I will attempt to break down a specific design using the 3 platforms Folkmann uses to approach aesthetics in design. (Beware this will be long and somehow not so rich in meaning!)

  • Sensual-phenomenological: Account for the subjective experience in a holistic way (phenomenological), looks at how does an individual make sense of things.
  • Conceptual-hermeneutical: How is meaning staged and how does the object/design reflect this meaning (aesthetic coding)
  • Contextual-discursive: What is the proposition that the aesthetic object is making as a way to see and understand the world

Since my capstone is about interactive architecture/interactive installations, I will focus on one such design.

The design: 21 Balançoires (21 swings). If you would like to learn more about this example: http://www.dailytouslesjours.com/project/21-balancoires/


As it stands now, I am understanding an ecology where interactive architecture/installations occurs, and I think it fits well with Folkmann’s framework (I confess I got a bit biased by Jeff’s diagram on the board).

Here is a diagram of my current understanding of the ecology at play in this type of designs:


So there are 5 elements at play in this ecology:

  • Place: Site specificity matters. This particular installation is set in Montréal’s busy Quartier des Spectacles. According to the about page of the Quartier des Spectacles, this type of installation can be expected to exist.  “A century-old tradition of shows and performances in Downtown Montreal makes the Quartier des spectacles the heart of today’s cultural metropolis. Within this square kilometer of the city, one can find over 80 cultural venues, including 30 performance halls with almost 28,000 seats. The diverse cultural activities of the neighbourhood unfold in indoor venues as well as outdoors, during major events and internationally known festivals.” Given Montreal is a large urban place, I will assume it has similar initiatives as other cities when it comes to beautification projects, and improving cultural exposure of its habitants, as well as trying to motivate tourism with cultural events and landmarks.
  • Artist/author: This installation was created by Daily tous les jours, a design studio “with a focus on participation – empowering people to have a place in the stories that are told around them. We create collective experiences.” So while it is not a single artist/designer at play here, the design culture, process, and values of the studio affect how they approached the project, as well as the outcome.
  • Patron/Sponsor: The Quartier des Spectacles hosts different exhibits, and cultural events year long. Additionally, there are calls for participation in response to a project brief provided by the Quartier des Spectacles. Additionally, “In 2012, the Quartier des Spectacles Partnership, in partnership with Mutek, joined the Connecting Cities network. As the only members in North America, the Partnership and Mutek have made Montreal a key member of this network of cities known for exploring the creation and exhibition of urban digital art.” Some of the sponsors of projects in this place include ” Ville de Montréal, the Ministère des Affaires municipales, des Régions et de l’Occupation du territoire du Québec, Economic Development Canada and the participating public spaces and cultural venues.”
  • Installation/object: According to the studio’s website, this installation is “An exercise in musical cooperation. 21 Balançoires (21 Swings) is a giant collective instrument, a game where together we achieve better things than separately. When in motion, each swing in the series triggers different notes and, when used all together, the swings compose a musical piece in which certain melodies emerge only through cooperation… The result is a giant collective instrument that stimulates ownership of the new space, bringing together people of all ages and backgrounds, and creating a place for playing and hanging out in the middle of the city center.”
  • Visitor/subject: Since I have not visited this particular installation, I will look at some testimonials of people who have been in the installation. So starting on second 53 you can start hearing testimonials. (In case you don’t want to watch the video here are some quotes: “We ended up spending about an hour and a half here. And it’s a really really cool experience to be able to make music through your entire body”, “we tried to figure out if we all went together if it could change the music…and it did“, “it felt almost like plucking, or strumming, like a heart“, “I find it adds to the beauty of life because a single sound isn’t really nice, but together they make a beautiful melody”, “it reminds me of old memories”, and a Facebook comment I found on the exhibit’s page “Amusant et reposant. A faire!!!!” (A google translate reports “Fun and relaxing. To do!!!”, but this seems like a bad translation.)  

So, with these elements in mind, what relations can we see?

  • Place-Patron/Sponsor
  • Place-Visitor/Subject
  • Place-Artist/Author
  • Artist/Author-Patron-Sponsor
  • Artist/Author-Installation/Object
  • Place-Installation/Object
  • Patron/Sponsor-Installation/Object

And yet, these are still related to each other, like Place-Installation-Visitor for example.

Going back to Folkmann now:

  • Sensual-phenomenological: Looking at the Installation/Object-Visitor/Subject, we see in the testimonials how visitors experience the installation. For some, the experience serves as a trigger for previous experiences, others tried to understand how did it work as a system and how did their actions cause certain reactions (in an exploratory fashion), and another saw it in a more “meta” way, in which her entire body (not her body moving a swing that activates a tune) creates music. In terms of sensory experience, we see visual and auditory systems at play. In addition, we have subjects who are not engaging directly in the installation, but see others experiencing the installation.
  • Conceptual-hermeneutical: Here we look at the Place-Installation/Object  and  Place-Artist/Author relations. Medium and site specificity are at play, in the sense that the location is ripe for interactive installations as many have been seen in the past in the area (it is expected in a way). So taking advantage of this, the authors created an experience that could be seen as individual, but becomes better, or is enhanced when working together. So one of their goals is to achieve collaboration. How they did this, is using existing metaphors. Swings being common occurrences in playgrounds across different cultures, and making a small modification to produce a musical note when in motion. So the barrier to entry here is quite low. This in turn transforms the installation into a musical instrument. So they are using the coding of music, and I guess harmony as something to strive for. Through this, they indicate what is a desired outcome (this goes under the assumption that most people would want to create beautiful sounds, as opposed to a cacophony). The swings also create the metaphor of play.
  • Contextual-discursive: Finally we look at the Place-Patron/Sponsor and Patron/Sponsor-Installation/Object in the sense that the goal of this installation, as described by the artists was cooperation. So this proposes a way of understanding the world is that “together more beautiful things happen”, individuality vs cooperation. This is inclusive of the existing agenda of being a large cultural metropolis and providing cultural experiences to citizens and visitors.

As I finish this, I feel it is somewhat of a superficial analysis, and more of a breakdown of all the components. 😦