Collab: Occupy Earth

Parsons School of Design

PSAM 5550B, fall 2017

Melanie Crean, Tyler Henry

Tuesdays, 12:10 pm – 2:50 pm; 6 East 16th Street 1200B


Course description


In the Occupy Earth collaborative studio, we will create works of “mixed reality,” constructing new forms of virtual and physical hybrids to explore polarized discussion of the ecologies, climates, and environments we now face as an earth-bound species in the 21st century. We use the term “mixed reality” to link emerging technologies such as virtual and augmented reality to the physical and sensory realities that pervade our cultural and political lives.


The first half of the course will pair design exercises investigating alternate sensory perception, spatial narrative, and mutable environments with technical instruction combining projection mapping (MadMapper), 3D scanning and augmented interaction (Kinect), and prototyping virtual spaces in Unity.  The final project will involve designing layered mixed reality spaces to convey how disruption or intervention to the surrounding environment can impact a character, species, and culture.


The course will be conducted in collaboration with students at the Media Lab at University of Aalto in Helsinki.  It will involve a final public presentation of work either in NYC or Helsinki, and the possibility of travel.


Schedule, weekly


8/29, Week 1:

Introduction, syllabus overview, course goals, assignments


9/5, Week 2:

Design workshop: Imaginary Journey
Tech workshop: Soundscaping in Unity – movement as interaction

Assignment: Dark Walk design


9/12, Week 3:

Dark Walk critique and discussion
Tech workshop: Illumination pt. 1 – surface, material, projection

Assignment: Bending the Everyday concept

Reading: history of virtuality and AR/MR, TBA


9/19, Week 4:

Design workshop: Experience prototyping
Tech workshop: Illumination pt. 2 – projection mapping and imagery

Assignment: Bending the Everyday experience prototype


9/26, Week 5:

Bending the Everyday critique and introduction of Climate Control Midterm
Tech workshop: Illumination pt. 3 – virtual cameras and 3D projection

Assignment: Climate Control Midterm pt. 1 – aesthetic or experience prototypes of environmental affect

Reading: artists working with the environment


10/3, Week 6:

Climate Control pt. 1 critique and discussion
Tech workshop: 3D scanning and photogrammetry

Assignment: Climate Control Midterm pt. 2 – 4D experience prototype of environmental disruption


10/10, Week 7:

Climate Control work in groups
Tech troubleshooting
Introduction of final project

Assignment: Climate Control Midterm pt. 3 – User-flow narrative experience prototype and video documentation


10/17, Week 8, with Aalto: MIDTERMS

Climate Control midterm presentations

Assignment: Research for final project concept

Reading: Latour’s The New Climate


10/24, Week 9:

Final Project research briefs and group formation
Tech workshop: Interaction pt. 1 – sensors

Assignment: Aesthetic prototype for final project


10/31, Week 10:

Exchange with Aalto: Aesthetic prototype critique
Tech workshop: Interaction pt. 2 – immersive interfaces

Assignment: Engagement prototype for final project
Reading: Rob Shields, The Return of the Virtual


11/7, Week 11:

Engagement prototype review

Assignment: Technical prototype for final project


11/14, Week 12:

Exchange with Aalto, Tech prototype plans

Assignment: Refine Technical prototype for final project


11/21, Week 13: THANKSGIVING


11/28, Week 14: Trouble Shooting Tech Prototypes

Assignment: Final Design Deliverables

12/5, Week 15: Mock Presentations w Aalto


12/12, Week 16: Final Project presentations

Due: Final Deliverables: video documentation, final presentation slides, design document

Learning outcomes

By the successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

  1. Understand fundamental aesthetic principles of Mixed Reality, as evidenced by producing immersive interactive installations based on light and moving image
  2. Be familiar with important art and design precedents involving light art and experimental projection
  3. Be proficient with the use of analog optics, 3D mapping and projection technology


Course Components


Four Primary Assignments

The course has four primary assignments exploring spatial experience. Projects will be created both individually and in groups at the discretion of the faculty.

  1. Dark Walk; , an immersive storytelling project based on sound and haptics, 1 week
  2. Bending the Everyday, alter the meaning of an object through light, 2 weeks
  3. Climate Control, midterm project, 3 weeks
  4. Final project: research, concept, design and execution, 8 weeks

Critique, Presentation and Discussion

The presentation and discussion of work is an integral component of the course. Students are expected to present their work in a clear and concise manner during both casual and more formalized critique sessions, which may include invited guest critics. Students should also be prepared to ask questions and provide constructive criticism to their fellow students.

Presentation Guidelines

When presenting, students should explain:

  • Context: what is your area of inquiry? What are you studying, experimenting with, questioning; and why?
  • Intention: what do you plan to make, and why? How is this making a response to your inquiry?
  • Impact: what is the goal of your project, what impact do you think it will have, why is it important?  


Four readings

Students will also be prepared to discuss all readings in class. This includes any questions that might arise about the reading and its implications for class projects. The first will be about “sensory hacking,” the second on a brief history of “virtuality,” the third on artists working with the environment, and the fourth by Bruno Latour, on global conception of the environment now.





Imaginary Journey, after Augusto Boal (wk 2)

In pairs, one guide and one ‘blind’ guided partner. The blind partner must be led across a series of real or imaginary obstacles found or invented by the guide, as if the two of them were in the middle of some other environment (forest, city street, supermarket, subway). The guides should “sow” obstacles through the room: chairs, tables etc. that have different physical, aural or kinetic qualities. No speaking, guides can use physical contact or sound for guidance. The guided are not allowed to make any movement they are not “instructed” to do. When possible, the guide should make the same movements as the guided, to actively imagine their own story. The guided person must try to imagine where they are, for example, a river? Are there rocks, animals? After a few minutes they stop, and the guided tells the guide where she thinks she is in the real world, who & what is  next to her etc, describing all the information she’s gathered about the physical environment using senses other than sight. Then she tells her guide where she has imagined she was journeying. They compare notes on the story, and switch.


Experience Prototyping

Experience prototypes are different from interactive prototypes, in that they don’t necessarily experiment with how a person would ideally engage with a project, but rather they try break down and draw attention to how a person senses or experiences a project. What would you like a person to experience with your work, how would you describe that experience? What are interesting aspects of the work that you would like to play with, accentuate? What metaphors might you use to describe them? How might you simulate them? What patterns of behavior, interactivity, participation or exchange could you quickly model? How do these activities or gestures create meaning or become meaningful? For more instructions, see the brief here.



Dark Walk (for wk 3)

In pairs, create a narrative walk to be experienced without sight, rather using sound, tactile and kinetic elements to convey meaning.

Bending the Everyday (for wk 5)

Projection map onto an “everyday” object to change its appearance and alter its perceived meaning, purpose, or value.  Document in video. Consider everyday interfaces, and the built environment.  As your technique, use projection masking (Illustrator), mapping (Mad Mapper), or both.


Climate Control (for midterms, wk 8)

Over a three week period, we will build a prototype of a spatial multimedia environment that expresses a sensory and phenomenological experience of environmental disruption and change.  We will begin by selecting existing linear narratives (fiction or non-fiction writing or audio) on which to base our experiences. The experience will incorporate elements that correspond to the traditional “acts” of a three-part narrative structure: setup, crisis, and resolution.  Each week we will focus on prototyping one of these acts. For more information, see the complete project brief here.

Political Reality (final project, for wk 15)

Using little or no words, express some aspect of current tensions in ideas of the “Body Politic,” and how they relate to tensions in considerations about the environment and environmental disruption, using light, space, symbolic objects, and set design. For more information, see the project brief here.