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The Triangle - The Independent Student Newspaper at Drexel University

Projects merge design, function

The Design Futures Lab hosted an exhibition July 9 featuring the work of six graduate students in the Master of Interior Architecture and Design program. The event, titled “Projects: 12/13,” took place in the Leonard Pearlstein Gallery of The URBN Annex.

The six students had the challenge of creating multidisciplinary designs with concepts of aesthetics and materialist philosophies that improve the human experience.

Nicole Koltick, assistant professor in the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design and director of the Design Futures Lab, explained that this design-led research model gives students the opportunity to take charge of a diverse team of experts.

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“I really want these to be the next generation of design leaders,” Koltick said.

Megan Mitchell presented her attempt to revolutionize the process of decompression in “Technology at the Threshold: Reimagining the Entry Procession.” Mitchell explained that personal technology has created a world buzzing with sensory stimuli, resulting in a state of digital dislocation that leaves people feeling out of place and out of source.

Mitchell’s project is one of the latest in a range of case studies that investigate the means by which people can escape from the various distractions of their worlds. Specifically, Mitchell used the design of a household entrance to assist in the physical and mental transition involved in entering the home environment.

“This threshold is a procession to help you shed wherever you came from and allows you to be open to wherever you’re going,” Mitchell said.

The use of ambient light at various points in the entrance serves to give a warm welcome, while the intensity of the light adjusts in proportion to the number of people at home, giving the person entering an indication of the state of affairs in the house. Other features of this entrance include an exfoliating air wash to brush off the dirt from outside, a network phase break that severs electronic connections and suppresses sound, and a re-entry/reconnect section that facilitates the final phase of transition into the home. The overall design of the structure is also conducive to relaxation; the triangular subunits never convene to one specific focal point, allowing the viewer’s eyes to wander aimlessly.

Elena Beth, an interior design graduate student, elaborated on the structural design, saying, “It’s a hybrid of technology and old-school architecture.”

Sarah Moores also worked to improve the process of transitioning from one’s workday into home life. Her display featured a model of a wearable device that she developed. When users experience any heightened emotion, the device detects the change in physiological response and automatically starts recording. At the end of the day, users can relax in a listening pod that will play back the audio track of the day’s events. Moores hopes that this device will facilitate the reflection.

“The most important moments in our lives are the ones that are emotional,” she said. She went on to explain that this memory prosthetic will remind users of the importance of their emotional connections to events.

Taisha Tucker helped to usher in the age of the smart house with her work on adaptive living spaces. Tucker’s research capitalizes on the potential of synthetic biology to re-engineer bacteria into an interactive environment. She demonstrated this concept with a countertop display that showed how biologically embedded materials would indicate the presence of any contaminants in the food being prepared.

Similarly, the microbial flooring surface modeled how bacteria embedded in the material would detect and neutralize unwanted substances such as pet dander and dirt. By growing, extracting and then drying out a particular kind of mold, Tucker was able to create a tough brown material that can be used as a new type of wall covering. The display served as an example of the aesthetics of the material and also showed how bacteria in the wallpaper could react to the motions inside the room.

“I think it’s a wonderful example of how design and research can come together to create a better future for us,” Debra Ruben, director of the interior design program, said.

Katie McHugh added to the concept of a smart house with the introduction of the “smart bed” she designed. Much like Tucker’s adaptive living spaces, McHugh’s technology uses sensors to create an interactive sleeping environment.

“[The smart bed] speculates the onset of sensors in our materiality,” McHugh said.

She explained that different sensors could serve different purposes. For example, an audio sensor could register sleep talking and provide a gentle nudge to the sleep talker. Resistance sensors could signal the bed to redistribute the weight of a bedridden patient in order to prevent the formation of bedsores.

Kim Brown took her project in a different direction by working to enhance exploration of the urban landscape. “Deviant Wear” gives users an alternative way to interact with the surrounding environment rather than the screens of their handheld devices. Brown demonstrated this concept by providing a jacket and three scarves as a wearable interface. Each item had speakers embedded for audio output and heating and vibrating pieces to provide sensory cues for the wearer as to where to go.

Once the heating and vibrational stimulation have guided the user toward a wireless beacon, the audio plays through the neckline of the clothing and produces an interaction between the user and her surroundings. Through these and similar items, Brown said she hopes to encourage “ambulatory exploration of the urban landscape.”

Laura Nejman also wanted to add a new sensory dynamic to the way we interact. Her design proposed the use of emotional scent communication to provide a deeper but less intrusive means of messaging one another. Users would build a scent library and then transmit different combinations of scent selections to the receiving party. Nejman suggested that because scent is the sense most closely connected to emotion, her device offers the potential to “access the subconscious through emotion.”