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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Project Recap No. 7 - Fragrant Follies...


The included designs were a part of a series of case-studies, realized between 2004 – 08, titled Sensory Follies that explored some of the more physical and perceptual aspects of computing based design.

The project took as its starting point a polemic that claims that the use of computers within design and architecture has resulted in them becoming excessively visual in their mannerism, i.e. the way design and architecture are conceived when using a computer seem to have developed into something meant predominantly to please the eye, rather than the more comprehensive sensory and perceptual realm (its touch – texture, weight and firmness – its smell, sound, even taste) through which such a design will eventually be experienced, something especially unfortunate in the context of product/ furniture design and architecture as the outcome is inevitably physical. Whilst this might have been a concern even a decade ago, the evolution of the CAD-CAM technologies have permitted a more direct and inherent link to be formed between the way things are conceived with a computer with how things can now be directly realized by the computer based fabrication methods, something which in turn has allowed for a more comprehensive and sensorial understanding of the eventual design to be inferred. In addition, as 'tools' the CAM methods incorporate, beyond the overall degree of accuracy and speed of production they allow for, their own particular set of material and textural idiosyncrasies which can be used as enriching elements in a design. The included projects aimed to take advantage of such factors in their conception.

The design of the Sensory Follies were based on the assumption that, if the notion that we have five senses is accepted, basing a computer based design on the three senses that lend themselves least easily to digital conception would by default produce something intrinsically multi sensorial. In this instance the non-visual senses were the guiding protagonist according to which the designs were conceived. Thus three categories of follies were created, two follies for smell, two for touch, and one for taste - or the Fragrant Tower & Cocoon (explained below), the Finger-Run and the Snakeskin designs (the latter which was initiated under the suppositions of this project, but soon evolved into an entity of its own) which both dealt with the various dimensions of hapticity and touch; the Architectural Tidbit - a gustatory architectural intervention, which will be explained in a (not too distant) future blog post.

Fragrant Follies

The Fragrant Tower...

The Fragrant (or Olfactory) Follies are designs, both fabricated through SLA, which, as explained in an earlier blog entry, used the default scaffolding of the system as components in the design. Here, however, the support matrix was utilized to retain the fragrant oils which are used to saturate the torsos of the designs. The designs aim to subtly affect their environments through the ethereal means of smell, distributing noticeable, but subtle, aromas into the spaces they occupy, leaving fragrant mnemonic traces onto passers by, thus allowing them to bear their influence far beyond the realm their modest sizes initially might suggest.

The aim was to make a design as discrete, yet as expressive and catalytic as a fragrance. A design that could be experienced without being seen. A design that is sensed before it is comprehended.

The designs form faint interventions that interact with its surroundings through evocation rather than provocation. They aim to connect with existing conditions, buildings and beings, stealthily adapting themselves to what is there. Powered and spread by the a breeze, air conditioning, the turbulence from a swinging door, even a sneeze, the designs distribute their subtle aromatic memes. The designs are ‘mechanical’ in the sense a termites nest, a spiders-web or a beavers-dam is mechanical, aiming to fulfil their aims in a comparably congenital manner.

As we inhale, we smell. As we exhale, we don’t. There’s an inherent binary pace and rhythm to experiencing something olfactory. Here the design, the object, is not the protagonist, but the experience of the scent actually takes place ‘within’ its audience, as the fragrance enters their bodies through their nose, mouth and pores. The experience of the design becomes an internalized event, an non-optically derived formulation of an occurrence.

Usually there are three levels to a fragrance - a bottom (base), middle (heart), and top (head)note. The top notes are the most volatile, these are initial ‘layer’ of an aroma one usually smells first. The middle notes diffuse more slowly, and are usually floral essences. They provide the fragrance with a body. The base notes are the most fixed of all the fragrances. They provide the foundations for the top two levels.

In all the Fragrant Follies the bottom and middle notes were the same, with the base note being a ‘Vanilla’ extract with ‘Benzoin Tincture’ as a catalyst. The middle note used was Rose Absolute’. Only the top notes were varied (both from the citrus family), with one being ‘Orange - Sweet’ (Citrus Sinensis), and the other ‘Grapefruit’ (Citrus Paradisi). This was done to provide some variation and embedded richness to the olfactoryscape.

Fragrant Tower

Due to both its eventual size and fact that the design intended to use the default scaffolding to create both the bulk of its torso (in a similar fashion to the SLA bowl explained an earlier blog entry), this rendition of the design involved extensive trial & error to reach a satisfactory conclusion.

Close up of the Fragrant Tower's torso...

A sectional shot of the Fragrant Tower...

Made up of three stacked components, with a shallow male-female link between the components, the tower’s total height was 720 millimeters. Its shape and aims were loosely based upon on the makeup of termites nests, wind-scoops and wind towers, which all provide different means to distribute air, and thus provide suggestions for transferring fragrances. To better understand how the various viscous liquids containing the fragrances would move and occupy the tower, a test was made in which various coloured inks were poured into and through the tower segments. Beyond this action simply having a certain aesthetic appeal , it was an informative exercise, providing suggestions for how to apply and disperse the various aromas through the tower's three segments.

The Fragrant Tower exhibited at the Nous Gallery, London, April-May, 2008...

Fragrant Cocoon

A early sketch of the Fragrant Cocoon...

Designed as a mobile that would slowly sway on a the ledge of a shelf, table or perch, the design, differently from the Fragrant Tower (which in purpose is the same), also uses the ability of the associated software (Materialise's Magics) to manually distribute support scaffolding across a build, here to selectively increase the density of the fine scaffolding of the design making it more compact where needed, thus enabling it to retain the fragrant oils saturating its torso for longer.

A sectional image of the Fragrant Cocoon, showing some of the manually applied support strands added to increase the density of the design's torso...

The designs were displayed in a domestic as well as a public context. Both designs functioned as intended, distributing their subtle affect into their environments and did perceptively modify the ambiance of each space they were displayed in, as in each instance numerous visitors did enquire, and did eventually discover (by following their noses), the sources of the subtle citrus scented perfume that went with the spaces.

The completed Fragrant Cocoon, perched on a finger...

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