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  • Interaction as a Medium in Architectural Design
  • Joanne Jakovich and Kirsty Beilharz

The recent integration of sensor-based interactive systems into buildings presents a significant aesthetic opportunity for architectural design. Beyond static, permanent structures, architecture can utilize sensor technologies to develop dynamic responses to human needs, expanding the creative palette of the architect to incorporate computer-mediated information exchange between inhabitants and the environment: interaction. This opportunity, however, remains largely unexplored since the conventions used to conceive, represent, and hence design architecture currently lack the capacity to incorporate the real-time and dynamic nature of interaction, precluding its use as a fundamental medium within which to design and build.

While the notion of "medium" is less familiar in architecture than in art, the specification of form and materials (e.g. steel, glass, lighting) implements creative expression in the mediums of space, light and time. These articulations influence human experience and behavior, implying that traditional architectural design anticipates, and arguably orchestrates, human interaction in and with the constructed space. Technological developments introduce a new dimension to this relationship; behavior within the space not only is an outcome of design but also is used to drive dynamic architectural elements in real-time: mechanical walls/doors/floors, operative surfaces, media projections, dynamic furniture, digital soundscapes, haptic climates, ambient info-displays, etc. Thus the behavior-response cycle informs and shapes design decisions and brings to light the necessity to reconceive static models of space.

Through our creative practice spanning interactive art and architecture, we are exploring the aesthetic potential of interaction, challenging and marrying concepts from interactive art and architecture to develop an understanding of interaction as a creative medium in which to design space. As a platform for further experimentation, we present a four-part framework to redefine the relationship between architecture and interaction in this new hybrid domain of spatial practice.

Merging Trajectories

As an intangible, temporal form of communication, interaction seems improbable as a medium for creative expression when compared to other visual or haptic media. The pioneering work by artist-programmer Myron Krueger in the early 1970s was first to establish its aesthetic potential. Krueger developed a series of "responsive environments" in which the audience could use full body gesture to interact with an array of spatially projected digital media. He discovered that the composition of the relationships between action and response drove the aesthetic experience, while the beauty of the visual and aural display was secondary. Notably, Kruege proposed "response" as a "new art medium based on real-time interaction between men and machines" [1]. More recently, interactive soundspace artist David Rokeby describes the "construction of experience" as the creative goal of the interactive artist and argues that the content of the artwork lies in the interactive experience itself [2].

In this way, the traditional dichotomy of audience and artwork dissolves. Cornock and Edmonds reframed the audience as "participant," proposing a systems-oriented framework for interactive art [3]. In this view, human participation drives generation of the artwork and is conceived as an integrated component of the art system. Building on this, Paine uses the analogy of dialogue to describe the reciprocality and context-dependency that characterizes interaction in the system [4]. By conceptualizing the art environment as a multi-part system varying over time, the artist is able to focus on the higher level structures tha influence dynamic outcome rather than tangible elements such as form, color and so on.


The following presents a four-part framework for conceiving and implementing interaction as a medium in architecture. It is proposed as an analytical ground point to base practice, research and pedagogy occurring at the intersection of interactive art and architecture, and invites the reader to reframe the ways in which we conceive and describe these.

I. Architecture

  • Architecture is the theoretical and practical art of creating a plan of a complex object, or system, intended for human inhabitation or use.

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Fig. 1.

Sonic Tai Chi (2005). Interactive gesture-activated space.

© Joanne Jakovich & Kirsty Beilharz Photo © Greg Turner

  • • A system is a complex of interacting and interrelated components. A system has structure and, through interaction, behavior.

  • Structure is the interrelationships within...


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pp. 368-369
Launched on MUSE
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