The “Major Issues” studios led by faculty members Tim Durfee and Ben Hooker use techniques of digital simulation to examine topics of global scale.
By Ben Hooker and Tim Durfee
In recent years, tipping points has dominated the news. Transformations brought about through accelerated growth that have led to the collapse of equilibrium across multiple systems: rising water levels, mass human migration, extreme political polarization, unemployment from automation. These phenomena affect all of us, yet they operate at a scale beyond the typical scope of design or architecture.
These tipping points were the subject of a recently completed a three-week intensive studio entitled “Major Issues: Tipping Points and the Shape of the Future” led by Tim Durfee and Ben Hooker, with Theo Triantafyllidis.
Students were asked to create digital simulations to explore a topic of contemporary urgency. In a design context, a simulation can be thought of as a model that pursues qualities faithful to the behaviors and interactions in a system, rather than solely their appearance or relationships spatially. The studio was interested as much in the proposals and scenarios that emerged from this process as we were in exploring the specific contributions these types of simulations might play in design itself.
Writer Joanne McNeil and artist Jenny Rodenhouse joined the end-of-project discussion.
We live in the Anthropocene, which is the epoch when human activities have a significant global impact on earth’s ecosystems. Based on the evidence that antidepressant pharmaceutical exposure in water bodies alters the nature of shrimp, this project imagines a probable future where marine animal extreme behavior changes as waste and residual prescription medications is drained into the water system on a massive scale.
Prison Nation investigates the prison industrial complex of two different systems (America and Norway). The attributes of the American system are evidenced by the sheer amount of prisoners and high rate of recidivism, whereas the Norwegian system focuses on rehabilitation—resulting in fewer people returning to the prison system. A third system proposes a hybrid approach.
This simulation proposes a potential tipping point in the practice of dredging for land reclamation. Instead of customizing parts of a house or a backyard, coastlines and nations can be literally landscaped. What does this mean for real estate value and potential socio-economic disparities?
With the Internet of Things becoming more commonplace, how do we design for the security of our networked objects that live within the privacy of the home? Someone has your password visualizes the vulnerability of unassuming smart objects when pushed slightly over their intended settings and questions what the condition of privacy is in this new age of Smart Domesticity.
The fragility of the internet isn’t just about how thick your firewalls are: the undersea cables connecting us to the cloud are physically vulnerable; telecom giants like AT&T and Facebook monopolize access and compromise net neutrality. This simulation grapples with the user’s agency in the face of these issues.
Tuning of the Urban Aviary is a microcosm of acoustic ecology; do birds change their behaviours and calls in response to increasing levels of city noise? This simulation illustrates how birds react to cars and people in their environment, influencing calls and participating in a busy soundscape.
Recently, “reputable” news sources have reported fake news as real, which then was further distributed by social media users, and even other news sources. Twitter Town is a simulation of a town whose residents solely interact through social media.
If you pull out your phone and open Google Maps, you see a blue dot—that blue dot represents your location. But the ring around that blue dot is a margin of error. According to the 24 GPS satellites in orbit, you could be in any of those locations. What if your physical location was also shattered into this radius? How would this affect how you relate to the physically and digitally networked spaces you inhabit?
Drones have become controversial because of their potential uses for surveillance, military, and commercial purposes. Drone Land is a world where different drones layer the global landscape, competing in a power structure of vision and security in both digital and physical space.
Stock markets are physical tipping points where the choices of a few can create waves of panic or mania. Day Traders is a live stock market simulation based on daily Dow Jones Industry Indexes that are affected by stock trading agents with different preferences. Over the course of the trading simulation the agent’s preferences are affected by other agents, stock prices, and the space they must travel to make trades. From this simulation we begin to speculate how the traders and their physical space influence the market itself.
This simulation gamifies ways vertical and horizontal growth of cities might be linked to corresponding expansion of green space. In light of this, what might a new civic code that mandates a percentage of park space look like and feel like?
What is the effect of mass product printing? Where do the excess products and materials live? In this simulation these objects accumulate, creating culture’s next ruins.
Global air pollution is worsening, especially in urban areas. How can people live with urban smog? How does smog shape the city and neighborhood? This simulation creates a testing ground of several key factors in particulate pollution: factory emissions and natural wind. It also proposes giant air purifiers and air-movers to act as elements in the urban ecology.