Particulate Matters

Chinese gardens are characterized by their distinct features. Leaking windows, Taihu stones, still ponds, and banana shaped doors. Taihu sculpture rocks are the source of energy within the Chinese garden. They carry a specific cultural and traditional significance, and are believed to contain within them the ability to mediate Qi, the energy through which all life is philosophically understood.

At its core, Particulate Matters is an installation and sculpture. Two white museum plinths stand five meters apart, and perpendicular to a white wall. Atop one is a vial of particulate matter collected from the Shiziyuanlin in Suzhou. Atop the other is a late Qing dynasty stone. Behind these plinths hang the micrographs of the particulate matter, in the order that they were collected. As the principal actor and investigator, I have brought together two unique understandings of energy in a predominately physical way. The microscopic investigation of the particulate matter was conducted with respect to the physical and visual qualities that make Taihu stones so prized: shou (‘leanness’), zhou (‘surface texture’), lou (‘channels and indentations’) and tou (‘foraminate structure,’ characterized by multiple holes and openings).

By looking at particulate matter as an equally important found object, and elevating it to the significant visual level of a Taihu sculpture rock, this project looks at ideologically important conceptions of energy and energy dependency in a modern context. Viewers are challenged to interact with particulate matter and Taihu stones as equally important found art objects. This project perverts the elemental energy of the Taihu stone by binding its meaning to an equally important modern symbol, particulate matter. Collecting and mechanically reproducing particulate matter draws from the found art object movement, and draws parallel themes between Taihu rocks and the mechanically dependent society from which particulate matter is born.


Video Documentation of Micrography:

Capstone Update

I think it is clear that this set of user testing will be vital not in terms of interaction or final physical presentation, but rather in explanation. As this project is research heavy, and requires users to understand the research process to understand the final process, I focused heavily on the language used when describing the project to my users.

One of the things that became clear first across all three users, is that I am going to have to fully explain the concept of a Taihu stone. User 2 had heard previously of the Taihu sculpture rocks, and was able to explain in a fairly topical way what he believed the stones represented, but he misinterpreted a few key details. Neither User 1 or User 3 had ever heard of the concept, but they did realize what they were when I showed them photos. It is clear that the documentation from the trip to Suzhou will be important during the presentation.

Another large variable is the method of presentation: I can either start from the beginning, working chronologically, starting with the original intention of the project, explaining the road map of how I got to where I am now, and then revealing the final presentation towards the end of the presentation. I used this chronological method of presentation in two of the three user tests. In the third user test, I opted to explain the work itself (via the use of mockups, and in hand samples of particulate matter) and then work backwards, explaining how I got to this point. I think that I prefer the chronological method. Users two and three seemed to understand the concept more when I told it in this way, and it seemed to flow more smoothly from my perspective when I used the chronological method.

Other updates from this week include: I am working with Maya Kramer on the creation of a set of glass vitrines that will likely be the final housing for the vials of particles. Antonino has been helpful in constructing the language regarding the physical particulate matter. I am looking for a vendor/printing company that I can reliably use for the prints of the micrographs, and am also starting experimentation with the text that will be displayed with the installation. I am interested in a thicker, more permanent piece of wood or board that can be printed on and displayed with the vitrines and photographs, but have not reached out to a vendor yet. This testing of the physical aspects is the focus for this week, and I plan to work with the same three users, but also incorporate three new ones, totaling six. It is also looking like I have secured the use of a portable particulate monitoring device from the physics department.

Capstone Update

Progress this week took an interesting turn in terms of user testing. Because of the results from last weeks interactions, I decided to focus in on the sound component for one week, and ignored the larger and more arduous task of the visual material component, something that I have been struggling with, in order to make progress in other avenues. I took a field recorder and decided to make specific recordings of some of the sounds that the materials are making when being inflated and interacted with. I then user tested these on people who were not involved in last weeks inflation tests in order to single out some of the emotions that the noises were invoking. Users were asked to close their eyes, and then I placed a set of headphones on their ears and played different sounds, asking them to voice their opinions, emotions, and immediate reactions to them in a stream of conscious style.

The results were surprising with some materials and not with others. The result with the most predictable outcome still seems to be the aggressively of the leaf blower as a mode of inflation. Here are the results from one of the sound tests: “Brown bag, breathing into the bag, for people who have anxiety, hyperventilation. Midnight binge eating, opening the bag of popcorn, M&Ms, microwave, butter, guilt, walking through a field with a windbreaker, chewing in the kitchen. Busy, dirty, wrinkly, crowded, and lonely.”

As of now, past progress consists mainly of user testing in regards to the questions of the materiality, the sound interaction, and the method of inflation. The plan for this upcoming week of tests is going to be distributed amongst a few new key aspects. One of those refers to the ability to automate the ‘inflatability’ of the objects. I plan on prototyping a mode of inflation that can either be triggered remotely (via wires and buttons) or one that can be be triggered via a networked device. This will likely either involve a raspberry pi or an Arduino.

When revisiting research this past week, some interesting themes came across my mind. Something that I’m interested and hope to look into this week is thinking about creating possible a series of particles that have different origin stories. Most of this line of thinking is tied to the Airborn Particulate Matter text (sections one and two). I’m interested in the variance and diversity of originations that each particle has, and I think timing a story into each particle, if presented in a series, might be interesting.

The trip to Suzhou had to be pushed back a week, but I think it actually makes more sense to make the journey this week, as I am starting to really hone in on the structure and materiality of the finished product.

User Testing 1 – Particulate Matters

The main target for this user testing was the question of inflation.
As this project has progressed, inflation and materiality (as predicted) have emerged as the key components that will drive the theme of the project… At least in terms of initial user interaction. It should be noted that I decided to conduct all three user tests in the same fashion, as opposed to experimenting with different methods. I can do the latter at a later date, and compare the results.

For this first session, I constructed a simple 1mx.5mx.3m inflatable particle that could be easily inflated via the use of a portable electronic leaf blower (I’m not too concerned with form right now as this will come later, and will hopefully be guided by further interaction and material testing). Users were instructed to take a hold of the leaf blower and use the trigger to inflate it. When it reached its maximum capacity, I instructed them to stop, and then we sat and waited for the particle to deflate until it was almost empty (approx. 30 seconds later). This process was repeated twice. How people felt during and after the inflation process, and what reactions did the method of inflation inspire were some of the main questions that I wanted to probe here.

All three users were very intrigued by the sounds that followed the inflation. The natural cracking of the plastic had “something really enticing” to it (user 1) and was something that all three were drawn to. Extremely antithetical to this type of interaction was the noise of the leaf blower. Its presence is very loud and in your face. But it seems to present a clear dilemma for the user as well (as noted in the reactions of users 2 & 3)… You want to blow up the particle, but you don’t want to do it in such an aggressive way. I think this is something that I will find myself using to my advantage. It seems as though it will be important for the project to be housed in as quiet of a space as possible, as sound has become an important method of interaction for the user.

The shape of the particle became another extremely important factor. I didn’t explain the themes of the project to the users before testing, and opted to explore them afterwords during the interview portion of the user testing. After user 3 had completed her user test, I repeated the process but this time housed the particle within a nylon veil. This level of visual interaction seemed far more interesting to the user, and is something that I want to experiment with next.

This week also presented a leap forward in fabrication techniques. I discovered new ways to fuse together the plastic and have honed in on a more adequate temperature via the DeWalt hot air gun. Creating porous holes in the particles seems to be particularly easy by fusing and cutting and then re-fusing, but I seem to be hitting a boundary when moving from a more 2D style particle to a 3D one, where holes not only appear from front to back, but left to right. Through my failures, I have discovered a few ways to not make particles — patterns in particular seem to be extremely challenging to fuse together. I’m finding myself more and more having to obey the material, especially when it comes to plastic. When hot it becomes too sticky and brittle, and it is often at risk of ripping. Another failed experiment that I played with this week touched on deflation rather than inflation. I briefly looked at the question of deflating plastic particles from around taihu sculpture rocks, something that almost immediately seemed impossible. When vacuuming out air from the plastic orbs, the edged of the plastic, rather than the air, sucked into the vacuum.

Something that I do really want to experiment with next is forming the shape of an inflatable by moulding it to the object and then fusing it over said object. I think that this could be particularly rewarding. By draping larger and thinner sheets of plastic over the objects I want to replicate, I might be able to transcend the problems encountered in the fabric pattern problem mentioned above. I want to experiment more with the question of material via veiled plastic. This seems as though it could be a possible outcome of the physical outcome of the project. Color is another large part of this. In what ways I will be able to coat my material (if it is plastic) is another question. Two other large chunks of progress that I want to accomplish for next week involve reviewing my collected research, to see if I can further incorporate any themes that I may be missing out on, and traveling to Suzhou to visit the lake Tai and its various sculpture gardens.

Various media for this documentation can be found here.

The Sensor Technology in Vehicles

The vehicles that we drive – regardless of whether or not this expression is appropriate – are on their way to becoming autonomous mobile environments of their own. The Tesla Model X, unveiled by Elon Musk in 2014, was the first car to incorporate a HEPA style filtration system into its production. Tesla, a corporation whose reach and influence spans from aerospace technology to energy and transportation, saw the feature as a crucial standard for its vehicles. It’s implementation goes beyond that of traditional HEPA filter, and holds within it the ability to neutralize and eliminate pollen, viruses, bacteria, mold, and pollution.

In order to test the highest setting of the Model X’s air filter, Tesla engineers placed a Model X in a large bubble contaminated with extreme levels of pollution (1,000 µg/m3 of PM2.5 vs. the EPA’s “good” air quality index limit of 12 µg/m3). They then closed the falcon doors and activated Bioweapon Defense Mode.

What this chart shows is that the influence of the Model X extends beyond its contained environment, and seeps past its steel and carbon fiber chassis into the world that it drives within. It is this ability of the Tesla to act in three capacities – as an agent of sensing, an agent of environmental filtration, and as a gateway for both indoor and outdoor environmental regulation – that make it such an interesting object in the sphere of citizen sensing technologies.

Beyond the capabilities of Model X is the question of the car itself. Today’s cars are complex systems of sensors. They know how large they are, where they fit, and where they don’t. When and where they can and can’t open their doors. How fast they should be traveling, and when to yield. Today’s cars know how to get to their destination, and they can do it on their own. But it wasn’t always that way. The first cars had no capacity for interpretation. They used combustible engines, and were controlled by wheels and levers that mechanically altered their performance. Turning the steering wheel of a car used to literally turn the wheels of the car. The wheel itself was only a physical extension that shortened the distance between you and the gears below your feet.

From the time that the car was introduced in the mid 1800s until the 1960s, there were no major ‘updates’ to its operation. The first was electronic fuel injection, which gauged and moderated the injection of fuel into the pistons of the engine. Then came the automatic transmission, which moderated the gears and RPM. Then in quick succession were anti-lock braking systems, electronic airbags, and GPS navigation systems. What should be noted here is that in the first vehicles, the humans were the sensors. This is nothing new to those who learned to drive stick shift growing up, where you are taught to sense the vibrations of the motor in order to properly time and execute a shift. Going even further, the need for precise multi-limb coordination was replaced by the automatic transmission, the importance of a good sense of direction was replaced by GPS, and so on. In a sense, each new and important iteration of the automobile was born out of the implementation of a new sensor. And each one of those sensors removed a responsibility of the human to be an engaged actor within the vehicle.

Platform Characteristics of Buildings

“Buildings are the wealth of nations, our largest capital asset, the ornament of cultures, and where we spend most of our lives.” – Stewart Brand

On the 14th of July, 1988, President Mitterand of France announced his intention to build a library in Paris for the modern world. He passed the logistics of this task onto the committee of the “Association pour la Bibliothèque de France,” who over the following months deliberated over the proposals of 244 internationally renowned architects. Four of these proposals were brought to President Mitterand for comment, and Dominique Perrault – a lesser known 36 year old French architect at the time – was chosen to complete the task.

Inaugurated in December of 1996, the French National Library’s four towers stand at 259 feet tall. Their 2,690,978 square feet of surface area is often categorized by its lack of decoration, where thick sheets of glass – intended to refract the sun’s rays – enclose it and its users in a greenhouse where temperatures rise high enough to increase the aging of books on the shelves. As a result, slabs of wood were added at each window, giving users their necessary shade. This monumentally increased the construction costs of the FNL, and caused the French Finance Ministry to cut the budget for book purchasing in the following years.

The question of buildings as platforms is complex. The ‘building codes’ that guide construction and the political systems through which these considerations are formulated, the architects, planners, contractors, and labor demanded, the users who inhabit and modify, and the physical construction – wood, concrete, and metal hide beneath, creating an exoskeleton of services – are all at play.

Looking to the example of the French National Library above, we see an instance in which various actors made predictions that resulted in disaster for various users, and where these decisions brought with them new platform rules. Using this same conceptual framework we are pushed to evaluate who acts as a user in the platform of the FNL. Professors and students? Books?

As platforms, buildings organize human activity, display a manifestation of tradeoffs, and profess user identity. Buildings are only started and never completed. They are in a constant stage of transformation. They moderate and compete with their users, like platforms, locking and unlocking possibilities. Buildings come and go, in the most severe form, of demolition and reconstruction.

Buildings as platforms constantly take up roles never intended by their designers. Coffee shops, for example, can serve as meeting venues, napping spaces, and concert halls all while still being coffee shops.

Buildings in certain ways are also stacks. We see this through British journalist Stewart Brand’s investigation of the shearing layers of a building in his 1997 documentary “How Buildings Learn”. Working from the outside in, a building begins with a site. This location is eternal. Next follows the skin, a thin layer of visible of material that composes the facade, physically visible from the outside. Behind this facade is the structure of the building, which is composed of all load bearing elements. Between the the inner facade and the outer facade – or the interior design – is the service layer, where pipes and wiring intertwine to give the building life. And on the innermost point is the stuff. These layers are constantly in conversation with each other, sometimes moderated by the user, and sometimes not.

Shanghai’s Xujiahui

Since its establishment in 1847 by French Jesuits, the Xujiahui Library (also known as Bibliotheca Zi-ka-wei) has stayed intact despite the fall of the last dynasty, wars both world and civil, and political and economic reforms and upheavals (King). It stood as the first public library in Shanghai – and the first public library in modern Chinese history – as well as a historical location for many important events that influenced the flourish of Catholicism in China. Following its founding in 1847, it became a repository of scholarly knowledge and at its peak housed over 200,000 different volumes. It was also known for its writings in Chinese and European languages of missions in China and abroad. Standing across from the library sit the both St. Ignatius Cathedral and the Xujiahui Observatory. Founded in 1872, the Xujiahui Observatory was one of the world’s foremost observatories for the continuous long-term evaluation and collection of climatological data. It also produced the first weather chart of East Asia in 1895, and became a hub for meteorological, astronomical, geomagnetic and marine research. The St. Ignatius Cathedral was originally constructed in 1851, and then reconstructed and enlarged between 1906 and 1910 by English architect William Doyle. It was known as the great cathedral of the far East, and could house almost three thousand worshipers at once.

I propose an expository documentary that takes on the role of decoding the lasting survival of these monuments, and that investigates their historical significance – as well as the role of other landmarks and relics of Xujiahui – as a part of a diasporic settlement that was mediated by the Jesuits and that served the role of a “cultural and geographical crossroads between the East and West” in Shanghai (King). This documentary could thus take on many different scopes. One of those would be the architectural history of these sites, as well as the specific events, people, and stories that are tied to their founding. Some of those people might include Xuguangqi (1562-1633), one of the most important early Chinese Catholics closely associated with Matteo Ricci (1552–1610), the founder of the Jesuit China mission. This documentary could also investigate their role as a hub for mediation of culture and knowledge by the Jesuits themselves. What role did they play and what role do these institutions still play? Because of the complexities of this story, the scope of the documentary will largely depend on the interests and willingness to participate of our subjects. Possible subjects for the documentary include:

Joanna Waley-Cohen, the Provost for NYU Shanghai. Her research interests include early modern Chinese history; China and the West; and Chinese imperial culture, especially in the Qianlong era.

Francesca Tarocco, visiting Associate Professor of Buddhist Cultures at NYU Shanghai. Tarocco’s research interests are in the cultural history of China, Chinese Buddhism, visual culture and urban Asia.

Davide Cucino, Chairman of Italy Chamber of Commerce and Chairman of Fincantieri China since January 2017, who graduated from Venice Ca’Foscari University in Oriental Studies, and studied Chinese History at Beijing University.

Lena Scheen, Assistant Professor of Global China Studies at NYU Shanghai. Scheen is a member of the Urban Knowledge Network of Asia (UKNA). Scheen’s research explores the social and cultural impact of China’s fast urbanization, focusing on Shanghai.

King, Gail. “The Xujiahui (Zikawei) Library of Shanghai.” Libraries & Culture, vol. 32, no. 4, 1997, pp. 456–469. JSTOR

Hanbury-Tenison, William, and Anthony E. Clark. “Seminary of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (1932–35).” The Memoirs of Jin Luxian: Volume One: Learning and Relearning, 1916-1982, Hong Kong University Press, 2012, pp. 37–42. JSTOR,

Golvers, N. “Old Provenances of the Western Books in the Former (And Current) Xujiahui (Zikawei)-Library, Shanghai.” Sino-Western Cultural Relations Journal, vol. 36, Sept. 2014, pp. 25-42. EBSCOhost

Liu, Yu. “The Complexities of a New Faith: Xu Guangqi’s Acceptance of Christianity.” Journal of Religious History, vol. 37, no. 2, June 2013, pp. 228-244.

Titangos, Hui-Lan H.1, “Xujiahui Library: A Cultural Crossroads between East and West.” Chinese Librarianship, no. 41, June 2016, pp. 1-19. EBSCOhost

Xujiahui Cathedral

Xujiahui Observatory

Xujiahui Library

Map of Xujiahui — just southwest of the Library lies the cathedral, and just East of the cathedral is the hall of XuGuangQi. Possible flying concerns are the willingness of the people who run/own/operate these buildings to participate. The neighborhood sits just outside of the airport regulated no-fly-zone.

Shanghai Qinci Yangdian Daoist Temple: An Aerial Perspective

This documentary will investigate the historical origins of the Shanghai Qinci Yangdian Daoist Temple, located at the corner of Zhangyang road and Yuanshen road, just fifteen minutes from the NYU Shanghai academic building.

Daoism, in the context of ‘Chinese religion’, is the religion of the local. Daoist temples and ritual practices often date back to specific ancestral lines, and involve priests and sacred objects that hold meaning within their locality. Daoist religious spaces carry architectural elements that help to differentiate them from other Chinese religious spaces. Daoist roofs, for example, are inscribed and decorated with ornate figurines, multicolored tiles, and clay sculptures, all of which symbolize localized elements of each Daoist temple. Aerial perspectives would allow us as filmmakers to give a unique view of the liveliness and imaginative nature of Daoist architecture and Daoist religious spaces.

Site specific interviews with local daoist priests and practitioners in addition to interviews with local religious experts and historians (Francesca Tarocco, Lena Scheen, etc) would help guide this conversation. Further on site footage could include the carrying out of rituals, performances, and music. This documentary would be conducted in Chinese and English accordingly.

Saadiyat Dash: a locative media game

For my locative media game I really wanted to do something that involved the Saadiyat campus since I’ve spent so much time here. I was thinking a lot about how during my time here, I never wander. Whenever I leave a location I always have somewhere to go next and I almost never stop somewhere else on the way. Because of this, I decided I wanted to turn this daily routine of getting solely from point A to point B into a bit of a location based game.

I divided the Abu Dhabi campus into 6 sections.

I wanted to include an old game method in my new location based game, so I decided to incorporate dice. To play the game, you roll one die three times. The first role determines point A, the second role determines point B, and the third role determines one of 6 conditions.


For example, If I rolled a 1, a 5, and a 1, I would have to get from the Campus Center to the center of the A5 building. In addition to this, I would not be allowed to come into contact with the sun. The game is meant to be played during the daytime between two people, or in teams of 3. There are different ways that you can win each round depending in the different conditions.

The conditions were specifically chosen because of the landscape of the Abu Dhabi campus and its architecture.

Some interesting findings during play testing.

The parking garage was a large asset to people who wanted to avoid the sun. However, it is very easy to get lost in the parking garage, especially if you do not know the different corridors and their numbers.



Some parts of the parking garage are only accessible by elevator, so this definitely affects movement from one part of the campus to another.

A lot of the campus incorporates different triangle elements into its architecture, which is where the idea for the condition about not being able to step on triangle tiles came from. This was a really tricky one, and required game testers to use a combination of the high line, the parking garage, and the ground floor to get from point A to point B.


Mapping Buenos Aires

When I first decided to use Asiya’s park data about Buenos Aires I didn’t know what I wanted to show the viewer. I messed around a lot with park size, accessibility, and a few other constraints. I knew it would be challenging to map a place without 1)ever having been there and 2) having a very limited dataset. I think its very clear to me now that data collectors and the mappers have very different ideas of what will happen to the data and how it will be used to communicate a point.

I decided what to do with the data after I came across this article by CNN.

The article discusses a study that concluded that living near nature was linked to living a longer life. I was really fascinated by this idea, and started thinking about how problematic this relationship is. I then started thinking about real estate, and how expensive in big cities to live near green space.

This led me to Sothebys, the international auction house, and their Buenos Aires website. When I compared the data set that Sothebys had on their houses for sale, it was clear that there was a correlation to Asiya’s data. (Sotheby’s data here)

In order to better convey this message to the user, I decided to make large transparent circles around the parks that Asiya had planted, and small dots where the Sotheby’s data was. This way, I could how easy it is for someone who owns expensive real estate in Buenos Aires to travel to the park.

From the center of a large circle to the edge, it is about a 5-7 minute walk.

You can find the code for my map on the IMA github.