Introduction: Breaking Type

Hello. My name is Yi, and today I would like to tell you about why I’m so in love with movement.

A fairly well known martial artist once said, “Be formless, shapeless, like water. Now, you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Water can flow, or it can crash. Be water my friend.” These famous words uttered by none other than Bruce Lee has inspired generations of young fighters to channel the mighty aquatic element when engaging their bodies, but the vast majority of humans do not possess such finesse in body control. Dealing with the architectural space around us, water may conform its shape with ease, but the human body has countless formal limitations. Since the early 20th century, Architectural space has undergone massive standardization with Neufert’s Architect’s Data, spurring dangerously discriminatory body type ideals and pitting Architecture as an oppressive standardizing machine - like the garden stake contorting the malleable plant - against the variable human body. Architecture has repeatedly avoided the demand for an indifferent standard, thus calling forth subversive breaks in design thinking by utilizing the movements and dimensions of the anomaly- which concerns us all to some extent- in order to confront architecture’s violence on the body.

In previous investigations, I used drawing to investigate water’s temporal form and durational movement and my efforts to understand the serial nature of movement using orthographic projection, within a chosen context of the human body, gave way to spatial and boundary conditions of various scales. By focusing on the particular dimensions and measurements of body movements I began to understand the nuanced importance of unique user participation in regards to architectural space and its many constructs.

To further the search, I sought to extract precise ranges of variable movement dimensions that congregated as edits for Neufert’s book of stiffened architectural typologies, which do not accept variation. Architectural typology as it were was antithetic to participation, but can instead offer itself as the first hypothesis in the design process. Adjusting and re-proposing the hypothesis under the guidance of a new range of variable body movements allows a new finesse for architectural space.

Step 1: Entropy + the Conductor

The investigation took on specific form when I chose two subjects of study.

Dancers Sammay and Christian were filmed under the context of exploiting their individual ranges of motion, a performative dance to mimic the entropy of water from a solid state to the evanescence of vapor.

As an added variable of study, certain movements were subject to limitations, as I tied similar body parts together to study how they would affect their connected partner, but more importantly the other dancer as a whole. (balance, range of motion, etc)

This motion study lead way to a structured, frame-by-frame breakdown of body movement studies within a set environment.

I also filmed a second visual exploration, this time using a limited scope of study; a single arm under the strict context of music conducting. These parameters allowed for such variables as tempo, movement type, range of movement, speed of movement, and complexity of movement to be well within a comfortable range for both the performer as well as myself.

For these, I used:

  • Canon 6D
  • Sigma 35 mm lens
  • Kodak Tripod
  • Adobe Premier

Step 2: Hand-crafted Parametric Graphic Study

With a student-sized production budget, I wasn't able to obtain the proper body measuring technology, much like the ones produced by Autodesk that James Cameron expertly used in the filming of Avatar.

Not shying from a silly monetary deficiency, I opted to set strict parameters such that I can use old school, frame-by-frame tracing techniques to measure body movements against given scales and axises.

I first started off with a simple swing of an arm, traced over a certain given temporal period. This lead way to graphic interpretations of spatial consequences of movement, as well as their ranges of extremities.

During this exploration I developed techniques in long exposure photography as well as music composition in order to further finess the measurement process; adding strings of lights to a body dancing in the dark allowed me to trace different points of a limb and marking out musical tempos allowed for the dancer to interpret an even set of movements to maximize visibility and clarity during my graphical investigations.

For the long exposure photography I used:

  • Canon 6D
  • Sigma 35 mm lens
  • Christmas Lights (various colors)
  • Blue & Red Flood Lights
  • Kodak Tripod
  • Adobe Lightroom
  • Adobe Illustrator

Step 3: Spatial Manifestations

With body movements mapped out, within a fixed frame, throughout a set period of time I was left with the splayed out frames of vectorized movements. Instead of viewing them again through time as we did previously in video, I chose to give them spatial characteristics by rendering them through a solid material.

For this, I chose to laser cut pieces of acrylic that I later combined into a solid.

The acrylic was 3/16" in thickness throughout all prototypes and iterations in order to maintain a sense of continuity and similarity. To combine, I used acrylic glue and lots of patience.

Step 4: Breaking Type

Architect's Data by Ernst & Peter Neurfert has been used by countless designers in creating built space.

The problem? The publication utilized a set of design standards that generated the measurements of all the spatial design. This is problematic in the case of every single other person in this world that doesn't meet the standard set for the average human being (a 6 ft. adult male)

By using the body size and range of motion measurements I gained from my frame-by-frame video studies, I was able to apply a wealth of edits to each and every standard design strategy for many areas of the book. Included are four common areas of spatial design that can create problems almost every person out there, since who is perfectly standard anyway?

Step 5: Be Human

No one is perfect, and our environment shouldn't be designed with the assumption that we are.

Proper advocacy and measurements can create hyper-customized moments where no one is left feeling left out.

At the end of the day, the built environment is there for us to use, so why not make it so we can actually use it?

(the above pictures were pictures I took on a trip to Tokyo. I used a Canon 6D with Sigma 35mm lens)