Designing for the Unpredictable: FUTUREFORMS and ‘Live Models’
Designing for public engagement is the critical motivation for art and design studio FUTUREFORMS. Located in San Francisco , co-founders Nataly Gattegno and Jason Kelly Johnson work across a range of projects including light sculptures and urban-scale installations. Their studio harnesses data in a unique way that not only influences the initial design and fabrication process but becomes an active material in the final installation. They deploy a design technique they have called ‘Live Models’ as a way of developing a design that can adapt to its environment.
We spoke with Ms. Gattegno about how they design for the unpredictable potential of the public experience through the use of data and ‘Live Models’.
How has FUTUREFORMS developed into the art and design studio we see today?
FUTUREFORMS began right after Jason and I graduated from our MArch studies, as a way for the two of us to collaborate on competitions, installations and exhibitions. A couple of installations got a little bit bigger, more interactive and eventually much more immersive, leading up to the work we are doing these days. Ultimately we are interested in the ways that the things we build interact with their surroundings – through light, shadow, geometry, circulation, effect and in some cases media. This idea has enabled us to explore multiple sites in varied formal ways, always maintaining an interest in the way the public interacts with the work.
How do you implement data in the design process?
Data is inherent in any design process – digital or manual. I think here the context for your question on the use of data has more to do with technique and form making, as well as interaction and media. We leverage data – bits and atoms – for both form making and interaction. It helps us shape the things we put out in the world, it helps us fabricate them, program them and activate them.
Describe how data has become an active material in your final projects.
Data is an active participant in the way our projects perform – or we should say behave – in their contexts. Whether responding to the sounds of the city (Lightswarm), the cadence of infrastructure (Lightweave) or social media feeds (Datagrove, Murmur Wall), the structures we design and build exist as mutable frameworks – what we have called ‘Live Models.’
Gattegno and Johnson have written in the past that “Live Models are dynamic formations that register and continuously adapt to shifting atmospheric and microclimatic conditions.” These models are used to not only develop final outcomes, but also for understanding and revealing emerging behaviours and patterns. For FUTUREFORMS these ‘Live Models’ aid in the development of their designs and in some cases evolve to become an adaptable system that shifts and flexes in response to its environment.
What is the impact of a user being able to interact with your artwork?
What we enjoy the most about the interactive qualities of our artwork is the unpredictability of that experience. No matter how we may think we are scripting or designing that experience, our audience has always surprised us! People lying down on the ground when we thought they would actually want to see Aurora from above; groups meeting up for tai chi in front of Lightswarm; Datagrove being taken over by a global news cycle. The impact of a user being able to interact with our work is the immediacy of the ‘real time’, but also its unpredictability. We enjoy that and welcome it. It is a way of activating, making, remaking and recasting the public space our artwork is located in.