Previous Project

5/2019

Civic Wave

Raising awareness of government processes by making digital civic
and political culture tangible

The concept focuses on the materialisation of digital civic energy, derived from social media activities and made tangible through the medium of kinetic structures. The outcome intends to provoke a discussion about the potential of Kinetic Information Architecture in fostering social sustainability; moreover, the project explores the possibility of facilitating civic engagement by giving new meaning to existing architectural infrastructures.

The outcome is a kinetic sculpture which aims to tackle the unawareness of opportunities for public participation in government decision-making. It translates tweets that are contextually relevant to open consultations within the London Assembly into a dynamic wave which changes its amplitude according to the quantity of tweets within a certain timeframe, thus resembling a materialisation of digital civic culture.

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Re-imagining
government systems

The network of government institutions, their responsibilities and their influence on citizens – but also the agency of citizens in this complex system – is hard to mentally visualise. Although this project started with using galaxies as a metaphor for government systems in order to spark curiosity and wonder, more inspiration came from the philosophical concept of cosmopolitics in which all entities influence each other ('ecologies of relation'). It was in particular the notion of community and reciprocity which led to the focus on conveying civic engagement by using the metaphor of ripples and waves.

Animations depicting the metaphor of galaxies for conveying entities and relationships within government.

Social Media as a proxy for civic engagement

Information Communication Technologies have facilitated the emergence of informal political engagement. Digital affordances such as sharing knowledge and coordination of activities fostered the organisation of social movements which transform emotion into action; the impact of social media on contemporary urban life and our perception of politics stresses the importance on conducting research in that area. In this case, tweets which relate to open consultations – run by committees of the General London Assembly – are being filtered. While the initial form was a ripple visualisation, it later became a three-dimensional kinetic wave.

Filtering tweets in openFrameworks using the Twitter API

Making digital civic energy tangible

As digitally communicated political opinions are related to real lives, this project aims at the transfer of digital energy into the physical realm. By materialising civic energy in form of kinetics, it becomes tangible. In physics, waves are means of transferring energy and are composed of two components: the medium and the disturbance. In this case, the kinetic structure is the medium while the tweets – the digital civic energy – are the disturbance. The greater the civic energy, the higher the amplitude of the longitudinal wave.

Physical prototyping using Arduino and openFrameworks

Creating vital experiences in front of government buildings

Despite the importance of London City Hall for people living in London, only few are aware of the proceedings inside and the opportunities of public participation. The aim is to bring out relevant decision-making processes into the public space outside of London City Hall – the Pavilion. Using kinetics driven by digital civic energy, curiosity is sparked among passerby; in the context of open consultations, citizens can gather a collection of opinions on the topic (tweets) while simultaneously gaining awareness on ways to participate (using a specific hashtag and following the General London Assembly on Twitter). 

The kinetic sculpture is a prototype which should provoke thought in the potential of Kinetic Information Architecture. By sparking curiosity, providing contextually relevant information and gaining awareness of sociopolitical proceedings within political institutions, those vital experience can foster learning environments which could increase or initiate civic engagement.

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The kinetic sculpture is built out of acrylic glass, manually assembled together; the hardware is hidden inside.

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Tweets which relate to a chosen open consultation appear in sequence onto a projected display. The user gathers information about the type of committee, the topic, opinions (tweets), and ways to engage (following GLA twitter account and using a specific hashtag).

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The mechanism inside allows the moving wave to change its amplitude; the more tweets are being filtered during a specific time frame, the higher the wave.

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As an alternative, a movable kinetic sculpture could convey the materialised civic energy outdoors and indoors. However, what if digital civic energy could shape the actual architectural space, e.g. the ground of the Pavilion in front of London City Hall? The core intention of this project is to allow passerby gather insights into political developments in a spontaneous way.

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The project was shown at the RCA Degree Show 2019. A book comprising research and concept development accompanies the kinetic sculpture; visitors were able to collect a poster describing possibilities of civic engagement in the UK as well as aiding them in choosing their ideal type of political engagement based on a joyful personality test.

Exploring, discussing, making – applying design research methods

As this project is theoretically based on my MA dissertation 'Contemporary Democracy in Multiple Spaces – The interplay between Information Communication Technologies, physical interaction and emotion in creating deliberative public spheres in real space and cybersphere', it was important to complement the theoretical with the practical. Besides visiting public meetings within government buildings and participating in demonstrations, I conducted interviews with my focus group in order to gain ethnographic knowledge. Moreover, the process of physical making fostered new ways of thinking as well as the generation of ideas. 

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Creating sketches allow for personal reflection and conveying one's personal experience. This is one sample illustration from my visit to Houses of Parliament (Public Gallery, Prime Minister Question Time).

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Results of my interviews have been digitally collected in a spread sheet; later on, those outcomes were mapped based on similarities and backgrounds.

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As this project initially involved the design of a novel public space, rough spatial models allowed for discussions and the generation of new ideas.

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Many mechanical models have been built and tested in order to improve the engineering of the mechanism.

Materials, hardware and software

Materials:

acrylic glass

mild steel

MDF 

brassrods

Main hardware:

Arduino Mega

micro metal gearmotors

motor drivers

MacMini

picoprojector

Software:

openFrameworks

Thanks to:

Dr Libby Heaney (tutor)

Dr John Fass (design advisor)

Dr Kevin Walker (HoP)

Angus Main (design advisor)

Claudia Dutson (exhibition advisor)

Sophie Perkins (technical support)

Eriko Takeno (documentation assistant)

Yaprak Göker (documentation assistant)

Acknowledgement:

IED Award for 'Best Information', 2019