Month: November 2004

PARCEL design project, 2004

Posted by on November 1, 2004

With PARCEL Krets suggests new ways of establishing relations between the material, audiovisual and digital techniques that are increasingly forming the environments around us. The project considers off-the-shelf technologies normally used in the packaging industry and consumer electronics as integral parts of an architectural design.

Punched plastic sheets equipped with computational intelligence through microprocessors, printed circuits, and a variation of sensors, lighting and speakers, are folded into volumes. When combined they form a wall-paneling system integrating information technology and infrastructure as well as illumination and sound. The folded sheets create depth from surface and respond to the color scheme of the Stockholm Concert Hall. The rendering of the color shifts as a result of the inherent curvature in the pieces and the integrated light.

The PARCEL project emanated from an interest in a number of specific phenomena and readily available technologies:

1. The material cultures and fabrication principles of disposable articles and printed matter. The short-lived “throwaway” is easily produced and distributed and thus interesting in relation to a growing need for rethinking the use of plastics in architecture. Initial studies examined tectonics, modularity, detailing, recombination and assembly, looking at ways to deploy these at an architectural scale.

2. Cheaply produced electronics are increasingly infusing our environment with cellular intelligence. Computing power is becoming ubiquitous and readily available to such an extent that it takes on disposable qualities. Previously large and exclusive electronic devices are rapidly collapsing into cheap devices of the size of a pinhead. Electronic circuits can nowadays be printed onto almost any surface, making it possible to integrate microprocessors in products and environments ranging from household appliances to surveillance systems and clothing tags. They make up an invisible but nonetheless present and active part of our public and domestic spaces.

3. Equally important, but less apparent, is the software driving these integrated devices. Their code plays a potentially important role in scripting the interaction between individual and environment, as well as social interaction between individuals. Coding is becoming an act of design, where the scripting of behaviors is increasingly linked to the ambience of our environments.
Design Development

Design and material development within these three fields was done in parallel, covering four areas of investigations.

  • Material and production looked at key aspects of the disposable product including production and assembly, as well as a range of conductive materials including tape, glue and paint.
  • Within design and method the folded structure, as well as modularity, patterning and detailing, was developed.
  • Program and performance included algorithm development, user recombination and network communication protocols.
  • The presentation area includes internal testing of systems, as well as continuous documentation and presentation of the conglomeration of the different tracks.

The cellular principles of the programmed intelligence suggested a similar approach to the physical components. A system of partially folded units with specific curvatures and sets of folds was developed. The inherent curvatures provided structural stability as well as visual effect. The units retained qualities of the sheet, while achieving volumetric capacity. The name PARCEL originates from the way that the singular units are partially enclosed to be able to house electronics but not hiding them from view. Another connotation of parcel would be the act of distributing parts, to “parcel out.” The assembly principles of PARCEL explored the potential for a striated and non-uniform expression, in the way that the different parts could be recombined. The structural logics provided for a vertical positioning, suggesting the idea of a wall paneling system.
The production patterns developed were used as master for the punch tool, setting cuts and fold lines, original for printed circuits and instruction for electronic components. In essence, the complete information for the production of one PARCEL unit was integrated in a single drawing. In this way the formal logics of the PARCEL prototypes were imported from printed matter and disposable articles, transferring their qualities to an interior scale.
The local digital conduits within the single PARCEL unit form a network with all other units when assembled into an installation, with physical connectors also closing the electric links. The physical and electronic architectures were both a cellular and parallel model, as opposed to traditional sequential computer processes.

The immaterial reactive characteristics of PARCEL are based on white noise, often used to control sound conditions in an environment. Surrounding sound is picked up locally through microphones to be dispersed to other units of the installation through the integrated network. During this transfer the sound signal is transformed by other inputs and emitted through loud speakers and LED lighting, establishing local environments. The interchangeable units of PARCEL, each with specific formal and operational characteristics allows dynamic recombination by users/visitors while the installation is in operation. The striated pattern of the complete installation can be reconfigured at will and the emergent behavior of the distributed intelligence in the local environments changes.
The transfer of strategies from other fields to an interior architectural scale introduces an oscillating ambiguity between graphic and spatial infrastructures. The multifunctional quality of the graphic pattern as instruction for production suggests an ornamental transition from graphic to electronic to spatial infrastructure. PARCEL blurs the relationship between model and building – in this case the wall, and prototype and product – in this case the wall paneling system, in its capacity to continuously react and interact electronically with its environment, as well as invite the visitor to recombine and transfigure the system.

Today’s individual and collective spaces are saturated with information networks and control mechanisms, ranging from automatic doors, to information displays and surveillance systems. The social protocols of such densely electronic material are very much dependent on the presence they have in a space. By appropriating these systems into the architectural design process, they become part of the overall design agenda, and can be articulated accordingly. An extension may lead to new models for social exchange in space, which can be compared to the spread of Internet communities over the past decade.

With PARCEL, Krets addresses the component level of architectural production, and the fact that the rational building industry of today is based on components with very specific geometry. There is a tendency for closed systems to be developed by individual actors based mainly on economic conditions and not integrating architectural quality. This limits the choices of innovative architectural design and shapes our environment in a profound way.