"TickerChair" (Schneidler, 2005)

Interview/Article by Jonah Brucker-Cohen

As the Internet permeates our lives, our future may include networked devices in the home and workplace that provide global connectivity. Closely examining this concept is German architect and designer, Tobi Schneidler. Schneidler's work explores the seemingly limitless potential of networked furniture, living spaces, and clothing on our daily lives and experiences. From his "Remote Home" project that provided an Internet link between the furniture and lighting fixtures in two apartments in Berlin and London, to his "Ticker Chair" which dynamically displays stock market and news information on an illuminated chair. Schneidler's work uncovers striking associations between interior design and external data streams. Gizmodo recently caught up with Schneidler to discuss his past and current projects, and to discover exactly why dynamic information displays need to exist in physical, not only screen-based spaces.

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Images and Interview after the jump.

Name:Tobi Schneidler
Age: 34
Education: Architecture
Affiliation: owner Maoworks, the office for mediating architecture and objects.
Exhibitions (selected):
URL: www.tobi.net, Maoworks

GIZMODO: Your project "TickerChair" is a networked chair that detects its user's presence and displays news and other data through an electromechanical character set that projects sentences on an enclosed mirror and back onto the person seated. What was your intention with this device? Can the data it receives be customized?, and why did you so closely tie the information flow to the viewer's presence? Do you see the promise of connected appliances adding to our understanding of information flow in personal spaces?

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TS: The Ticker Chair was developed for a Berlin based fashion designer, who has a real time design philosophy. Unlike other collections that are released twice a year, this one is continually updated. The design influences are taken straight from contemporary news media and blogs. The idea is to make a creative lounge chair for the fashion studio. The designer can take an inventive break, while indulging in news fragments whizzing by on the semi-transparent mirror. I wanted to avoid a predictable info-aesthetic, instead choosing a very physical design instead. The object is essentially about global information flows, but the Tickerchair is using an almost pre-industrial way of producing a digital projection. The eight rotating drums are projector and spectacle at the same time. This project is very much about the 1:1 physical experience of data at work, and hopefully creating at data-storm that helps the creative brainstorm.

This image was lost some time after publication, but you can still view it here.


"Responsive Fields" (Schneidler, Miranda, 2001)

GIZMODO:"Responsive Fields " is a reactive device that interprets and tracks hand movements to control the behavior and actions of 5000 virtual "agents" on the embedded screen. The device records this interaction over time and produces "digital impressions" in the virtual objects that exist as an "interface between architectural representation and functional, full-scale prototypes as used in interaction or industrial design". Why did you choose this form of representation and how closely is the interaction itself related to the process of architectural design and implementation?

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TS: The last decade has brought on an almost comical use of data- modeling techniques in cutting edge architectural practice. Buzzwords like flow, data-clouds, voxels and the like have had a big impact on design thinking, and influenced big name architects in justifying all sorts of "blob"-buildings. The craft was to form buildings out of data feeds somehow collected on the urban site. CAD as a tool has been retrained to become an autonomic design machine, code-named: Parametric Design. The user, the experience and the interaction with the build environment were largely dropping out of the debate. So I was very happy when the Responsive Fields project was invited to be shown at ZKM in Germany, alongside some of the biggest house hold names in "algorithmic" architecture like Marcus Novac and Gregg Lynn. Unlike the other contributors who preferred to show printed renderings, our contribution was the only one in the architecture section of this otherwise brilliant show that was interactive and showed a living process. I wonder why?

This image was lost some time after publication, but you can still view it here.


"Avesta Works" (lighting hardware) (Schneidler, 2004)

GIZMODO: Your "Avesta Works" project re-animated a historic steel plant through the use of a series of reactive lights that respond to visitors shining custom built flashlights at objects or artifacts that respond to this stimuli and animate projections on the surface. Why did you chose this form of interaction and how did the location itself add to the overall experience?

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TS: This original steel plant has an overpowering atmosphere and is a great example of industrial heritage. And it is very quiet, peaceful and unsettling at the same time. So we wanted to introduce a certain magic in bringing it back alive again for the personal experience of the visitor. The "Maglite" proved perfect in its simplicity and ubiquitous cultural legibility. The installation had to be accessible to a wide range of visitors, from pupils to pensioners. Our intervention turned out to be minimally invasive, but still is became a powerful layer on the old fabric. It is focusing less on the technology, but mostly on the interpretive experience.

This image was lost some time after publication.


"LonelyHome", (Schneidler, 2005)

GIZMODO: In "LonelyHome" you've created a hybrid between a robotic pet and furniture for the home in the form of an "intelligent" bench. Although the bench can be used normally, it also becomes a social creature that comes alive at certain times to "confront its owner" and challenge their presence. What was your main goal with this device and how has it changed since its first incarnation as a networked device for your Remote Home project?

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TS: The LonelyHome is really working as an emotional teaser. The intelligence is obviously quite limited, but I wanted to create a piece of furniture for personal use and abuse that can become part of my home. The Remote Home (one apartment in two cities) was a consequence of a long distance relationship I had at that time. When that was over and my current boyfriend demanded more local, synchronized quality time, I decided to pull the Ethernet on the RemoteHome. It then became the Lonely Home, the abandoned smart furniture that had to start entertaining itself.

This image was lost some time after publication.


"ReFashion", (Schneidler, 2001)

GIZMODO:The "ReFashion" project (in collaboration with Stefanie Schneidler and digital artist and musician, Scanner) is a fictional fashion store that includes objects and clothing with embedded RFID tags that trigger media displays and situated experiences in different places around the space. How successful was the integration of RFID into the clothing and what did you learn about how the technology enables or detracts from the overall shopping experience?

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TS: The RFID chip was magic and nuisance at the same time. The early version we were using was rather clunky, both physically and in terms of interaction. But the concept was driven by the idea of designing a media cloud of different experiences around a garment. For each fashion item, Scanner produced a piece of choreographed rhythms or chimes. The shop would then come alive with a combination of these sounds to complete an auto-generative symphony. By now RFID has become an almost ubiquitous technology, but in a very undercover way. The aim of the project was also to make the technology visible and design an experience around it.

This image was lost some time after publication, but you can still view it here.


"Remote Home Seattle", (Schneidler, 2001)

GIZMODO: The" Remote Home" was a collaborative project that consisted of two Internet connected networked apartments in Berlin and London where furniture from one influenced furniture in the other such as placing objects on a lighted surface created a projected pattern on material in the other apartment. The intention of the project was to allow for a sense of "background" connectivity between people occupying these two distant spaces without the need for immediate or direct foreground feedback. Why did you chose this implementation and how successful was the connection between people living in the two spaces? Did you collect any feedback that influenced further incarnations of the project?

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TS: The Remote Home came at a time with loads of attention both on different forms of "Tele" and Remote Presence as well as tangible media. Researcher and artists started producing more interactive installations with haptic interfaces. The MIT media lab was at the forefront of that movement. As mentioned above, I saw a practical application there in my own life and convinced my fellow researchers at that time to produce a prototype. And it lived on for a few years, and went to a variety of exhibitions. The project got a lot of coverage, with journalists mostly alluding to the sexual upside of such an installation in the domestic realm. Most private users though did appreciated that the home is coming alive in some affective and emotional way, and that was one of the aspects that helped the Lonely Home along as well. However, the overriding discourse on "remote presence" seems to have somewhat shriveled to the occasional WIRED column on Tele-dildonics.

GIZMODO: What projects are you currently working on? How are they similar or different than your past projects?

TS: I have set up my own company a while ago: Maoworks, the office for Mediating Architecture and Objects. I am working both with commercial and research clients on a variety of projects. I do short contract consulting on innovation and design issues, but also longer terms projects, some of which are also still quite speculative in nature. I am part of a bigger publicly funded British project, which could be summed up as a designing a collective mind reading machine. The partners are ARUP engineers, British Telecom, Imperial College and Central Saint Martins and four SMEs. We are looking at questions of measuring workplace performance and happiness by means of using distributed sensor networks and specially designed interactive polling devices. That is where I fit it. A friend from Sweden and I are also currently developing a social networking furniture for venues such as clubs and lobbies. To be released shortly.

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