A/D/O by MINI | Urban Imprint behind the scenes

Journal

Installation

Urban Imprint behind the scenes

How did the A/D/O summer installation by Studio INI come to fruition, and how does it actually work? Designer Nassia Inglessis explains.

The Concept

“In a natural environment, you always leave an imprint,” designer Nassia Inglessis told The Journal. “Imagine when you're in a field of grass, or when you're walking through the woods to make a path. Imagine when you're walking on snow. The natural environment takes its form from all the living elements within it, and you also become part of that ecosystem. It's this concept of passive interaction and interplay.”

“Whereas in urban environments, it's almost like you've been poured into a vessel that has been predefined; designed by someone else,” she continued. “You're navigating through set boundaries, and your presence is not changing or affecting them. So it's inevitable to feel muted.”

In response to the A/D/O 2019 research theme The Future of Self, Inglessis and her team at Studio INI chose to explore the relationship that our bodies have with urban space, and how that differs from our experience of moving through the natural world.

Therefore, the studio aimed to create a manmade space that adapts to its user, rather than the other way around. As part of Studio INI’s research into “augmented materiality,” the team also decided that this should take the form of an analog mechanism, as opposed to a digitally actuated system that relies on sensors for its interactive element.

Urban Imprint reconsiders what an urban environment could be like, bringing passive interactions from the natural environment and amplifying your senses,” Inglessis added.

The Process

After the project was conceived in December 2018, Inglessis and her team spent months developing a system that would adapt to body weight – similar to their Disobedience installation created for the 2018 London Design Biennale. During this intensive period, they built two full-scale prototypes, onto which they applied various material iterations.

“I always work directly at scale,” Inglessis said, “because if my actuator is a human, it's only by seeing it at full scale that I can really understand how these materials are going to behave.”

Digitally controlled processes like water-jet and laser cutting were used to fabricate various prototype components of the analog system. Each element was then physically tested to ensure the right properties were achieved.

“Throughout the process, although we use computational tools to design with, the iteration always has to be tested by stretching, touching the material, flexing it, throwing it against the wall,” said the designer. “It’s only the physical material itself that will tell you what it's actually going to do.”

Inglessis is a very hands-on designer, and has to put a lot of physical effort into the fabrication and testing of her installations due to their scale. Finding out she was pregnant midway through the Urban Imprint project, she had to “be creative” with ways in which she could match her typical level of involvement.

The Mechanics

Now for the technical part. The Urban Imprint installation comprises a rubber-concrete mix that forms the “floor” and “ceiling” surfaces, perforated with a hexagonal pattern that allows the material to flex and stretch when pushed or pulled.

Spread underneath the flooring are steel springs, which accommodate the weight of the user. When compressed, the springs enact a system of pulleys and cables, connected to the exact corresponding area of the ceiling above. “I wanted the presence, the weight and the movement to be the initial triggers of the actuation. And I wanted this to be all-encompassing,” said Inglessis.

Mirrored panels along the back side of the installation hide the vertical cables, or “veins” as Inglessis describes them, and a framework above organizes them into neat rows.

The pulley system is designed to amplify the deformation of the floor in the ceiling, creating a much bigger spatial shift overhead compared to what is occurring under foot. “We’ve played with different diameters of pulley so that deformation is multiplied four times, and transferred directly onto the ceiling, which stretches four times more,” Inglessis said.

The installation is constructed from seven sections, which were lined up and riveted together to create an almost seamless whole. “The beauty with this system is that it's one body,” said Inglessis. “Every single part of it is connected to the next. Everything needs to be connected for it act as one. One beast.”

The Result

Occupying the majority of the courtyard at A/D/O, Urban Imprint allows four visitors at a time to walk through an adaptable environment, and experience how their body weight influences and alters the space around them.

“When you step onto it, suddenly the floor doesn’t feel like a floor; doesn’t feel like a boundary. It recedes and depresses,” said Inglessis. “The space adapts to you, not you to it. You’re forming the space, and the space – as an exoskeleton – is almost an extension of yourself. Then there’s the interaction with the people around you, and how they form the space.”

“You create your own cocoon, in a way, from what feels like very rigid materials,” she added.

Another effect of moving through the installation is the shifts in light. As the material flexes and the hexagonal pattern expands, the gaps allow natural light in through the ceiling. After dark, this effect is amplified with artificial lighting installed under the floor and above the ceiling.

“There’s not just a deformation in form, but a deformation in light, as it stretches open and allows light to really seep through,” Inglessis said.

Overall, the installation is intended to provoke curiosity and surprise. Since Urban Imprint is so interactive, and requires a human user to activate it, the outcome is innately unpredictable – and that is precisely what Inglessis wanted.

“When people first experience the installation, it's not going to be immediately evident how it works,” she said. “What will be very exciting to me is seeing the moment of realization that they are what's causing this action; that they are the trigger. And I'm sure I will discover new ways that people will interact with it, that I hadn't even thought about.”

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