Performative Ecologies

The role of the architect… I think, is not so much to design a building or city, as to catalyse them: to act that they may evolve.” Gordon Pask

Investigating gestural forms of dialogue between inhabitants and an evolving environment, Performative Ecologies is a kinetic ‘conversational’ environment, which examines what it means both to observe, and to be observed by machines. It considers in the light of developments in computer vision, sensing and artificial intelligence, how an ‘intelligent’ architecture can discuss its behaviour in relation to the goals and behaviours of the world around it.


Within the darkened installation space, a dance evolves as a community of autonomous but very sociable robotic sculptures perform with their illuminated tails for inhabitants. Rather than being pre-choreographed, these creatures propose and negotiate with their audience, learning how best to attract and maintain their attention. Using a genetic algorithm to evolve performances, and facial recognition to assess attention levels (fitness), the individual dancers learn from their successes and failures. As they gain experience, they share their knowledge with the larger ecology, dancing to each other, exchanging their most successful techniques, and negotiating future performances collaboratively.

An ecology constructed by both robotic sculptures and the human inhabitants through an intertwining of networks rich in circularities of reciprocal gestures and adaption. A dance is formed in which individual participants both human and robotic operate as performative agents, each acting independently, but continually negotiating their choreography with each other. This social system revisits some of the concepts first considered in Gordon Pask’s art work, the ‘Colloquy of Mobiles’, exhibited at Cybernetic Serendipity (ICA 1968). Like the colloquy of mobiles, it is an environment of active conversational participants, a physically constructed embodiment of his Conversation Theory, unlike it, this work uses new technologies unavailable to Pask and explores how Pask’s ideas can be extended using contemporary digital technology.

For more detals see my Paper ‘Conversational Environments Revisted‘ Awarded best paper at the 19th European Meeting of Cybernetics & Systems Research, Vienna, Austria 2008.