We are RISD, Brown, MIT, and Yale STEAM. STEAM is STEM + Art/Design.
We strive to integrate the creativity and aesthetics of the arts; the problem solving tools and rigor of the STEM fields; & the critical thinking and ethical considerations of the humanities. We believe that this unification powerfully drives progress toward the future. This is our third Catalogue.
This third catalogue contains everything we've done from Summer 2014 to Winter 2014.
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This Catalogue, like the catalogue of a show, is a collection of documented work. At STEAM, this includes workshops, lectures, discussions, and writing we created this fall.
STEAM Press, the mechanism through which Catalogue is published, accepts submissions from members of our communities, and outside contributors. Please reach out to us if you would like to add to the next issue of Catalogue.
The theme of this Catalogue is “Call and Response”. The catalogue's format centers around this concept - the digital version takes visual cues from print tradition, and vice versa.
Call & Response
The Great Wildebeest Migration is an annual trek from the southern Serengeti to southwestern Kenya. Hundreds of thousands of wildebeests, zebras, gazelles, and other plains game move in herds across Tanzania, in search of food. During their migration, the herds must cross the crocodile-ridden Mara and Grumeti Rivers.
The wildebeest move in a swarm. When one sees a crocodile, it calls to the others, and they all react accordingly. Their fast, erratic movement and constant vigilance disorient their predators.
The zebras stand back and, with careful planning, find the safest route across the river. They move in small families, and are careful to not attract attention.
However, their predictable movement makes the zebra easy prey for the crocodile. The swarm mentality [to try every possible option, to constantly call and respond to your compatriots, to experiment until you have the most efficient and successful method] keeps the wildebeest alive.
Each semester, the STEAM Clubs collect documentation of all our creations from the season, in response to calls for successful interdisciplinary work. Catalogue is our broadcast. Like the wildebeest work together to cross the river, the STEAM movement progresses through communal learning. We treat Catalogue as a call to the STEAM community, to educators, politicians, administrators, industry leaders, rocket scientists, brain surgeons, manufacturers, healthcare workers, mathematicians, artists, and designers.
Our call [this is where we are, this is the path that we took, this is how you can replicate our experience] is delineated in the following pages, and it awaits your response.
In my time with STEAM, I’ve worked with other leaders to facilitate seven workshops, and in my time at RISD, I’ve had my hand in attending or organizing ~60 others. I’ve noticed a number of trends in the design of workshops that can be used to maximize outcomes.
The first observation I’d like to talk about is the importance of clear learning goals. In my earlier workshops, the rationale I had behind doing the workshop was that the content (3D printing speakers!) would attract people because it was new and exciting.
While I think that it is important for all workshops to provide a unique opportunity, I believe that it’s important to design the educational content around the learning outcome that you are trying to achieve. For my purposes, I use a diagram to think about the goals of a workshop.
I think that there are two main variables that determine the design of a workshop. The first is the extent to which the workshop focuses on inspiring attendants, or building skills of those attendants. Of course, these two learning outcomes are closely related.
However, there are some trade-offs that need to be made to fully accommodate either one. For example, if you were teaching a highly inspirational workshop of soufflé cooking, you would probably prepare multiple soufflés in different phases of the cooking process ahead of the workshop, so that you could avoid losing everyone’s attention during periods of waiting for the eggs to cook. If instead, the goal was to improve everyone’s own soufflé skills, you would probably want them to experience themselves just how long one has to wait from step to step, even if it isn’t as exciting as the alternative.
In inspiration-driven workshops, you want to identify what steps need to be experienced, and which steps can be explained. In skill-building-driven workshops, you want to identify which steps are counter-intuitive and are best experienced in the company of a mentor. In an Arduino workshop meant to inspire, you might present the participants with a fully functional robot, and then simply provide them with the syntax necessary to hack the robot, never asking them to code anything from scratch. In an Arduino workshop meant to build skill, you might ask participants to code one of the sample sketches from scratch.
In skill-building-driven workshops, you want to identify which steps are counter-intuitive and are best experienced in the company of a mentor. In an Arduino workshop meant to inspire, you might present the participants with a fully functional robot, and then simply provide them with the syntax necessary to hack the robot, never asking them to code anything from scratch. In an Arduino workshop meant to build skill, you might ask participants to code one of the sample sketches from scratch.
It’s important that these goals carry through with the experience from beginning to end. If the opening lecture is inspirational and doesn’t cover any of the mechanics of what the students will be working on, they will be ill-prepared and quickly become disengaged if highly technical tasks are asked of them in the next component of the experience.
The second variable is the extent to which the workshop is focused on giving participants exposure to a new skill vs. a new context of an existing skill. Are you teaching engineers how to screenprint (new skill), or are you teaching engineers how to apply finite element analysis to create tensegrity- driven fine art (new context)?
When the focus is on collaboration (such as with Human + Computer, the emphasis often gets lost. Are you pairing a physicist with a painter so they can teach each other their skills, or are you hoping for the physicist to do the physics half of a project while the painter does a painting half? In the former, the participants are more likely to walk away with a shift in perspective. In the latter, the participants are more likely to walk away with a portfolio piece. Of course, both outcomes are worthwhile, but if you’re able to identify early on what the goals of your workshop are, you can maximize those outcomes. For example, if you want participants to apply existing skills in a new context, you ought to put in a lot of effort finding the most exciting new context for them to apply their skills to. Otherwise, they can just as easily continue their regular professional practice.
Another concept that I’d like to touch on is the concept of the time-frugal attendant. If you’ve done a good job attracting quality people to your event, the chances are they are very busy people. That means that in all likelihood, they will spend the first hour or so of any experience thinking carefully to themselves “Is this worth my time?”
a good job attracting quality people to your event, the chances are they are very busy people. That means that in all likelihood, they will spend the first hour or so of any experience thinking carefully to themselves “Is this worth my time?”
A great way to get rid of this problem is to design in a way to get participants involved in a discussion before the event begins. A personal favorite method of mine is to have a casual (but mandatory) meetup for an hour and a half a week before the event. At this event, you discuss something provocative that is related to the upcoming event, and provide an opportunity to form groups (if groups are a part of your workshop). Another great way to combat this problem is to create air-tight branding for the event. This means using the same typeface in anything that’s printed, making an illustration from scratch instead of using google images, and getting food that’s thematically relevant to the workshop. These details seem tedious at the offset, but attendees will notice, which creates a learning environment wherein they can focus on learning a new perspective or building something awesome, and not checking their email, or contemplating all the other productive things they could be doing instead.
Another important concept that I’ll cover is the idea of jargon evasion. This is particularly relevant to designing multidisciplinary learning environments. Whenever someone uses jargon, it creates an alienating experience for anyone who is not familiar with the term. Often times, jargon gives people the impression that they do not understand what is being talked about, when in reality they do. For example, if a designer said that the “cognitive load” (how hard the brain has to work to accomplish a task) of an interface is too high, an engineer might think something like “There they go again with the visuals! They just don’t get that it needs to work first before we start worrying about how it looks”.
In reality, both people are concerned about how it “works”. It just so happens that the designer cares more about how the user feels as they approach the experience (if a tree falls down and no one is around to hear it, does it make a noise?), and the engineer cares more about the experience once the user has found it already.
Creating a vernacular that evades either discipline’s jargon is a great way to avoid this kind of communication barrier. In Human + Computer, we found that by calling all elements of the experience, from connection methods to branding, as elements of “storytelling” the artists and scientists alike were able to engage in productive discourse that didn’t leave either side feeling alienated.
Lastly, It’s important that any good workshop is flexible in how participants can learn. There are aural learners, visual learners, locomotor learners, and a million types in between. The best workshops will provide a way for everyone to engage with a type of learning with which they feel comfortable. For example, in Human + Computer, we found that the workshop day that students enjoyed the most was the workshop day wherein students had a number of workshops to choose from. This is difficult to account for in smaller scale workshops, but vital for larger scale ones.
There you have it! Those are all of my major topics for workshop design. If you would like to read more about the content of the workshops I mention here, you can find write-ups in either this catalogue, or catalogues one and two.
A reflection on new leadership, Brown’s 250th, and the STEAM Pavilion:
One beautiful thing about STEAM is that it can manifest itself in different ways for different people. At Brown, for instance, we have formed specialty groups within the umbrella of STEAM, including ones that focus on biology and art, engineering and design, and math and education. However, it is exactly the wide-ranging and indefinite nature of STEAM that can also pose a challenge to those who want to get started with STEAM and use its principles to teach others. How do you even begin integrating five complex disciplines of study in a way that is compelling and interesting?
And how does an organization with such broad goals establish legitimacy amongst more specialized groups? Those were some of my own questions when I first considered joining the leadership of Brown’s STEAM club about a year ago, and I have a few answers to offer you from my experiences. I ultimately took on this role because I firmly believe that the arts and the sciences should be learned and practiced together, and I wanted to help build a community within Brown that enables such interdisciplinary exploration for everyone. This piece is a reflection on my semester as a new leader of Brown STEAM. One of my very first experiences as part of the Brown + RISD STEAM club was a visions meeting, where each member– four students from Brown and four from RISD –gave their personal versions of STEAM’s purpose and mission statement. These are my notes in preparation for that meeting:
What Brown STEAM means to me:
Not only enabling collaboration between people of STEAM disciplines, but alleviating the distinctions between “the scientist” and “the artist.” Featuring projects that illustrate the success of joint STEAM forces and making those kinds of projects accessible to more people and students. Providing an environment for students and professionals of STEAM disciplines to share, mix, and spread ideas. Promoting education and awareness (of skills, subjects, history) through events which then serve to inform the participants’ benevolent work, whether it manifests in product development, management, innovation, research, etc.
STEAM is a resource for achieving powerful good through the education and practice of merging the fields of science and art.
A mission statement is critical for personal as well as organizational motivation; and, as an added benefit, it’s useful in applications for funding. By discussing a mission statement together at that Brown + RISD STEAM meeting, we all established confidence in each other and in our purpose. I can also vouch that this was also a great way to induct new members. My next move was to assist other leaders in organizing STEAM events that were related to my own interests and studies, namely a wearable devices prototyping workshop called From the Bottom of My Fuel Cell and the Assistive Technology Makeathon, a collaboration with Brown’s School of Engineering. Both events occurred in the Spring of 2014, and you can read about them in Catalogue 2. At the beginning of the Fall 2014 semester, I collaborated again with Brown’s School of Engineering to celebrate the University’s 250th year. Because of STEAM’s hand in the organization of the Makeathon the previous spring, some faculty in engineering (Christopher Bull and Jennifer Casasanto) approached us about organizing an event that would similarly engage students as well as alumni.
Bull and Jennifer Casasanto) approached us about organizing an event that would similarly engage students as well as alumni. We came up with an event called Encapsulating Brown, a design workshop about redefining the time capsule and capturing the spirit of Brown in its 250th year. Students spent the day designing and then pitched their final concepts to the alumni and members of the board, who will eventually select an idea to be incorporated into the new engineering building being constructed for 2017. About twenty students attended the whole event, which lasted from 11AM to 4PM, and we spent bursts of 30-50 minute intervals sketching, prototyping, and reconvening for feedback. Eventually we moved from using simple materials like cardboard, paper, and tape to employing wood and Arduino microcontrollers in very basic prototypes. The final designs included a pixilated memory wall concept– a wall that would consist of ~6,000 translucent acrylic cells each containing a token, anecdote, sound byte, or other personal artifact from a single individual at Brown, which could be opened and accessed easily. An LED would be embedded in each cube so that, together, the wall of cubes would also display general trends about the student body,
which could be opened and accessed easily. An LED would be embedded in each cube so that, together, the wall of cubes would also display general trends about the student body, i.e. favorite song, opinions on the “next big thing” in technology, etc., gleaned from polls.
The event was a success in many regards. The Brown engineering alumni were thrilled to see students getting hands-on design and prototyping experience, and everyone was excited by the idea of preserving the school’s current spirit for posterity. For Brown STEAM, this event was an opportunity to demonstrate our active engagement in the Brown community and celebrate the campus’ diversity as a whole. In this case, having a common goal with the School of Engineering with a clear idea of the impact it might have on our community was critical to the organization and success of the event. This is also a great example of how STEAM values can be used to contribute to a community. If you are stuck on projects to pursue, I highly recommend drawing
If you are stuck on projects to pursue, I highly recommend drawing inspiration from ways you might impact and improve your own community– whether that means having a final critique of a workshop that is open to the public or designing an event for K-12 students.
Another project that I have been working on is called the STEAM Pavilion. The idea is to create a portable, assemble-able/disassemble-able outdoor space for STEAM-related gatherings, presentation, screenings, and workshops in the spring. For a while, I just kept the idea floating around with other STEAM members and faculty, but hadn’t quite processed what sorts of affordable, light-weight building materials we would use. In September, I attended the annual A Better World By Design (ABWxD) Conference here in Providence, where I serendipitously met a group of designers [former RISD students, in fact] collectively known as Pneuhaus. They construct pneumatic structures that are inflated with air and had built the beautiful RGBubble for ABWxD.
Immediately, I drew a connection between their work and Brown STEAM’s vision for a STEAM Pavilion. We chatted via email, met in person to discuss the collaboration, and eventually, we hosted two events. The first was simply inviting Pneuhaus to give an overview of inflatable structures and their work at our monthly general body meeting. The second was a design workshop, where we experimented with soap bubbles, creating 2D templates from 3D objects, and making our own inflatable structures using sheet plastic and tape. This meeting also served as our initial design meeting, thinking about the function of the pavilion, how many people it will hold, and what forms we want to emulate. Ultimately we established our driving-force motives: (1) To provide a space to feature STEAM work (gallery or film-screening style), (2) To create a physical, iconic symbol for Brown STEAM in order to raise awareness about the organization and reach out to more people. The STEAM Pavilion project is ongoing.
Here are some of my take-aways from the semester:
Begin with your own expertise and what fascinates you. For me, this meant understanding why I was committed to STEAM and what aspects of STEAM I was particularly interested in working on [product design, digital fabrication, materials engineering, and community-building]. It may at first seem like a daunting task to assume the title of STEAM member or leader, but just remember that it doesn’t mean you have to be an expert in everything. You should draw from your own wild ideas for projects; then lay out a purpose and procedure for carrying them out. Also, establish a network with departments and other organizations in order to find other people who can help you realize your ideas or to find inspiration for projects in the first place. At the same time, be open to working on topics that you don’t know much about. [I didn’t know the first thing about pneumatic structures until I met Pneuhaus.]
Having a healthy sense of what you know and don’t know, and a passion to learn more is a fine way to start on a project. And lastly, surround yourself with other reliable people who share your motivations. You need a trustworthy team to carry out these big STEAM goals.
That’s all for my piece. If you’re an undergrad or graduate student, please check out our tips on starting a STEAM club of your own at the end of the catalogue.
This year, with increased funding from CAMIT (Council for the Arts at MIT) and increased attendance due to our presence at the Activities Midway – an activities fair designed to introduce the newly admitted freshmen to all the clubs on campus – MIT STEAM was excited to start off the school year with our first General Body Meeting in Baker Dining Hall. We introduced twenty five undergraduate and graduate students to our STEAM mission, its history, and the exciting progress of the initiative. After introductions, we opened several executive positions for application; including publicity chair, grant writer, membership outreach, and webmaster. Finally, we went around the room with the questions of why people were interested in STEAM and what they were looking to get out of the club.
We left with a better sense of purpose and ideas for events and activities to come. Due to the interest of our members in learning new skills, we took several group trips to the Artisan’s Asylum, a nearby non-profit community design and fabrication center that provides public access to professional manufacturing equipment, educational classes, and a creative community network. In particular, we took a class on Fiber Arts that introduced members to the basics of crocheting and knitting with unconventional materials such as wire and conductive thread to make interesting art projects. We also learned Sculptris and Blender at an Organic Modeling Basics class taught by Judah Sher. After using Sculptris and Blender to quickly model all sorts of shapes, from animals heads to jewelry to rockets, we were able to export the files so that they were ready to be made on a 3D printer. Next semester, we will hopefully be learning and exploring additional skills such as 3D printing, metalsmithing, and making chainmail.
It was exciting to find a lot of proponents of STEAM at the Artisan’s Asylum, a passionate and creative community network that we can hopefully tap into more in the future.
This semester, we also held our first study break with lots of electric paint, LEDs, coin cell batteries, paper, paint, colored and graphite pencils, and of course, food. Since it was nearing finals and the holidays, many of the attendees took time to make holiday cards, paper Christmas trees, and paper gingerbread houses that lit up. Others used the electric paint in elaborate designs, new interpretations of paintings such as Starry Night, and posters for their dorm rooms. For people who were not very familiar with hands-on electronics, the study break was a fun introduction to the basics. For people who were not very comfortable with art and design, the study break proved to be an excellent time to learn and practice. Overall, the event had a great turnout, especially considering that finals were around the corner.
So far, we’ve mainly been advertising our events through the mailing list of people who’ve expressed interest in STEAM, growing a strong base of regular attendees and getting to know them well. Next semester, we’re planning to expand our member base through larger events and advertising to the entire MIT community.
Thanks for following our progress, more to come –
Working as the STEM + Arts Intern at the Yale University Art Gallery my sophomore year, I was intrigued by the intersection between the arts and sciences. Identifying as both an artist and a scientist, I feel that my art benefited tremendously from my scientific background and my scientific mindset benefited much from my artistic training.
As an artist, my field of expertise is portraiture. As a scientist, I see not only the contours of the face when I paint but also the muscles and bones underneath. I understand the shapes and lines my brush creates, even at the microscopic level, and see my portraits to be even more beautiful.
As a research scientist, I appreciate the view under the microscope not only for its scientific merit, but also for its aesthetic appeal. Trained to express myself in lines and colors, I had long been thinking outside the box with a trained eye for detail. Such traits, I find, are crucial to a successful scientific career, whether in the lab or in the classroom. Thus, my arts and sciences complemented each other and helped me grow in both aspects.
I wished to bring a similar experience to my fellow Yalies who were mainly science or art oriented. Yale is unique in that we have a strong arts program, not only in the fine arts, but also in the performing arts. With an established history in the humanities, Yale is now also investing time and effort to develop top facilities for science research and education. Thus, with advanced facilities and expert faculty in the fields of arts, humanities, and the sciences, Yale is the perfect location to host events communicating the importance of an integrative science and arts education for all members of our community.
With this mission in mind during my internship, I started to host various integrative events at the art gallery, such as Sketching Sessions with Scientists and Brainstorming Session with both artists and scientists. After my internship ended, I thought I saw the end of my efforts to bring the integration of the arts and sciences to Yale campus. Luckily, I was contacted by a member of Brown’s STEAM, after which I met up with both RISD and Brown STEAM to start the STEAM initiative at Yale.
This semester, we created a solid core team of 6 leaders: 5 undergraduates and 1 graduate student. This fall, we registered as an official undergraduate student organization at Yale. In the spring, we are planning on creating a bank account, declaring as a non- profit organization, and applying for funding for events. At the start of the spring semester, we aim to hold an info session and hope to become a well-known organization across Yale campus by the end of spring 2015.
In the Fall of 2014 RISD and Brown STEAM invited Dutch artist and polymath, Theo Jansen to visit College Hill. Jansen is well known for his creations, the Strandbeests, which are pipe constructs that can crawl along beaches by way of wind power. His work is captivating to people from many creative disciplines because it is born from a material investigation. Jansen used the structural integrity of the humble PVC pipe to create light, self-supporting and flexible structures. To engineers, his work is a feat of mechanics; to artists, his work is a beautiful metaphor for life; and to designers the movement is captivating.
In addition to being interesting to many disciplines, Jansen’s own process is multidisciplinary. The Strandbeest exploration began as a conceptual idea which was modeled in a computer program. After the computational prototype, it moved into physical prototypes. Jansen sees himself as a physical stand-in for the biological phenomenon of natural selection. “I only really have twenty more years” he said, referring to the fact that he wants to achieve fully autonomous creations in his lifetime.
In preparation for Theo Jansen’s visit to College Hill, RISD and Brown STEAM led a three week workshop series with an ambitious plan of building a five-foot tall Strandbeest. Each workshop spanned 3 hours but almost always there were people working through the “end time.” Over the course of the three weeks, approximately 30 students had attended at least one of the workshops and had contributed something to the planning or execution of the Strandbeest.
The ultimate plan: to present our very own Strandbeest born on College Hill to greet the Dutch polymath and artist when he came to visit RISD and Brown.
Week One: Assemble Kits/Plan and Play!
Barus & Holley, Brown Design Workshop
In order to really understand the fundamental mechanics of a strandbeest that is able to stand and walk with a natural gait, we first ordered four miniature kits from Jansen’s official 27 website. Two of the kits were Animaris Rhinoceros Parvus and the other two were Animaris Ordis Parvus. These kits were small and came in pre-made plastic parts ready to be assembled right out of the box. Approximately 20 people were broken up into four groups to assemble a single kit. While assembling the kits, each group was told to brainstorm different ways to scale up in the most efficient and low-cost way possible.
During the process of assembling the kits, there was a sense of anticipation in each group for their little Strandbeest to walk. Around the room, an excited buzz of conversation accompanied the steady assembly of the Strandbeest kits. From the very beginning, students in each group divided processes of assembly among one another. Because of the inherent modularity of the Strandbeests, this way of working found its way into the next three weeks of the workshops. Our ambition and vision were only as big as the amount of manpower we had to construct them.
With the kits assembled, everyone gathered around a whiteboard with each group’s miniature Strandbeests. Discussion about joints, scaling up, materials and methods of production were shot back and forth across the room. Cardboard would be the lightest and the corrugation could give us the strength we would need. Almost every part would be laser cut for precision accuracy and ease of replication. The first workshop ended on an excited note with a rough parts list, materials list, and a plan for assembly in place.
materials list, and a plan for assembly in place.
Week Two: Design and Fabricate Parts!
Barus & Holley, Brown Design Workshop
The group reconvened a week later with roughly 15 students ready to fabricate the parts for a five foot tall Strandbeest. In his book, The Great Pretender, Theo Jansen lists the ratios for a Strandbeest’s leg measurements. He derived these numbers from a computer model to find which of these approached the ideal walking curve. Using the evolutionary method of natural selection in a computer model, Jansen was able to arrive at these numbers in an incredibly short amount of time compared to a biological time-scale. He called them the Eleven Holy Numbers and it was with these numbers of ideal lengths that allowed the first Strandbeest to walk and hopefully ours on College Hill.
With these ratios and fairly simple calculations, we arrived at our leg measurements and crankshaft measurements for our five-foot tall beest.
Students sectioned off into groups or couples to work on different parts of the Strandbeest: four or five people to cut huge sheets of cardboard into rectangles that could fit on the laser cutter bed, two people to design the vector files for leg parts on Adobe Illustrator to eventually laser cut, a group of four or five to work on fabricating the PVC crankshaft that could be fitted later with PVC cement prior to assembly, and a couple of students to figure out how to create feet for each of the legs.
A quick laser cutter workshop was also held to show students not already familiar with the laser cutter in the Brown Design Workshop. The BDW became a fluid space for group interaction and feedback. Students working on cutting out the cardboard legs recognized a structural problem in the orientation of the corrugation and the direction of the load force which unaddressed would cause buckling. This information was relayed to the Illustrator team who made corrections to their design and also informed the direction of how the rest of the cardboard sheets would be cut.
The team in the Fabrication Lab was steadily cutting out parts and after a hectic three hours, there was a system set up that successfully fabricated the parts which would be later assembled in the next workshop.
Week Three: Assemble the Parts!
RISD Industrial Design (ID) Building
After all the parts were successfully cut out, they were moved from Brown’s campus to RISD’s Industrial Design Building down the hill. Moving the workshop space down to RISD increased the accessibility of the workshop to RISD students as well as integrating the interaction of students across both campuses. About 13 students met in the third floor of the RISD ID building to assemble. The workshop started off with a short introduction to those who had not attended the previous workshops and an assembly list for making a leg. The group that previously worked on the crankshaft the week before came together to fabricate the rest of the crankshaft.
The rest split into two groups of four or five and each assembled a leg. With only three hours on the clock, the assembly process naturally shifted towards the most effective method of working. One person would cut out strands of tape, one person would hold parts of the leg while the third fitted the cardboard and masonite pieces on and the fourth person would fix the joints with washers and tape.
With two groups independently working on assembling a leg, one would see a problem the other hadn’t reached or come up with a better solution for a faster method of assembly. This dynamic created a collaborative energy that bounced among the students.
While assembling we had to be very conscious of the fact that the parts had to be disassembled in order to get it out of the ID building and into the RISD Auditorium. With this in mind, we couldn’t glue the PVC crankshaft until everything had been moved and assembled in the RISD Auditorium.
After assembling all twelve legs, it finally came time to test the mobility of the legs. We put six legs together to create one half of the Strandbeest and managed to get a rudimentary crawling motion in the air.
However, with the PVC still unglued, the torque from cranking quickly loosened the pieces of the crankshaft and we were not able to fully test the load capacity and walking capability of our Strandbeest that week. What we did learn was that the joints were too sticky and caused the legs to get jammed when we cranked it. We also realized that the single action joints connecting the legs to the crankshaft needed to be reinforced so they would not bow out. After making all the parts, all that was left was to move the parts to the auditorium and finally assemble our Strandbeest.
The Day of the Talk
With one last week leading up to the talk, the last meetings were late into the night and early in the morning before the day of the talk. With a reliable team of 8 or 9 people, the night before the talk, we carried the parts to the Auditorium and proceeded to assemble all the legs together and finally apply the PVC glue to permanently fix the crankshaft.
Then in the following morning, three or four of us reinforced the single action joints and A-Frames. The taped joints were all replaced with metal washers to reduce the friction in the joints. Last minute taping of joints, straightening out legs with hot glue, and placing spacers ensued up to the end of our final meeting. Our Strandbeest could only stand on its own for a short amount of time because the legs couldn’t bear its own weight for too long.
Later in the afternoon, Theo Jansen came to personally visit the students who had participated in the making of the Strandbeest. He looked around at all of us and at the five-foot tall Strandbeest behind us and started giving us advice on how we might have gone about improving the design. He amicably answered all the questions we had about his work and his career as an physicist, painter, and creator of Strandbeests. He ran his hands over the cardboard and masonite of our Strandbeest and told us that the beest would not walk, primarily becauseit lacked feet to reduce the friction on the ground and the body that housed the crankshaft was not rigid enough. These were things we could not have foreseen scaling up from such a small pre-made plastic model. After some more words of advice, Jansen congratulated us on our hard work and gave us one last smile before departing for the rest of his tour of RISD.
it lacked feet to reduce the friction on the ground and the body that housed the crankshaft was not rigid enough. These were things we could not have foreseen scaling up from such a small pre-made plastic model. After some more words of advice, Jansen congratulated us on our hard work and gave us one last smile before departing for the rest of his tour of RISD.
During his talk, Jansen spoke of his humble origins, and explained how the complex mechanisms he designed worked. Many students in the audience scurried to jot down notes when he said “Sometimes, by limiting yourself, you are actually able to achieve more.” Of course, he was referring to the material constraints that drive his work.
At the talk, the Strandbeest stood off to one side of the stage supported by tables and chairs on each side while Jansen showed videos, talked, and demoed a model of a Strandbeest leg that he had made. Towards the end of the talk, he invited the students from Brown and RISD who worked on the Strandbeest to come on stage to demo it for the audience. A handful of students went on stage and, in front of a completely full house, held up the giant Strandbeest as it took its first baby steps across the RISD Auditorium.
made. Towards the end of the talk, he invited the students from Brown and RISD who worked on the Strandbeest to come on stage to demo it for the audience. A handful of students went on stage and, in front of a completely full house, held up the giant Strandbeest as it took its first baby steps across the RISD Auditorium.
This workshop brought together students from both campuses across many different disciplines, ranging from Brown and RISD freshmen in engineering and Foundations Year, respectively, to a RISD graduate student in Industrial Design and a Brown graduate student in Fluid Mechanics. In these four weeks, RISD and Brown students worked closely together in a way that nurtured a space for collaborative problem solving and constructive teamwork. The structure of the workshop allowed for many students to attend just one or two workshops and still make a discernible contribution.
On the other hand, it also fostered a smaller and more loyal group of students who attended each of the workshops and was on call for late nights of laser cutting and drives to Home Depot to pick up additional materials. The scale of the Strandbeest alone attested to the ambition of all of these students in solving each problem that arose and working to create our very own evolution of the Animaris Rhinoceros Parvus. It was very clear then, the vision of the workshop was indeed matched by the ambition and combined skill set with which the students tackled the project. Thanks to Jansen’s work, which is fascinating from so many different angles, we were able to facilitate great collaboration between RISD and Brown students in a rewarding way for everyone.
Since January 2014, Brown + RISD STEAM has partnered with the Jewish Community Day School in Providence, Rhode Island. Lukas Winklerprins (Brown ’15) initiated this collaboration with JCDSRI Head of School Adam Tilove as a platform for Brown + RISD STEAM educational outreach. Throughout this partnership, JCDSRI has generously opened their doors to student teachers from Brown and RISD to lead discipline-bending lessons to supplement the K-5th grade pedagogy.
JCDSRI stands out as a progressive education initiative because of their “Design Lab” curriculum, which is led by Sari Guttin in a dedicated Maker Space within the school.
JCDSRI’s consistent enthusiasm for shaping a generation of students who think across disciplines has enriched this partnership over the course of the year.
Throughout the Fall of 2014, project leader Ingrid Lange (RISD '16') brought together students from Brown and RISD with interest in teaching these interdisciplinary workshops to young students. Two workshops were implemented this semester with two more in development for the upcoming Spring: Avian Architecture, taught by Anthony Peer (RISD ’16) and Soo Hyun Shin (RISD MA ’15). This lesson integrated into the 3rd and 4th grade unit on Animal Ecosystems and provided a hands-on experience with the process birds use to build nests.
Counting with Textiles, taught by Blake Mandell (Brown ’17) and Carl Romines (Brown ’16). Using basic loom weaving, this lesson for the kindergarteners blurred the line between the additive processes in math and textiles.
Our curricula were developed with teachers Jessica McGuire, Melissa Kranowitz, Sari Guttin, and Jamie Faith Woods to compliment the students’ general studies. Each lesson applied methodologies and principles unique to art and design thinking, such as hands-on experimentation with material exploration, iterative problem solving, and storytelling. STEAM is grateful for the generosity, effort, and enthusiasm of JCDS throughout this collaboration, as we develop an example for other K-5 educators interested in implementing STEAM curriculum into their schools.
What is Avian Architecture?
Avian Architecture is essentially a look into the construction of a bird’s nest. In looking at the materials, process, and use of the nest as a component in design we can better understand how the birds adapt their nests to their environment as well as humanity’s interaction with nature.
Goals of the Workshop
1. Collection: The first goal was to be able to get out into nature to be able to understand the material selection process that various bird species go through in the construction of their respective nests.
I asked the students to pick up anything they thought could be used in making of a nest including, plastic, garbage, or any other small objects.
2. Examples: To fully understand what a nest is and the construction of a nest the children had to have physical examples of a bird’s nest. Real nests collected in nature from the RISD Nature Lab were brought in as examples for the building part of the workshop.
3. Making: The making part of the workshop should be an open ended experience that allows the children to create based on the examples shown as well as allow them to utilize the information they have gathered to make their own conclusions as to the construction of a birds nest.
4. Reflection: A time of reflection and questioning the work that each student has done allows the lesson to be further cemented in the minds of the students. Having the opportunity to sit down and sketch the nests that they made as well as answer some questions regarding the activity and its importance in their daily lives is crucial to closing the lesson.
Having the opportunity to sit down and sketch the nests that they made as well as answer some questions regarding the activity and its importance in their daily lives is crucial to closing the lesson.
Gathering Materials at Blackstone Park
A very important aspect of the lesson was to allow the students to get outside and experience what it is like to collect nesting materials. On the first day of the workshop we took the students to Blackstone Park in Providence to collect some nesting materials and use their field guide notebooks as guidelines for collection. To emphasize the difference between reading about the materials used and actually knowing what the proper size, flexibility, and type of twig necessary to make the structure of a nest we looked at good and bad examples I collected. Being able to pick up a twig and recognize whether it has the proper qualities for the making of a nest was vital to understanding the selection process that a bird uses.
The students in the class were able to have a learning experience, which was centered on creating something for the purpose of learning more about a topic in science rather then making for an arts and crafts based lesson.
A biologist or an archaeologist wouldn’t be able to learn about a topic from sitting in the library their whole career; so in many cases they go out into the field to gain a more personal experience. Being able to learn in the field rather then a classroom was vital to showing the students the complexity in the development of a nest, as well as view the effects that our waste has on the environment through material collection. Creating a nest using their own found materials enabled the children to have a more personal connection to the lesson, and ultimately a more enjoyable experience.
Making Their Bird’s Nest
Before we began the making portion of the workshop we went over some of the materials we gathered, and using real birds nests borrowed from the RISD Nature Lab observed the individual construction process of multiple bird species. One thing that I had anticipated (and should be considered in replicating this workshop) is the
amount of time that the students had to make the nests. Making a nest is a very big time investment. Wire frame structures were provided to give the students a head start. Interestingly enough the children that decided to not use the wireframe structures provided for them made very convincing looking nests using the techniques shown in cup and woven nests. Students that had a little bit more difficulty in the development of their nests that choose to utilize the wireframe were then able to quickly put together a nest in the same amount of time as those who did not use a wireframe. Being able to cater the learning experience to all of the students involved allowed for a pleasant and constructive time of making. The final results of the making portion of the workshop had students with varying nest constructions. Some of the nests had their own little bird eggs in them as well as others that were hybrid nests constructed for an exotic bird crossover species.
During this making portion of the workshop being able to direct the students in a way that allows them to both create something of their own as well as understand the steps in the construction of a bird’s nest is quite difficult, and could be improved upon if more time was available. Ultimately each student had an interesting approach to the making of their individual nests, and although not perfect representations of how a bird makes its nest they were very intuitive responses to what they learned about nest construction.
What the Students Learned
The students were able to evaluate their own nests in relation to the actual nests. Having time for reflecting on the lesson and observing their work allowed the students to see how difficult it was to replicate a nest, as well as have a more in depth look into the different materials they used.
The students were asked to do a simple sketch of their nest as well as answer some questions as to the setting in which their nest could be found, and to describe the type of bird that lives in it. Being able to sketch the nest and observe it from a different viewpoint allowed them to see the materials used differently. Many of the students had pieces of trash and plastic in their nest, which they hadn’t noticed prior to the completion of the nest. Enabling the students to take a step back from what they had made and sketch their work allows for a broader understanding of the lesson as a whole.
In asking the students what was the most difficult part many responded that their nest did not hold together, or that they had trouble knowing where the starting point was. The opportunity to emphasize the fantastic inability that we as human beings have in trying to imitate nature was clearly shown in the students’ responses. Humans are obviously not birds and although we may be able to observe the necessary steps taken to construct a nest we still may not understand their underlying decision making process. In closing the lesson I wanted to try and get this across to the students that our inability to replicate these pieces of avian architecture gives us that much more of a responsibility to protect the environment in which they are created. In this workshop the students were able to see the effects of waste on the environment through the materials that they had personally gathered. They came away from the workshop with their own interpretation of a bird’s nest. Also, the students hopefully went home with greater appreciation for the environment and their ability to make positive change for the protection of the wonderful structures that nature displays.
observe the necessary steps taken to construct a nest we still may not understand their underlying decision making process. In closing the lesson I wanted to try and get this across to the students that our inability to replicate these pieces of avian architecture gives us that much more of a responsibility to protect the environment in which they are created. In this workshop the students were able to see the effects of waste on the environment through the materials that they had personally gathered. They came away from the workshop with their own interpretation of a bird’s nest. Also, the students hopefully went home with greater appreciation for the environment and their ability to make positive change for the protection of the wonderful structures that nature displays.
How can this be used in other facets of teaching?
Developing a learning experience that involves being able to have hands on interaction with the materials used in nature is vital to a more practical understanding of structures found in nature. The ability to not only observe what is in nature from afar, but to put the student in a position to have a tactile relationship with the materials that are used encourages a broader understanding of the subject. The subject matter of the workshop is not solely limited to the construction of a nest, but can be used to study many other types of structures made in the animal kingdom, such as beehives, coral, beaver dams, etc. Encouraging learning through making should be a necessary component to any teaching structure and this nest-building workshop is but one way to get students out into the field to experience the wonders of our natural world.
understanding of structures found in nature. The ability to not only observe what is in nature from afar, but to put the student in a position to have a tactile relationship with the materials that are used encourages a broader understanding of the subject. The subject matter of the workshop is not solely limited to the construction of a nest, but can be used to study many other types of structures made in the animal kingdom, such as beehives, coral, beaver dams, etc. Encouraging learning through making should be a necessary component to any teaching structure and this nest-building workshop is but one way to get students out into the field to experience the wonders of our natural world.
This fall, the seventh annual A Better World by Design Conference featured two STEAM-led workshops led by leaders from the Brown and RISD teams. Show me the Way, an interactive and unconventional mapmaking exercise, allowed students to roam the College Hill campuses and assemble information to aid in constructing maps of any form besides planar. The STEAM team chose the topic of creating and designing maps because cartography is a classic example of a field which must simultaneously satisfy technical and human needs. A map needs to be accurate, but it also needs to be easy to understand; so it’s the type of problem that needs to be tackled in a multidisciplinary manner.
Workshop participants were challenged to experiment with what a map interface could be. Some groups created three-dimensional models, and others focused on creating different textures. The intent was to give the groups just a taste of how multidisciplinary problem solving could be applied to a real-life field.
The other workshop, entitled Curating Charisma, enlightened students and professionals on empathetic scientific communication. Each workshop successfully conveyed a clear concept to its attendees, prepping their imaginations for further exploration and inspiring them to attend STEAM’s other sessions. In order to help others experience the same level of success, we’re assembling a short checklist for curating the STEAMiest workshop possible.
Fill your seats (branding, advertisement, image)
The entire point of holding a workshop is to pass on some sort of idea to a group of curious individuals, so you better be sure to bring the right crowd. Who do you want to come to this event? Who will get the most out of it? How can you convince them to spend valuable them-time on your idea? The answers to all of these questions lie in the workshop’s branding. It is essential that all promotional materials embody the same tone, specifically a tone that attracts the correct audience. Equally important is utilizing a recognizable or memorable aesthetic, people love aesthetics.
Cultivate Excitement, Inspire Interest (presentation)
Twenty minutes into the workshop and not one of the three people who showed has spoken a peep. Things have reached a point where participation is necessary, and the slow-moving pace of things is making everyone uncomfortable. One girl just said she had to go feed her fish. When will this end? In order to avoid the conundrum outlined above, be sure to excite workshop participants as much as possible, as quickly as possible. Less than expected attendance is no excuse for not capturing the interest of the loyal few who were present.
Things have reached a point where participation is necessary, and the slow-moving pace of things is making everyone uncomfortable. One girl just said she had to go feed her fish. When will this end? In order to avoid the conundrum outlined above, be sure to excite workshop participants as much as possible, as quickly as possible. Less than expected attendance is no excuse for not capturing the interest of the loyal few who were present.
Teach, engage, enlighten
The highest goal of any workshop. These people have come from all over to learn from you because they think you have something to teach them. Hopefully that is the case, but even if it isn’t, the least you can do is make your time spent together worthwhile. No time is to be wasted. Every moment can be made a teaching or learning moment. If you make participants feel as though they’re actively searching for something, they’ll likely leave thinking they’ve found it.
Send your little elves into the world to tinker, knowing the knowledge they’ve gained with you is only their launchpad to the stars. (Wipe pride tear)
3d Printing Structures In Nature
With the advancement of three- dimensional (3D) modeling and printing technologies, it has become much easier to create personal objects on demand. 3D printed models can turn imagination into reality, and create realistic replicas of objects in stunning detail. With 3D printing, that rare and beautiful thing you saw on a museum shelf could decorate your desk the next day - all you need is a computer and a little bit of technical support. In this workshop, we taught participants the technical details of 3D modeling, 3D printing technologies, and how to utilize them to make a replica of an object.
To do so, we designed a two-part workshop using available resources from RISD and Brown University.
Part I. Generating the computer models
Participants picked an object from the RISD Nature Lab archive and learned how to convert that object into a computer aided design (CAD) with the help of open source Autodesk programs. At the end of the workshop, each participant had a realistic visualization of their design.
Part II. 3D printing the computer models
Participants learned how to convert their CAD into the format suitable for 3D printing. Using the Brown University Prince Lab 3D printer, they printed a personal replica of the object picked in part I of the workshop.
Importance for STEAM learning
Learning from non-text sources is becoming more popular across disciplines. To enhance the learning experience, institutions have explored different visual tools such as photography, drawing, digital imagery, and videography. However these tools ignore one of our strongest senses: touch. Just imagine how much more we could learn about form, texture and details by touching. To be able to do that, we need to bring our teaching materials from a 2D to a 3D world. This is where 3D printing comes into play. With the advancement of this technology, now it is much easier to make realistic replicas of rare natural objects and use them as teaching materials.
In this workshop, we taught participants how to convert a nature object to a 3D printed replica.
For example, with the help of the tools taught in this workshop, instead of talking about a nautilus, or presenting a nautilus image, now we could show our audience a 3D printed nautilus and allow them to explore it with their own hands. In such a tactile learning environment, teaching-learning interaction would be much more fun and engaging.
Brown STEAM hosted Design of Living Things, a series of workshops exploring biological design, in the Edna Lawrence Nature Lab last year. Brown undergraduate students taught RISD and Brown students about medical device design, functional anatomic design, and deep-sea colonial organisms. Below is video captured @ the event!
This fall, the RISD STEAM Club awarded the Da Vinci Microgrant to students who expressed interest in research and design across disciplines. Along with the grant, awardees were given space in Catalogue 3 to publish documentation of their research.
The next three articles feature the research and images created by the three awardees.
A veterinarian friend once told me that in order to avoid depression in the lions at the zoo, the caretakers would feed them their portion of meat inside a big block of ice. The process of trying to get to the meat served as a stimulating challenge. I cannot know for sure how the lion feels when facing his block, but I surely connected to this story in a very personal way. For me, knowledge can be that piece of meat. When engaged (obsessed) with a question, the answer can feel as if locked in a block of ice. Not entirely accessible, but still close enough for me to get a glimpse through the solid translucency, I know it is in there somewhere; I can smell it, and therefore will not “drop it.”
As you might imagine, the lion will not limit its struggle for access to only one side of the block. Neither will I. I am interested in the art making process that serves as a probe: a means for investigation. I enjoy approaching a question through different angles and perspectives.
In 2010 I started a participatory project where by lending plants our mobility, they could walk down the streets as a moving forest claiming for its place and respect in a city that is also theirs. This is an ongoing project in which my interest has recently expanded from plants that borrow my human mobility to include myself trying out their stillness as well.
I spent a big part of my summer standing in the forest, surrounded by trees and counting how long I could remain still with them. I recorded my experiences through writing, field recordings, drawings and photographic documentation.
I also started writing scores for movement that would allow me to reenact some of the “meeting” experiences I had had in the woods with trees, plants and even specific parts of them such as leaves or roots.
Still standing, I became obsessed with the idea of the first step. If you have been immobile for a long, long, long time and then you are granted movement: what do you do with it? After that amount of time can you imagine what a first step feels like? It immediately becomes an aware one, I think. It gains weight and significance; I imagine you appreciate it and use it wisely. From my perspective, this idea seems relevant to ecological thinking, as it establishes a parallel with the relationship between our intentions and our footprint (the impact of our acts).
Afterwards, I started wondering about the sound of that first step pulling itself out of the ground and fantasized with the projection of this small gesture resonating like thunder in space.
fantasized with the projection of this small gesture resonating like thunder in space.
I strapped contact microphones around my foot, buried it under the ground and then waited. Once again I stood still for a long, long, long time and then slowly started to pull my wired foot out of the ground. This specific type of microphone allowed me to pick up not sound waves travelling through the air but vibrating through the contact points between my foot and the ground. This difference is as important to me as performing the stillness that preludes this conceptual and physical step. The sound collected is sourced from a real experience and captured from that vibrating space of contact.
Trying to nibble around the corners of my ice block once more, I decided to translate this sound of a first step into movement again. So, I used transducer speakers to allow the sound collected to vibrate through bone-like sculptures and pronounce itself with movement.
My inert-looking sculptures became the vibrating speakers that reproduced this minimal stage of movement, a step.
My “meat” is not really a matter of mobility or immobility, especially now that I understand that the latter cannot exist. What drives me is the attempt of gaining insight into those moments when movement happens in scales and speeds that I (we?) cant normally perceive. I also think that it is the focus with which one maintains a question or topic for a sustained, hungry amount of time that causes the divides to blur. My process of repeatedly searching - research - to explore this question made me care not about mediums and/ or disciplines, but to stay focused on trying to break my block.
topic for a sustained, hungry amount of time that causes the divides to blur. My process of repeatedly searching - research- to explore this question made me care not about mediums and/ or disciplines, but to stay focused on trying to break my block.
Regardless of the amount of translations into drawings, writing, performances, videos, sound, sculpture and experience that I have been engaged with, this is probably only a first step and the reason why I am still hungry.
Hopefully in the long run, the connection between these apparently disparate points will create a clearer picture of how I may come to understand other forms of not only movement but ultimately other forms of living beings, such as plants.
This project aims to analyze how design functions to create meaningful visions of the future. It seeks to investigate why the material world is the way it is, what is required for it to be different, and how individuals can aspire to generate discourse about change. These are the questions of both scientists and designers, of anthropologists and ethnographers, and of children and students. In contemporary society, individuals from all disciplines play key roles in determining how our world is shaped.
From the products in stores to the information in textbooks, an individual’s choice of what to buy or learn or do impacts the world they perceive and occupy. Still, the world exists in the context of its past, and human choices in the present can only be made with a consideration of one’s knowledge, one’s personal history, and one’s imaginings (See Fig. 1); in effect, decisions in the present can be made with respect to a past– or a future–orientation.
Because science and design are often concerned with improving human society and bettering the built environment, I’m interested in evaluating how considerations of the future affect human decision making. Ultimately, I’m interested in learning how designers can use complex future-oriented decision making to effect positive change and forecast the future; I’m also interested in learning how science contributes to the realism of imagined future worlds. To do this, I’m conducting research about how the human mind processes future-oriented thinking.
Lana Porter, a self-proclaimed ethnographer of the imagination, one who “endeavors to guide anyone and everyone through a speculative process of imagination that allows them to think about, articulate, interpret, and invent their own futures,” asserts that, “We are all futurists” (Remembering the Future 41, 20). Individuals constantly generate mental versions of themselves; whether it’s planning what to wear in the morning, thinking about what to do each day, or ruminating on what kind of person one would like to be ten years from now, generating future selves is inextricably linked to human consciousness (Oyserman & James 2009).
From a psychological perspective, future selves can be sorted and classified by their valence [relative positivity or negativity], their likelihood [their probability of occurring], and their proximity [how close they are to the present or how far they are into the future] (Oyserman & James 2009). Realizing successive positive future selves results in positive individual evolutions that lead to more significant life changes—like how hopping between imagined stepping stones allows one to cross a metaphorical stream (See Fig. 4). The mental stepping stones and imagined future selves are significant because a clear path invites one to consider overcoming an obstacle far more strongly then if no path were discernible at all. Applying this information, designers can posit proximal future-oriented ideas or make physical imagined constructions in order to allow mental tourists to accompany them on journeys into the future (See Fig. 5).
Designers build paths into the future from a personal store of information and sensory experience reengineered through imagination. The designer’s ability to generate ideas that challenge the tradition of the present stems from their power to free themselves from fear of judgement and from established, isolated thoughts. It is my belief that interdisciplinary education is a prerequisite to idea synthesis; for this reason, while working on this project and gaining a firmer grasp on ideas about the misty future, I’ve read speculative fiction, the work of other interdisciplinary designers, and scientific literature about everything from psychology to geology. While reading, I try to isolate the general ideas—the kinds of ideas that may originate in a specific study but that can apply more widely to other academic fields. As a biology student, I do a fair amount of thinking about the intersection of design and living systems, deemed ecosystem literacy in Figure 9.
In Richard Dawkins’ renowned 1976 book, The Selfish Gene, the author outlines how genes, which lead directly to traits, have an informational analogue; Dawkins argues that memes, or small bits of information, can be passed culturally from generation to generation in an evolutionary process that mimics DNA transmission (Dawkins 1989). This idea, while only tenuously related to considerations about the future, aids one considerably in contextualizing the role of interdisciplinary thinking in generating new ideas. Scientists, synthetic biologists, and bioengineers—individuals who take an engineering approach to biology— isolate DNA in the form of genes and sequence, recombine, mutate, engineer, and transform them into new hosts in order to produce original transgenic organisms. This process, in turn, can be applied to memes—in essence, cultural ideas regardless of field can be found, evaluated, combined, edited, spliced together, and transformed into individuals in a speculative process that parallels the work of the synthetic biologist and that eventually results in the generation of new, interdisciplinary thoughts. By reading broadly with an open mind, individuals can be exposed to novel methods of thinking that can inform their work, make them think differently, and allow them to come up with original ideas.
parallels the work of the synthetic biologist and that eventually results in the generation of new, interdisciplinary thoughts. By reading broadly with an open mind, individuals can be exposed to novel methods of thinking that can inform their work, make them think differently, and allow them to come up with original ideas.
Having freed oneself from established modes of thinking, imagination functions as an engine for synthesis. Imagination brings us back to projection and projection relates directly to thinking about the future—for constructing new parallel realities from everyday experience and the information gained from interdisciplinary education (See again Fig. 1, Fig. 8). In this context, speculative designs build fictional worlds from constructed memories (See Fig. 6).
Playing off of trends in the past, art and design influence contemporary society. By leading individuals into favorable fictional futures through building tangible waypoints, designers can thus guide the probable into the preferable and shape the desirable by altering the considerations made by those individuals, brands, and governments who define policy. In this way, designers can upend convention and inspire thought about different realities.
Designers can invite individuals to imagine alternative futures by paving the way with clear visual or physical conceptions of the time to come. Ultimately, these inviting stepping stones loop back, resulting in a present that has been meaningfully altered for the better.
This past summer, we spent three weeks in Southern California investigating the history of the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) and affiliated historic sites. SSFL is a former rocket test facility responsible in part for the engines that powered the Apollo missions. The site is also home to the Burro Flats painted cave, sacred to the Chumash tribe, and believed by some to be connected with astronomical observation.
Our research started at a military base in the central valley, where many of the rocket engines developed at SSFL were launched.
We spent several hours with a military historian and trumpet player who toured us around various launch sites and Honda Ridge (a Chumash pictograph). Our journey then took us to the Mojave Desert, where we met with a NASA historian and toured the Deep Space Network further informing our understanding of this constellation of interconnected military sites within the Southern California landscape. On our return we met with the head of the Griffith Observatory, an expert in archeo-astronomy. He described his affiliation with Burro Flats and his experiences observing significant astronomical events. We also engaged with an archeologist who specialized in Chumash sites, he enlightened us to the religious significance of the cave and other surrounding locations. Our tour ended with a visit to SSFL that was sponsored by NASA and Boeing, two of the current owners of the facility. During our time at SSFL, we visited various rocket test stands, observation stations, and the ruins of a ranch that existed prior to the laboratory.
Throughout our visit in California, we also engaged with members of the community who have been directly affected by the site, and listened to their personal narratives.
Through these meetings, we were able to draw on a wealth of content, in totality generating a rich picture of the site from a wide breadth of experience, from the personal to the professional, the scientific to the historical and the anthropological to archeological. Our expectations were exceeded by the richness and complexity of the site’s history that continues to unfold and transition from a religious site, to a ranch, to a Hollywood filming location, to a research facility and on into whatever will come next. The entire history of California can be encapsulated in this small parcel of land, thus signifying the complexity of the Western landscape.
This experience is feeding into our own artistic practices, informing our research process and multi-disciplinary approach to art-making. Throughout our experience we interacted with people from many different fields, with little to no connection to the art world. Through these interactions we learned how to articulate our ideas for a wider audience and developed our own visual language that borrows from these fields of expertise. For example, Aly is working on a project that uses the language of military documentation in the exploration and reconstruction of a historical event. Vivian, in turn, is using Cold War imagery (vintage video and audio and found objects) to speak about the sublime nature of violent technologies.
We learned that while it was important to plan out and research in advance, some of the most interesting experiences happened through connections we formed along the way.
Because of this, we are using the micro-grant to return to California, where we will visit Santa Susana again and gather additional documentation and speak more with representatives at NASA. Because we already have a relationship with NASA, we are looking forward to discussing the history of the site in more depth, which will allow us to approach our thesis work with a deeper level of understanding.
This November, we gathered a group of artists, designers, programmers, engineers, students, professors, and generally all-around talented people at 204 Westminister St. for Art Hack Day Providence: Master
Slave. Their goal was to make an exhibit to occupy the Exposé gallery space in 48 hours, using the theme as a jumping-off point, and only limited by the quick deadline. We kicked off the event by showing some collaborative works from previous Art Hack Days, having everyone share their background and discuss any ideas they had for the exhibit, and emphasized that people should try working with other people.
This context for creating original art is freeing and constrictive at the same time; groups with different backgrounds gives individuals a chance to quickly step out of their comfort zone, with little consequence if the end result isn’t as expected; after all, it is only a weekend spent, and even the art is only on display for around three hours total. Because of this, people tend to take on riskier ideas, or projects they wouldn’t normally consider. The quick deadline also forces people to learn and adapt quickly; projects began with an idea, and if you don’t know the technology or don’t have the skills to make it happen, you either figure it out (usually with the help of others), or improvise.
After the kickoff, people started shuffling into groups, discussing ideas, and generally figuring out what they wanted to work on for the imminent future.
There was no real structure until we started converting the space to gallery mode Saturday afternoon, which helped people feel comfortable working at their own pace. Discussion and preparation continued into the night. Some groups, like Faith Holland and Nadav Assor, hammered out their ideas rather quickly- in their case, an installation taking advantage of pavlovian responses to notification sounds. Other groups, like Kye Franz, Allison Burtch, and Mimi Campbell, formed by mutual interest, without a clear destination.
Friday was when most of the work began in earnest. The environment of the space became a productive mixture of hard work and relaxed discussion. Having everyone working in the same space proved invaluable; being surrounded by other people working on their projects made working on your own easier, and help was easy to come by if anyone was stuck on a problem.
Being able to see all the work take shape and talk to the people making it was also one of the most valuable things about the environment, as everyone ended up having some kind of investment or learning about a project other than their own. Projects with physical components started to come into being- David Braun started to install and calibrate his projection-mapping Panopticomical, and the professor/ student group of Carl Lostritto, Shou Jie Eng, Linyi Dai and Chen Shun began the cyclical printing process of their self-referential pen plotter process.
On Saturday, final pieces came together and the gallery started to become frenzy with the installation of the work. Though slightly panicked, the final hours didn’t carry a huge burden of stress- with the final output of the work being an extremely temporary exhibit, there wasn’t winning or losing, just a celebration of the work people had done.
From 3-7 the space was cleared and pieces were installed. The opening began at 7, and quickly became a crowded, noisy ruckus. At around 10 we began to pack up, leaving no trace that the lifespan of an entire exhibit’s worth of art occurred over the past two days, other than the skills we picked up and people we met.
Interactive Fruits was a workshop, facilitated by Ria Mirchandani (a student at Brown University), which paired RISD and Brown students alike to experiment with Scratch, the world’s simplest programming language.
Scratch is developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten research lab at the MIT Media Lab, where Ria does research. Ria’s interest was in getting adult audiences to try out Scratch, which is most often used by children ages 5-10. Her hypothesis was that the creative minds of RISD and Brown students together would be able to draw equally interesting conclusions about how to use the language.
A group of 14 or so students collected and used Makey Makey kits to create interactive applications which had elements of animations, musical instruments, and toys. One group created a musical instrument that played a sound whenever a fruit was passed to a different person. Another group made a word-keyboard of sorts controlled by fruit. Indeed, Ria’s hypothesis that an easily accessible framework such as Scratch would serve as a great catalyst for creation, was proven true. Interactive Fruits also showed that although Scratch was designed for children, adults could also engage with it easily. Lastly, the experience showed us that the use of a simple intermediary language (which is not of the discipline of either participant) could engender great collaboration.
In the fall of 2014, RISD, Brown, and MIT STEAM welcomed a new university to our network of student organizations. Yale is now officially a hub for interdisciplinary work, play, learning, and creating in Connecticut!
As our network continues to grow, we will find more successful interactions across disciplines, and publish even larger catalogues! Interested in bringing STEAM to your school or organization? Please email us at info@ steamwith.us, or simply read the next few pages for our STEAM-builder’s checklist.
This guide will help you start a ‘studio’ at your institution. Partnering with the STEAM Club network will get you access to our modules for events, collaborative funding opportunities, and most importantly, notes from all of our successes and failures.
The first thing that we recommend you do is take a look through our catalogues. If you want to see earlier catalogues, we can link you to their online counterparts. Reading the catalogues will give you a sense for the kinds of things we like to do. You’ll notice that a lot of our events fall into one of two categories: workshops and lectures.
2. Make Friends
We strongly recommend that you locate two faculty or administrative advisers for your organization. This could be a Dean, Professor, or anyone else who is knowledgeable about the way your school works. We also recommend that you find 2-3 other passionate students that you want to work with in leading STEAM at your organization.
Lastly, find an initial membership of at least ten people that are interested in STEAM events (probably your friends).
How will a STEAM group at your school be special? Does your school have the world’s biggest collection of taxidermied mammals? Is your adviser the foremost authority on the musical qualities of the number pi?
Think about how your school’s unique culture will influence how you move forward with STEAM. Then, you can draft your first mission statement! Take a look at the existing mission statements on our websites if you get stuck.
In order to do things, you’re going to need some money. This money might pay for luminaries to come to your snazziest auditorium to share their wisdom or pizza to fuel weekend-long hackathons. We recommend that you raise about $1,000 for your first year, but you can probably get by with less if you’re smart about it.
• Read through catalogues and blogs
• Locate advisers(2), leaders(2-3), & members(10+)
• Locate funding (~$1,000)
• Draft a mission statement
When you are ready, send this info in any format (creativity recommended) to email@example.com and one of our leaders will follow up with you. Have fun with it!
Ryan Flomerfelt Mather
Industrial design, educational technology, human computer interaction, and wood
Digital+media, media art, interaction design, hardware engineering
Sculpture and installation, performance and environmental issues
Industrial design, speculative design, tech inspired design, entrepreneurship
Industrial design, design thinking education, experience design
Architecture, object-oriented programming, behavior of algorithms
Materials engineering, visual art, materials science, industrial design, bioengineering
Better World By Design Liaison, Project Manager
Computer science, digital communication, modern rapid prototyping techniques
Nature Lab Liaison,
Science Center Liaison,
Environmental science & music, science communication, musical composition, graphic design
President & Founder
Mechanical engineering, computer science, product design
Engineering, design, psychology
Mechanical engineering, physics, 3D art
President & Founder
Molecular, cellular, and developmental biology, intensive neurobiology track, medicine, frontiers in neuroscience, aging, stem cell research, scientific publication production and design
Head Graduate Liaison
Biomedical research, tech transfer, and interdisciplinary projects
Psychology, neuroscience, graphic design, fine arts, medicine, public health
Chris Paolini Vice President
Kristoffer Acuña Treasurer
Anna Griffin Outreach Coordinator
Made in the year of our lord 2014 with Century Old Style Std, Hypertext Markup Language, Cascading Style Sheets, and Ecmascript 5
Direction by Skye Ray
Designed & built by Barron Webster
If you see a print edition in the wild (about as rare as a shiny pokémon), it was designed by Skye Ray
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Say hello at firstname.lastname@example.org!