The environment as a signal

Panagiotis Michalatos
“The environment as a signal: design in scale spaces”

Digital representations are powerful because they enable a unified processing of disparate data streams from different origins, representing seemingly unrelated things. Within this context, information encoded in the environment and the artifacts we design is flattened out, objects and processes become commensurable but in a metric space that lacks any inherent notion of size, any intrinsic metric. Therefore within digital media the notion of scale can be rethought as something no longer related to size but to information density. Once we digitize things they pass into the realm of signal analysis regardless of their content. This transformation is often thought as a reduction, however, treating the totality of the environment as a signal enables us to alter the conceptual tools as well as the methods and techniques we employ during the design process. Software for design is less of a “design tool” and more of a “design environment”. These environments at the moment are still presenting a view of tectonics and the design process influenced by the assembly paradigm inherited from the industrial revolution. However, they also hint at an increasing transition into the realm of signal analysis, which dominates for example the digital tools of the biomedical industry. Within this paradigm objects exist in a continuum of scale spaces and traditional distinctions between macro and micro, master plan and detail, figure and ground, dissolve into metric independent binaries like structure and texture. Within this regime one is invited to think and operate across scales and at different resolutions. For digital technologies resolution is a more fundamental concept than scale.

About the speaker: Panagiotis Michalatos is an architect and assistant professor in architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Between 2006 and 2010 he worked as a computational design researcher for the London based structural engineering firm AKT. While in AKT along with colleague Sawako Kaijima they provided consultancy and designed computational solutions for a range of high profile projects. They have also developed a range of software applications for the intuitive and creative use of structural engineering methods in design. Panagioti’s work in interaction design and digital media has resulted in a long lasting collaboration with Stockholm based contemporary dance company CCAP.