UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 09 Winter 18 Library
Cris Ponce
School of Architecture

Urban Sycnopation

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UVA School of Architecture Dean and Edward E. Elson Professor Ila Berman and Associate Professor of Architecture and Urban + Environmental Planning Mona El-Khafif recently continued their ongoing exploration of the increasingly important intersection between physical landscapes and data with an installation at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale. Their installation, Urban Syncopation, was selected to be part of an exhibition called Data + Matter that featured projects by leading international designers creating novel spatial conditions and experiential perceptions that connect and visualize data, through emerging responsive systems, sensing and actuating technologies, at micro- and macro-scales. Dean Ila Berman explained, “The Data + Matter exhibition at the Venice Architecture Biennale reframed Urban Syncopation within the context of a multi-scalar group of projects each exploring a distinct set of relationships between information and matter, code and space. This recontextualization of our project allowed from another form of interaction to occur across the works within the exhibition, expanding our own thinking about the genetic encoding and animation of architecture and cities.”

Urban Syncopation, designed and fabricated with collaborators, Marcella Del Signore, professor at Tulane University and principal at the design-research firm, X-Topia; and Steven Beites of Studio Kimiis/Beites & Co., is an audio-reactive light installation that temporarily inhabits the existing spaces of the city with a performative skin that functions as a responsive, dynamic interface. The installation mimics the heartbeat of a city by using a patterned and faceted surface that becomes a living, thickened topography that collects, recodes, and emits the city’s rhythms, as they weave into the reflected movements and immediate environs. The resulting syncopation becomes a repository of urban information that renders visible the unseen traces of the city’s occupation, while simultaneously weaving them into a new architectural and spatial network. “Urban Syncopation is one of a series of urban prototypes we’ve been working on,” Mona El-Khafif described. “It stands out as a project that transcodes urban sound data and re-presents it in an abstract physical datascape. Although we can easily imagine this project outside of the gallery setting – as a form of public art or a façade system, we are currently working on its next iteration that rethinks urban data flows and sensing within the context of a responsive ecosystem. This allows us to learn about our environment while simultaneously being an active part of it.”

Urban Syncopation was on display from May 26 to November 25. It was the latest high-profile exposure for the project, which was previously honored as one of the 5 best projects of Nuit Blanche 2016, presented at ACSA 2017. 

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