became part of the building’s physical form.

Joshua Prince-Ramus on Seattle’s Library

While I’m on the topic of architecture, here is a short video about MVRDV, a Dutch architecture firm that has produced many unusual-looking buildings with the goal of maximizing the use of space: MVRDV on Dutch Design Profiles