Haptic / Hyperactive

In 2009 and 2010 I ran a postgraduate research cluster at AUT University, in the Department of Spatial Design with Elvon Young called Haptic Environments. The cluster solicited projects that dealt with bodily effects, and was targeted at two observed areas of weakness in our undergraduate teaching: excessive emphasis on expression instead of effect; and a naive conception of nature. In this series of posts I want to explore these two weaknesses, and describe the shift in my thinking that has lead to what I am now calling the Hyperactive Environments Research Cluster.

1. Expression and Effect

Students are taught (and seem predisposed to operate this way) to design by expressing a concept rather than produce an effect. The difference between expression and effect is like the difference between teaching and learning — you can teach all you like, but you can’t guarantee your students are learning. Similarly, you can express all you like — stand at the top of a hill and bellow to the four winds — but you can’t guarantee that you have had any effect on anything. A fatalistic shrug of the shoulders accompanied with a jaded sigh implying that it is somehow not your problem to consider how your work is received or encountered (perhaps also appealing lamely to the principle that nobody can finally determine how something is interpreted) brings to mind the lecturer who stands and delivers every week, making no concessions to his listeners, heedless of the fact that he is having no effect on anybody at all. Effect asks what difference is produced. Effect is oriented towards the examination and disclosure of effects, not of intentions. Effect takes the other seriously, and notices that translation is required between any two entities. For one thing to have an effect on another, some work has to take place.

Having encountered students who were very sure of themselves in explaining what their designs were ‘about’ or what their intentions were, but who seemed bemused or stunned when they were questioned as to how or whether the desired effect would in fact be produced, I wanted to establish a programme that explicitly asked students to take a more rigorous approach to translation.

(to be continued…)

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