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Late this week, I had a chance to attend the mid-term exhibition of the Singapore-ETH Future Cities Laboratory, which is hosting me for the duration of my residency program here in Singapore. It was wonderful to see all the work from different modules—Low Exergy, Architecture and Construction, Digital Fabrication, Transforming and Mining Urban Stocks, Housing, Architecture and Urban Design, Urban Design Strategies and Resources, Urban Sociology, Territorial Organisation, Landscape Ecology, Architecture and Territory, Mobility and Transportation Planning, and Simulation Platform.

Below are some photos I took from the event.

One of the many exhibition tables:

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Singapore Tropicana:

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Researcher Marcel Bruelisauer of the Low Exergy module after explaining his design solution for cooling systems:

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Professor Kees Christiaanse, Programme Leader and Module Leader, speaks at the book launch. Lots of books were introduced that day, including one of the coolest things I’ve heard of, Flight Assembled Architecture by Professor Fabio Gramazio, Professor Matthias Kohler, and Raffaello D’Andrea (see the monitor on the right).

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Some very cool things made by robots:

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Doctoral researcher Norman Hack in front of his module’s exhibition. Behind him are beautiful 3D pieces.

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An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) used for dengue research:

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A panel discussion on Simulation, Modeling, and Measuring, moderated by Dr. Matthias Berger (standing, on the right):

20130906_140434I wish more people (non-architects / designers / computer scientists / urban planners) could visit it. It’s one of the coolest labs in the world! Check out the laboratory website here.

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While exploring Korea, which slowly becoming one of my favorite countries, I’m a bit fascinated at how it has little-known connections with The Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters, one of my favorite TV shows of all time. Here are two that have been stuck in my head for a while and required a blog post:

1. Hwacha

A hwacha is a weapon developed during the Joseon dynasty that can fire multiple rockets in one go. I found one on display at the King Sejong museum in Gwanhwamun station, though I’ve seen others in various places in Korea.

I hope it works.

I hope it works.

The Mythbusters confirmed the hwacha’s effectiveness in the episode, “Alcohol Myths.”

2. Yellow Scream

Kim Beom, a Korean conceptual artist, has a 31-minute video where he demonstrates how to embed screams into a painting in a manner that imitates Bob Ross. I saw this in the Nam June Paik Art Center in Gyeonggi-do.

In Yellow Scream (2012), Kim discusses his materials, than proceeds to scream, “Aaah!” near the brush while he is applying the paint to the canvas. He adds screams of terror, confusion, agony, and even high-pitched ones of happiness.

Still from Kim Beom's Yellow Scream (2012)

Still from Kim Beom’s Yellow Scream (2012)

Still from Kim Beom's Yellow Scream (2012)

Still from Kim Beom’s Yellow Scream (2012)

Still from Kim Beom's Yellow Scream (2012)

Still from Kim Beom’s Yellow Scream (2012)

I was laughing by myself in the projection room. This will be one of my favorite art pieces of all time. Looking up Kim Beom online, I was happy to see that he also did graduate school in SVA, and even happier to know that he has a thing for clouds, too.

This reminded me of the Mythbusters episode when they asked whether ancient sounds could have been embedded into pottery. Alas, I couldn’t find a video, but they definitely busted that myth.

(Gyeonggi-do, South Korea) In Bubryunsa, a beautiful temple set in the mountains about two hours from Seoul, I was happy to participate in a temple stay with fellow artists. I was struck at seeing this swastika, used without the Nazi connotations, but to represent what it originally supposed to—auspiciousness, eternity, and Buddhism.

Beautiful!

Beautiful!

Tae Min, the monk who guided us through a tea ceremony, meditation, and a tour of the temple grounds, made me smile when I saw that she has a smartphone. It’s the same one I have: a Samsung Galaxy S3.

Hello, fellow Android user!

Hello, fellow Android user!

Her phone’s cleaner had a Buddha on it.

Buddha!

Buddha!

We saw a lot of buddhas.

Each statue is carved out of one rock. They were made first and then the structure was built around them.

Each statue is carved out of one rock. They were made first and then the structure was built around them.

And I mean, a lot of buddhas.

Whoa, buddha, whoa.

Whoa, buddha, whoa.

But I think the statue I liked best was this one. He looks badass, and probably does martial arts.

A sword!

A sword!

I leave you with this lovely rock balancing we came across. Peace, love, and get your Zen on.

Rock balancing!

Rock balancing!

At the Teddy Bear Museum in N Seoul Tower, one can discover the history of Korea in the most adorable and saccharine way possible. Hundreds of teddy bears, with most being mechanical, are dressed and arranged to form scenes from Korea’s old and modern history. Bears in royal court! Bears at war! Bears playing polo! Bears doing breakdance! Bears going on a date! Bears getting married! Bears! Bears! Bears!

Some of my favorite scenes involve the arts and the sciences. Here’s one during with scientists during the reign of King Sejong.

scientists during King Sejong's reign

scientists during King Sejong’s reign

Here’s a scene that made me smile. Look on the lower right:

Someone's not doing what he's supposed to. Can you guess who?

Someone’s not doing what he’s supposed to. Can you guess who?

I love this little errant artist bear that could.

This bear made me laugh.

This bear made me laugh.

I also love this scene where the first light bulb was installed in Gyeongbukgung, which I visited last month:

The first electric light in Korea!

The first electric light in Korea!

Sweet, amusing, and way more entertaining than your usual history museum.

Alas, science museums in Korea have proven disappointingly bland (in a word, meh), although perhaps I had such high expectations. Designing for interactivity in a conservative Confucian society poses some challenges, perhaps one that can be easily seen by someone from the outside. But there are pockets of joyful wonder in the sometimes poorly lit rooms that reeked of overuse of audio-visual media and text. My favorite parts of the Seoul National Science Museum are in the second floor. Specifically, rainbow-colored hands wave hello at the wax station where you can cast your own hands for 8,000 won:

Rainbow hands

Rainbow hands

It’s awesome to see Marie Curie flashed on a screen. After being here for just a few weeks, seeing visible recognition for any female with strong, intellectual, and independent roles in such a rigid Confucian system as Korea’s make me do cartwheels inside (and sometimes, outside).

Marie Curie!

Marie Curie!

In the middle of a set of dinosaur eggs, one in the middle turned out to be mechanical and opened up to reveal a yawning dinosaur:

Hello, world.

Hello, world.

And in the enormous Gwacheon National Science Museum, my favorite parts were on the outside, such as the Funny Bicycling Center:

funny bikes

funny bikes

There are bikes with odd parts, bikes built for two, and bikes you can ride sideways:

riding a bike sideways

riding a bike sideways

This would have been a perfect bike in graduate school.

This would have been a perfect bike in graduate school.

The Narae-Seobuk (“the bell of hope”) is a traditional Korean bell made out of 3,080 speakers—quite a beautiful symbol of art, science, and tradition:

Narae-Seobuk. The Bell of Hope.

Narae-Seobuk. The Bell of Hope.

Hello. My name is Catherine and I would like to give everyone in the world a hug.

I’m a hugger. I can’t help it. When I see someone I know, I just go for it as a greeting with barely a thought.

There are perfectly good explanations for this. I was raised in the Philippines, land of extremely happy and friendly people. I also grew up with a lot of stuffed animals. I still sleep with a pillow I’ve had with me from the crib—it’s the only material possession that has been with me forever. And dang it, it feels good. Hugging releases oxytocin, the hormone that promotes love and trust. In fact, studies have shown that a lack of human interaction, such as touching, is detrimental to growth and development. Touch ranks up there with food and water as a basic need.

But I do realize that not all people like to hug others. The idea of touching as a greeting is largely cultural, and I’ve had to adapt accordingly, depending on where I’ve lived and whom I was interacting with. In the Philippines, I hugged. In Spain, I kissed (both cheeks). Here in America, I shake hands. It is especially in the latter that I’ve felt that people respond the least positively to hugs. Many people, I’ve observed, have an invisible “wall” that illustrates their personal space. Touch may be considered as an intrusion, an interruption, or a threat. On the other hand, a hug can also be a sign of great physical intimacy that is only reserved for one’s closest family and friends.

I wanted to investigate our perception of touch. Moreover, I want this project to be a personal reminder of being physically connected to people.

Thus comes HugPrints. I designed a thermochromic (temperature-sensitive, color-changing) vest, so that it was possible to see evidence of the hug. The purple fabric temporarily turns to blue when touched. Right after each hug, photos of the front and the back of the vest are taken, showing where I was touched and how warm (literally) the person is. The patterns people intentionally and unintentionally make have been an interesting exploration of human contact.

I also record the ambient temperature of the environment. Hugging people indoors versus outdoors would give different intensities of color change.

I would love to give you (yes, you!) a hug. But hey, I would love it more if you give your loved ones and perhaps that sad-looking stranger next to you one, too! Visit the project site for more details.

Ready? Go!

I’m thinking deeply about who I want to use the Hug Vest that I’m designing, and while I can always wear it to hug friends and strangers alike (which I will do eventually), one specific audience I am looking at would be parents and their young children (roughly aged 3 to 7). The reason is that the desire to hug varies drastically among adults; witness the reactions I got with prototyping the vest. There were those who readily hugged, those who refused to, and those who reluctantly did it for the sake of helping the project.

Ah, but parents and kids! According to American psychologist and educator Virginia Satir, we need four hugs a day for survival, eight a day for maintenance, and twelve a day for growth. But for working parents, it may be difficult to find the time to hug their child, let alone get a young one to sit still to receive or to give a hug.

I wanted to find out how parents and children will interact with the thermochromic vest. I loaned the vest over the weekend to my friend and studio seatmate, Chris Cannon, who has a son, Alex, who is almost four. The vest was ill-fitting for both father and son; it was designed to fit a well-endowed girl or a large man, and neither of them fit these descriptions. I was interested specifically in how the material would affect their interaction. Chris, who has been in the clutches of graduate school for two years, says that he has made hugging important:

“Hugs are very important to us, especially since I don’t see much of him these days. I ask him for hugs everyday. We also bond in countless other ways: singing silly songs, making fart jokes, playing with his toys, sitting on my shoulders when we go out for walks, riding the subway together (he loves the G train), bedtime reading, etc.”

I doubted that Chris and his family would be the ideal audience for the vest. They already hug a lot, and I’ve seen Alex on many a day or event in school enough not to doubt that Chris and his wife, Yong, put family first in spite of how busy life can get. I was curious about how Alex would interact with the reactive material and how this can affect his manner of touching, as I knew his attention span was short based on what Chris has told me over the years.

As many of my friends with children have told me, the thing about hugging and young children is that they don’t hug the way adults do. The “standard” hug I’ve observed is putting one arm over the receiver’s shoulder and the other one around the waist. Or both arms over the shoulder or around the waist, depending on the height difference of the hugger and the huggee. But kids are less structured in how they hug or touch. Chris tells me about how Alex hugs him:

“It depends on whether I’m sitting or standing. I guess he hugs me in anyway imaginable, including head butts to the groin (hey, it counts as a hug!) and climbing up my back and putting me in a chokehold.”

The good thing about the thermochromic vest is that the entire vest is reactive. Thus, it didn’t matter how Alex hugged or touched the vest because it would change color despite what type of touch he gave it.
Below are the results, and further proof that I should always get my friends involved in my project. (So great!)

Chris Cannon and son, Alex

Hug Daddy, come on!

When I asked Chris if Alex enjoyed it, he says:

“He liked it. He didn’t want to hug me as much as just slap my back with his hand repeatedly to see his handprints. I enjoyed watching him experience something new, even if it was just for a few seconds before he got bored and moved on. He liked wearing it, probably because he likes wearing our clothes in general.”

Alex wearing (or perhaps a better term would be 'swimming in') the Hug Vest.

The bit that struck me was how Alex played with the material. Why he didn’t necessarily see the vest as a way to hug his Dad, he paid more attention to what the vest could do.

I liked how in the middle of playing and touching the vest, Alex ultimately plays with Chris, who is wearing it.
I loved this interaction, though I am mindful of who this vest is primarily for. As I said earlier, a well-bonded family like the Cannons wouldn’t have as much use for something like this. When I asked Chris frankly about whether he would buy one, he said:
“No, because we hug enough as it is (or at least I threaten to take away all of his toys until he hugs me!). Besides, then it’s a hug motivated by something other than enjoying a hug for its own sake. I’m sure he’d enjoy lights and sound added to it since a lot of his toys have that effect when he interacts with them.” [Note: italics mine]
I would be interested to see how this can play out in families where hugging is a chore. What about working parents who can’t squeeze time for a hug? Or children who need a sensorial “hook” to be sufficiently engaged in human contact? I am mindful of children’s short attention spans, especially in this video where Alex throws the vest on the couch and runs away when asked by his parents to show them how the handprints worked:
More to come, and soon.
A HUGE thank you to the Cannon family for agreeing to participate in this! Especially to Chris, who is repetitively awesome.