Mediating Mediums

Greg Tran’s recent thesis at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, entitled Mediating Mediums, is a fascinating study looking at the cross section between augmented reality and architecture. Specifically he’s interested in moving augmented reality from the digital to the material — so that the augmentation is, essentially, “real.”

That’s probably way too much of a simplification, so I asked him to talk a bit about what he’s doing.

Architecture has historically been a medium which surrounds and defines the spaces we live in. However, with the emergence of Digital 3d or “augmented” technology, immaterial stimuli is beginning to encroach on these spaces. Thus far, digital forms have few relationships to their material context, but there is great potential in their interaction. Digital tools act as an infrastructural and informational prosthetic, but will be most profound when they tie back to the human body and engage their surroundings.

In antiquity there were three forms of material art: People looked at painting, walked around sculpture and walked through architecture. With the contemporary digital equivalent, augmented reality functions as sculpture. We move around the AR object, but it isn’t embedded with the physical environment. Once the Digital 3d becomes more immersive, it can be woven into material buildings and start to function architecturally. Unlike generic digital content, the simultaneous and inextricable connection between material and digital will actually require being there in person.

The ideal condition is an architecture designed simultaneously with the digital. This allows material and digital matter to play off each other for maximum formal, spatial and functional potential.”

There are a couple key points to this work. And Greg summarized them as:

  • It’s really important to me that this is tied to architecture… its not just a digital overlay or gimmicky trick. i spent a lot of time trying to filter out the excessive stuff from the actually functional and legitimate possibilities.
  • The combination between the material and digital is obviously meaningful, and the way in which they necessarily work off of one another and change the other in doing so. I think its really interesting dissecting the strengths and weaknesses of both categories and how they fill in gaps for each other.
  • Site specificity is a huge issue. Internet vs. LAN. I think the fact that it is specific to a place is super interesting bc it goes against digital culture for the last 20-30 years. People think of digital world as expanding expanding, all pervasive, access anywhere, but this idea brings up the creation of interesting and unique local identities. Tailored to specific buildings or audiences.. Architects are always fighting against pervasive, universal cookie cutter building/suburb type things and it follows in that vein a bit.
  • I also find the history and genealogy of current digital 2d stuff to be incredibly useful in thinking about future possibilities… Evolutions seem to always be similar but just packaged differently.

As part of the project he’s created a film to communicate the ideas. I’ll link below both the short version and the full version. Definitely worth a watch — and a great provocation to rethink AR, and to create digital experiences which are more locally tailored.