Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image

Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

Scroll to top


No Comments

Architectural Augmentation In Live Performance

Architectural Augmentation In Live Performance

An investigation into the architectural presence, containment and embodiment of live performance.

“I think that the moment the separation between any of the elements ceases, the moment there’s no longer actor, author, subject, spectator; the moment all those fuse together into a new unity, and that unity has a taste that is different from a taste one can get from anywhere else in everyday life – then the theatre exists. At the beginning of a performance you have a number of people – 50, 500, 2000 people – all of whom are self – contained fragments with no natural flow going between them. In other words each one of us is completely cut off from the flow of life: one is in ones own little box, and that is in a very crude way the way we live most of the time. One comes into a special surrounding which is an amphitheatre – an amphitheatre has only one virtue, it brings people together – and one sees that the more different the people together in the end, the better the result. And then, through a number of steps , through the fact that perhaps the theme, perhaps the rhythm, perhaps the work of the actor, the presence of the actor, all these together attract a common process and something begins to unroll and flow shared by everyone, and then you have, if you’re lucky, like water coming to the boil, a change of state.”(Brook, 1984)

Throughout history, architecture within the realms of performance has undergone a transformation from augmentation for necessity (balance) to augmentation for excessive narrative enrichment (scenography). In this current climate of novel, experiential discovery and experimentation, the limits of architectural augmentation are fashionably questionable. The aim of this thesis is to contribute to the conversation, looking specifically at the architectural embodiment of performance whilst focusing on theories of architectural presence and containment and their importance within live performance for the mutual experiential benefit of performers and audience.

This thesis is conducted in two parts. Part one will demonstrate the symbiotic and cybernetic constructs of live performance in relation to performer(s), audience, space and architecture. Through doing so I hope to outline the development of architectural augmentation and express the importance of architectural presence and containment for the mutual experiential benefit of performers and audience. Following on from this I will outline the limitations of architectural augmentation and its inability to evolve to surpass its design intent and inability to influence the performance as a living contributor. Part one will conclude with a review of case studies relevant to this field of research, primarily featuring the work of cybernetician, Gordon Pask. The second part of this thesis will consist predominantly of technical design work in the form of prototyping and analysis, relating to a design brief developed specifically to exercise the research questions outlined in part 1. Part two will conclude with a design proposal consisting of a temporary festival venue that aims to address all of the conceptual and technical design problems identified throughout the entirety of this thesis.

1.1 Architectural Augmentation for live Performance

I want to use this section of the thesis to define and convey the importance of performance augmentation through architectural containment and presence for the mutual experiential benefit of performers and audience. I aim to address and challenge the ‘active’ role of architecture within performance and conclude with thoughts regarding its limitations and downfalls, specifically within the thriving landscape of outdoor music festivals currently present within the UK. To do so, we must first define and analyse performance at its most primitive form, the direct symbiotic relationship between performer(s), audience and space. Following this we will look at the first iteration of architectural augmentation coming in the form a stage. Specifically we will identify its performer – audience proportional balancing capabilities and the level of which it can generally improve communication efficiency. We will then review the second iteration of architectural augmentation, the performance venue. It is in this section we will discuss the notion of architectural containment and presence, and its overruling effect on perception, immersion and atmosphere. Lastly we will address the third and final iteration, the introduction of social media and the addition of the online audience and its effect on architectural design for live performance.


Thesis Definitions


Denoting a mutually beneficial relationship between different people or groups.


The science of communications and automatic control systems in both machines and living things.


The action or process of making or becoming greater in size or amount.


The act of enclosing, defining space through the use of physical boundaries


The word “presence” does not refer (at least does not mainly refer) to a temporal but to a spatial relationship to the world and its objects. Something that is “present” is supposedly to be tangible for human hands, which implies that, conversely, it can have immediate impact on human bodies. (Gumbrecht, 2004)

Social Media

Websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking.


1.2 Primitive Performance

To help us understand both the symbiotic relationships and cybernetic systems present and fundamentally essential to the success of live performance, we must announce and build upon the most primitive concepts of performance as defined by Garnier.

“Put two or three persons together and theatre immediately results, at least in principle. Two of them interact, while the third who looks on and listens is the spectator; he who speaks is the poet, the place is the scene. This rudiment of drama contains the whole primitive idea of theatre”(Garnier, 1871) translated by (Jones, 2016)

Let us imagine that the systems of interaction between performer(s), audience, space and architecture exist as gears with-in a machine. Gears that have direct interlocking connections with one another and for this research, ideal for understanding feedback systems and the importance of balance (figure 1). In simple terms, a performance cannot exist without the presence of an audience and visa versa. In this example let us imagine that a singer is performing to a small audience in an external environment. It is the performer’s job to convincingly convey a narrative effectively to an audience, and whilst it should not be assumed that the audience have a job to do, the performance relies on them to perceive, digest and subjectively react to the information presented to them. When we consider the feedback response of an audience, we must imagine the crowd as one body. An interface. A combination of visual and audio cues (cheering, booing, clapping) are used to established an emotional, symbiotic connection between performer and audience. These cues also have the potential to dictate the decision making process of a performer. If we compare singing to the creative process of drawing. The designer, sketching or doodling, switches be-tween the roles (personae) of marker and viewer–or, to be pedantically precise, the drawer-who-then-listens before-draw-ing-again, and the listener-who-then-draws-before-listening again -a visual equivalent of talking and listening. The mark is often made without intention: it’s not the shape of something; it’s an exploration, a vague question. Make a mark, view it, remake (change) the mark, review it. This is a type of play, full of unspoken “What if?” questions, the form of a conversation held with oneself: statement uttered, statement heard, statement restated (Glanville, 2009).

Providing that it has been received and perceived in a positive manner, a strong positive feedback from the audience may potentially comfort, reassure and provide confidence to the per-former, which in tern will effect the feedback response of the performance as a whole. Alternatively if the audience doesn’t contribute a strong enough presence to drive the performer ( unsatisfied/small audience) it may have negative implications. If good theatre depends on a good audience, then every audience has the theatre it deserves. Yet it must be very hard for spectators to be told of an audience’s responsibility. How can this be faced in practice? It would be a sad day if people went to the theatre out of duty. Once within a theatre an audience cannot whip itself into being ‘better’ than it is. In a sense there is nothing a spectator can actually do. And yet there is a contradiction here that cannot be ignored, for everything depends on him. (Brook, 1968)

Figure 1 Balanced symbiotic relationship between performer(s) and audience. Oliver Townsend, 2018

Logistically, the efficiency of discourse flow back and forth is dependant on the proportional balance between performer and audience. Retaining an equal balance between the projection capabilities (whether it be aural or visual) of the performer and the quantity of audience members will allow for easy and comfortable readability for both parties. If the size of the audience outweighs the performance capabilities and an unbalance of scale was to occur (figure 2) then the experiential quality and sensory perception of the audience is at risk. Visibility of the performance may be in jeopardy from specific positions in the crowd and audience members may interrupt each others sight-lines of the performance. Acoustically, the dialogue may get lost over a distance and the unavoidable noise of the crowd (shuffling, coughing) may intervene with low, delicate aural moments in the performance. Conclusively, both aural and visual intervention through unbalance, will potentially lead to disturbances within the audience as hierarchical positions within the crowd are identified, leading to negative viewpoints and ultimately an audience of inequality, dissatisfaction and an overall negative impact on the performer feedback, undoubtedly effecting the overall atmosphere and experience. From the perspective of the performer, an oversized audience receiving a vague representation of the intended narrative may be overwhelming in the sense that the feedback readability is unclear. Secondly, the performer capabilities are stretched to meet the demands of the audience, resulting in overworking. The per-former(s) need to work harder just to be seen or heard (over expression of movement/ shouting). An example of such imbalance between space and performance has been previously discussed by theatre producer Peter Brook, in his review of King Lear produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company.

“Eventually our impresario took the play to the Lincoln Centre in New York–a giant auditorium where the acoustics were bad and the audience resented its poor contact with the stage. We were put in this vast theatre for economic reasons: a simple illustration of how a closed circle of cause and effect is produced, so that the wrong audience or the wrong place or both conjures from the actors their coarsest work. Again, the actors, responding to the given conditions, had no choice, they faced the front, spoke loudly and quite rightly threw away all that had become precious in their work. This danger is built into every tour, because in a sense few of the conditions of the original performance apply–and contact with each new audience is often a matter of luck.” (Brook, 1968) 


Figure 2
Unbalance – proportional differences between audience and performer(s) Oliver Townsend, 2018

1.3 Iteration 1

The initial and most obvious attempt to prevent an unbalance is the introduction of the stage. Essentially, a stage is an architectural structure, consisting of a raised platform and or a framework to give a performance a focal point. Let us imagine that the mechanical system in figure 3 represents a large street performance. We see the stage occupied by the performer(s) as a functional tool to elevate the scale of the performance, equal to that of the audience. In the interest of communication efficiency the stage is used to improve visual and acoustic connection with the audience. If the performance is small in scale and the audience few in number, both audience and the actors may be quite content to be on the flat ground. But if the show becomes elaborate or the audience large, then some sort of staging must be built to accommodate one or the other (Southern,1964). However, past its abilities to augment the most basic communicative capabilities of a performance in terms of audience/ performer balance, its physical, structural existence is generally exploited through decoration (scenography) to further augment the contextual capabilities of a performance. The assertion is that scenography extends and enriches audience experience of performance through images which operate in con-junction with, but in different ways from, other aspects of the stage. (Butterworth, McKinney J, 2009)

Ironically, for the audience, the stage is more of a representation of architecture rather than architecture itself, a framework born out of the narrative of the performance. Within that frame the actor is now placed, thereby making a sort of living picture ,and you have the ‘proscenium arch’ (Southern,1964) It is viewed from one perspective and it only lies host to a limited amount of depth. Whereas for the performers, the stage is a functional, inhabitable structure, essential to the functionality of performance.

Figure 3 – b, Performance augmentation to counterbalance audience scale using a stage using a stage Oliver Townsend, 2018

1.4 Iteration 2

As we have identified, the stage provides a platform to augment performance capabilities, audience perception and overall communication between performers and audience. However, the stage exists as a backdrop, regardless of its position within space it traditionally remains inaccessible for the audience. I want to pro-pose that the next iteration in architectural performance augmentation is the introduction of a performance specific venue such as a concert hall or night club. Theoretically, once a performance is located within an architecture, the stage that was once the equivalent of one wall has now transformed into four walls. A threshold has been identified, an internal space dictated and the level of contextual augmentation has evolved from a representation of architecture to a physical, inhabitable space. Thus, an architectural containment is born and its presence directly felt.

“Architecture affects the emotions developed in drama, and scenic productions can be reinforced by places in which they are held. When a hall is beautiful and of noble aspect, as for example with the new Opera, the entering spectators suffer a kind of moral impression that they can hardly avoid. Contained and surrounded by this sort of elegant atmosphere, their thoughts, their character, even their speech and deportment are influenced. They sense instinctively that a certain dignity is required, and that loose behaviour would be unseemly. This feeling of reserve, this elevation of the spirit which arises spontaneously on entering the room, prepares one for the reception of great works. The influence of the setting dominates, and anything done carelessly brings the risk of finding oneself unwelcome. We can never disinterest ourselves completely from out surroundings, for the pleasures and pains we feel are excited or reduced by the character of the place, even if they are not perverse or troubling. One would find it as hard to sing de profundis properly in a brilliant ballroom, as to dance with abandon in a funeral hall. There are places that predispose you powerfully towards joy or sadness, and no degree of rationality and philosophy can outweigh this influence.”(Garnier, 1841) translated by (Jones, 2016)

With the introduction of an architectural containment, contextually we have asserted a sense of place and fruitfully enriched the opportunity to augment narrative, audience perception/behaviour and atmosphere. However, if we analyse the change cybernetically and we assume that a performance is situated within an environment such as a concert hall (figure 4) we see, for the first time, a disconnect between the direct performer/ audience feedback loop.


Figure 4 Cybernetic systems within a performance venue Oliver Townsend, 2018

For this example let us imagine an orchestral performance within a concert hall. The performers audio output is projected into the hall and directly interacts with the surfaces of the room, awakening the sonic character of the space. Its character is defined by the acoustic properties of the room i.e. geometry, volume and materiality (reflective/absorbent). Not only has this interaction asserted architectural presence within the environment, but it has also manipulated the intended sound output from the performers. It has manipulated the audiences perception of the sound and therefore influenced their subjective review and feedback. Similarly the acoustic feedback of the room will undergo a subjective analysis from the perspective of the performer and as previously identified, can ultimately have an effect over the decision making processes of the performer. Acoustically the space can be designed to accommodate for the intended performances of that particular venue.
In regards to visual augmentation, the scale and arrangement of occupy-able space defined by the architecture, if carefully considered, has the power to control the viewpoints of the audience and combat the issues earlier identified in the primitive performance example. Balance can be predetermined in design process of the venue by stating a capacity and designing a stage to cater for it. This is significantly important from a feedback readability point of view from the performer in the sense that a small venue at full capacity suggests occupy-able space per person is at its minimum, thus, a compact audience. If we imagine a Mexican wave in a well populated, compact crowd in comparison to a smaller, spread out crowd, the effect will differ from a fluid, well bonded body of motion to a scattered array of sudden movement. This is a good example of how the proportions of space, audience population and feedback gestures may play a vital role in contributing to the performance communication efficiency.

In addition, visual communication and audience readability can be controlled by creating multiple viewing points and changes in level. Arguably in most cases this does not resolve the hierarchy of space and audience inequality, however it can improve the situation drastically. Architect, Hans Scharoun explored the notion of audience equality thoroughly in his design of the Berlin Philharmonie. He was successful in creating a concert hall that featured a stage in the centre of the room and consequently wrapping the audience around the stage. Scharoun sought an equality appropriate to restored democracy : each person was to have a different view but all of them equally good. The major innovation was to divide the audience into separate terraces, which broke the great mass down into smaller groups, each sitting to face a slightly different direction (Jones, 2016).

Through Scharoun’s logical considerations of space and conceptual design, he created much more than just a functional space. The architecture is now an active, essential contributor to the performance. The physical existence and presence of this static infrastructure has evolved into something indistinguishable from the organic nature live performance. “But it is above all the sense of togetherness that distinguishes the Philharmonie, of being part of a great community of listeners, which is felt not only during the music but particularly during the applause as one looks across the sea of faces and registers agreement. This sharing of experience is perhaps all the more needed to enhance the excitement of live performance […] The visual qualities of the hall are also vital to its atmosphere, particularly the spatial complexity and lack of perspective which make it difficult to judge the scale and position of events. One feels that one never quite grasps the room, and the music seems to fill it, almost as if it is a musical instrument itself. The space both confirms the efficacy of the aperspective effect and adds to the musics ethereal quality” (Jones, 2016).
In contrast to the earlier iterations identified, we can now argue that architectural containment can effect the cybernetic relation-ship between performer(s), audience and space. Resulting in augmented perception, improved communication, symbiotic relationships and overall atmosphere improvement. I argue that the presence of architecture is fundamentally important for augmenting the capabilities of the performance.

1.5 Iteration 3

“Presence” really comes into question when we look at the next and final iteration of performance augmentation. I do not want to dwell too much on the implications that technology or more specifically “social Media” has over the complexity of performance cybernetics or its arguable impact on atmosphere and experience. However, due to the ongoing rise of self augmentation through smart phones and their ever present use in live performance, it is an important stepping stone in the development of this thesis and needs to be briefly touched upon. Considering the level of which we have discussed the idea of audience – performer balance and its overall effect on audience perception and performer feedback, I believe it is vital to review the current conditions of balance within live performance in the digital age and the architectural response that this has brought.

In iteration 3, we will cybernetically analyse the influence of social media and its feedback effect on live performance and in tern critique its pitfalls in relation to architectural containment and presence. For this example we will specifically analyse the system in the context of a outdoor stage at a music festival. The festival stage is particularly relevant and interesting for multiple reasons. Firstly, considering the outdoor stage falls into iteration two and is arguably a less powerful augmenter of performance, the popularity of music festivals in the UK have blossomed vigorously of late, showing the birth of new festivals increase by over fifty percent in the last ten years, as reported by national newspaper, The Telegraph.

“As an example, the number of festivals listed on festival website eFestivals has jumped from 496 in 2007 to 1,070 last year. Steve Heap, chairman of the Event Industry Forum and general secretary of the Association of Festival Organisers, says the industry has been “swamped” with new festivals.”(Telegraph, 2nd July 2016)

Obviously there are far too many factors involved to even begin to speculate as to why this temporary format of live performance is more preferable as of recent times in comparison to more permanent venues such as night clubs. However, this research be-comes even more significant when it is compared to the staggering decline of nightclubs across the UK over the same ten year time period. Again, this dramatic change picked up by another national newspaper.

“The report also found that there was a sharp fall in the amount of money being spent at smaller venues — those with a capacity of below 1,500. These are the venues that have been closing in their droves over the past decade, declining by 35% in London thanks to rising costs, pressures from property developers and strict licensing laws.”(Guardian, 10th July 2017)

In summary, a juxtaposition between permanence and non permanence is trending. The physically present, specifically designed performance venues are becoming underpopulated and therefore forced to shut their doors. Whereas the non – permanent, temporary festivals are becoming vastly more popular and glimmering with an essence of permanence. The question that we are interest-ed in discussing at this point is, what efforts have been made to maximise architectural augmentation using temporary, functional structures and how have these been designed to accommodate social media?

Let us monumentally focus on the social media platform most relevant to this discussion, Instagram. Instagram, a mobile photo (and video) capturing and sharing service, has quickly emerged as a new medium in spotlight in the recent years. It provides users an instantaneous way to capture and share their life moments with friends through a series of (filter manipulated) pictures and videos (Hu, et al) Since its launch in October 2010, it has attracted more than 150 million active users, with an average of 55 million photos uploaded by users per day, and more than 16 billion photos shared so far (Instagram, 2013)

Commercially, Instagram is a successful marketing tool used by both event promoters and performers to boost event exposure and performer fan base. The ability to share live content instantaneously to the internet opens the door to a much larger online audience than the live audience in physical attendance. Once online, the live steam can be accessed from virtually anywhere in the world, causing uncontrollable growth and instant imbalance be-tween audience and performer (figure 5). You could also argue that the presence of the performer has now been augmented in proportion to the audience however this is only a representation of the performer on stage, unlike the actual number growth of audience members tuning in. As outlined in iteration 2, the primary feedback relationship between performer and audience is the same.

Now, in iteration 3, we see two additional forms of feedback established. The first being the link between live audience-online audience. It is important to mention that this transcends the constraints of the live performance as the relationship exists as part present – part digital representation and thus forms an indirect feedback with a small delay. The second relationship between on-line audience and performer exists only online, outside of the live performance completely. To categorise the new found relation-ships as cybernetic, is definitely questionable and maybe a stretch too far due to time delay in which it takes for the performer to see online feedback. However, if the effect of this feedback is analysed over a time frame that exceeds that of the live performance then you could argue that the online feedback, if read and digested by the performer, could have significant influence over the performers evaluation of their own performance and in tern impact their next live performance.

“I have so many memories of finishing shows and just checking the reaction on the internet straight away,” (Noisey, 10th August 2017)

Figure 5 Diagram denoting new found relationships and cybernetic structures of an out-door festival stage with the introduction of social media. Oliver Townsend, 2018

The majority of the more commercial festivals, have responded architecturally with drastically increased stage size or more specifically the proscenium arch. (figure 6,7) With the world looking in through social media and the obsession of photo journalism in the current climate, audience members are overly eager to document and be seen attending such events. Not surprisingly this idea of being seen is not a new concept and existed long before this technology as Peter Blundel Jones describes in his description of the Opera Hall.
“Both catered for people in their finery going to be seen as well as to see”(Jones, 2016) Unintentionally but conveniently for event producers, events now market themselves through audience members using these sharing platforms.

In conclusion, a forced increase in visual performance for the satisfaction of the online audience has ultimately lead to a synthetic over-exaggerated representation (scenography) of architecture for the live audience. In addition, (in regards to live musical performance) the focus has deterred from a audio first performance to a predominantly visual one. Due to the nature of these events, usu-ally lasting days, with each stage featuring a number of different performances, one major concern is the lack of personalised scenography per act. This means that visual narrative specific to the performance is either compromised by the festival theme or non existent. The behaviour of the audience has evolved from a concentration, dedication to distraction and extensive documentation through smart phones. It would seem that the focus in event design is that of marketing rather than audience satisfaction for the now. With all this in mind and the lack of architectural containment I would like to argue that there is a lot of opportunity to improve this specific way of experiencing live performance.

Figure 6 Instagram screen shot of festival marketing tactics.“We are bar nation” – Instagram Profile [24.09.2018] Figure 7 Instagram screen shot of festival marketing tactics. “Tomorrowland” – Instagram Profile [24.09.2018]

1.6 Performance Responsive Architecture

To conclude this section, I would like to not only reiterate the importance of a architectural augmentation for live performance but also highlight the strange decline of the performance venue and hesitantly welcome its popular replacement, the festival stage, an architecture that over-saturates (also a form of augmentation) narrative for its new found relationship with the online audience. However, focusing on in the “moment” symbiotic relationships and live experiences, I want to question the limit of architectural augmentation. Can this augmentation can be taken further? It has been proposed that architecture is an active contributor to the performance as its design, form and infrastructure can dictate the experiential quality of a performance and dramatically influence the overall experience. However, through all of the advantages of architectural containment demonstrated, I want to identify its fundamental disadvantage, being that it is the only active contributor to performance that is not “alive”. Alive, in the sense that it does not inherently posses the ability to perceive, subjectively review and respond in the same biological sense as the performers and audience do. There is no expression other that the fixed intended expression designed and constructed by the architect. What if architecture could physically respond to and embody the organic nature of performance? Acting as an additional performer/audience, how could a responsive environment affect experience, readability and atmosphere from the perspective of audience and performer?


1.7 Performance Responsive Architecture Case Studies


In this section of the thesis we explore examples of performance responsive architecture conducted on a variety of different scales. The primary and most significant precedent of this particular exploration of work in relation to this thesis is the project “MusiColour” produced by cybernetician, Gordon Pask in 1953.

MusiColour, constructed in 1953, was a performance system of coloured lights that illuminated in concert with audio input from a human performer (who might be using a traditional musical instrument). MusiColour should not be confused with today’s multicoloured disco lights that respond directly to volume and frequency in a pre-programmed/deterministic manner. Rather, with its two inputs (frequency and rhythm) MusiColour manipulates its coloured light outputs in such a way that it becomes another performer in a performance, creating a unique (though non-random) output with every iteration. The sequence of light outputs might depend at any one moment on the frequencies and rhythms that it can hear, but if the input becomes too continuous — for instance, the rhythm is too static or the frequency range too consistent —MusiColour will become bored and start to listen for other frequency ranges or rhythms, lighting only when it encounters those. This is not a direct translation: it listens for certain frequencies, responds and then gets bored and listens elsewhere, produces as well as stimulates improvisation, and reassembles its language much like a jazz musician might in conversation with other band members. Musicians who worked with it in the 1950’s treated it very much like another on-stage participant. (Haque, 2007)

Although, in the context of this writing, the basis of this project is not physically constructed in the same architectural sense that we have been discussing so far, MusiColour is an excel-lent example of a living, interactive machine with the ability to control an environment. Due to the mechanical brain installed within MusiColur and its ability to “get bored” and ‘produce improvisation”, the level of control has shifted away from the performer and the contextual narrative (scenography) belongs partly to the integrated capabilities of the machine (human design) and partly to the order in which it is displayed (machine ownership). I believe that this lack of control is beneficial in the production of experimental performance due to that notion that the performers are exposed to an additional conversation, external to the ones happening between performer – instrument, performer – performer, performer – audience.

Man is prone to seek novelty in his environment and, having found a novel situation, to learn how to control it […] ‘Control’, in this symbolic domain, is broadly equivalent to ‘problem solving’ but it may also be read as ‘coming to terms with’ or ‘explaining’ or ‘relating to an existing body of experience’. Further, when learning to control or to solve problems man necessarily conceptualises and abstracts. Because of this, the human environment is interpreted at various levels in an hierarchy of abstraction (on the same page we see letters, words, grammatical sentences, meaningful statements and beautiful prose}.(Pask, 1968)

This control may lead to an interesting conversation between performer and environment, but how does this environmental abstraction and desire to control, influence the audience in this scenario. The audience are merely observers and cannot change the state of the environment and this novelty becomes less clear and somewhat intelligible. You could argue that the use of MusiColour within a less experimental, more choreographed performance, that features carefully planned moments of elevated drama, would influence the performance negatively as the system’s unpredictability could pose a level of distraction that could threaten the artistic intent of the performance, i.e. slow vocal solo (performer intent) – quick paced flashing lights (MusiColour response). This situation however was identified at the forefront of Pask’s research.

With all this in view, It is worth considering the proper ties of aesthetically potent environments, that is, of environments designed to encourage or foster the type of interaction which is (by hypothesis) pleasurable. It is clear that an aesthetically potent environment should have the following attributes :

a – It must offer sufficient variety to provide the potentially controllable novelty required by a man (however, it must not swamp him with variety-if it did, the environment would merely be unintelligible).

b – It must contain forms that a man can interpret or learn to interpret at various levels of abstraction.

c – It must provide cues or tacitly stated instructions to guide the learning and abstractive process.

d – It may, in addition, respond to a man , engage him in conversation and adapt its characteristics to the prevailing mode of discourse.

(Pask, 1968)


Figure 8 Fun Palace – Cedric Price & Joan Littlewood×555.jpg [Accessed on 24.09.2018]

Later, in 1964, Pask would go on to be the leading cybernetician on Fun Palace, a unrealised but seriously approached architectural project composed between theatre producer Joan Littlewood and architect Cedric Price. “Fun Palace, known almost as an anti- architecture, devised from the start to en-courage people to generate their own social events with as little framing as possible […] The proposed building imagined a large rectangular volume about ten stories high flanked by pairs of diagonally braced service towers, further serviced by a travelling crane across the top which could move large elements of accommodation about” (Jones, 2016) The building was imagined to function as a machine, an architectural tool to be used by its inhabitants to build and create spaces specific to their needs. Conceptually speaking, this idea of inhabitant (audience) having “control” over an environment is specifically interesting to this thesis due to its scale and physical space changing abilities as a built form of architecture. (Figure 8)

Due to Price’s purposely vague approach to designing Fun Palace and the arrival of problems concerning regulation and overall control of the mechanical elements that fundamentally dictated the scheme, the project failed to install confidence in its investors and ultimately fell through. Such a large and controversial project requiring public funds proved vulnerable to every kind of political chicanery and bureaucratic delay, but there also seems to be a failure of creditability owing to the sheer open-endness of its identity as a place. (Jones, 2016) For these reasons we cannot analyse its success as an interactive environment, however we can learn for its failure. The physical adjustment of architectural space through heavy machinery was obviously a stretch to far and logistically not possible. In comparison to MusiColour, a project in which choice and variety is limited by its scale and design, Fun Palace offered arguably too much choice and variety through shear scale.

That being said, if you consider Fun palace when thinking about the research question that we earlier identified: Acting as an additional performer/audience, how could a responsive environment affect experience, readability and atmosphere from the perspective of audience and performer? Fun Palace as a system of architectural augmentation provides the ability to control audience performer balance and dictate the spacial conditions of the audience for the benefit of performance readability. In terms of scenorgraphy, the performers have the ability to physically build a place for the contextual benefit of the performance. We cannot comment of the experiential quality that this system of architectural augmentation can bring, however I would argue that it would be positive.


Section Two


2.0 Brief

  • Placing focus on the concepts of architectural containment and presence presented in this thesis, design a temporary performance venue for a music festival.
  • The principle objective of the design is to incorporate a level of interactivity that has a positive influence over the performance environment for both performers and audience.
  • The design should be visually impressive but not overpower the narrative of audio performance.
  • Design should be accommodating for social media users but this should not be the primary focus.

Flat field – non specific geographic constraints

Based on medium sized festival stages currently in use, the design must accommodate the maximum of 5,000 person capacity.



2.1 Proposal 

Bearing in mind the limitations and complications of full scale kinetic architecture as displayed in the Fun Palace project, and also taking into consideration the limitations of just using light to control an environment as seen in MusiColour, my initial approach to the design brief was to find a middle ground. The presence of something tangible but also a manageable scale. I began focusing on fabric as a lightweight architectural element and through my research in fabric based performance, arrived at the Whirling Dervish or Sufi Turners of Istanbul. Adherents of Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam, practice the traditional religious art of turning. The ceremony or performance consists of a number of people who spin in the same spot for extended periods of time (often up to one hour) wearing fabric skirts that when turn, lift to create oscillating wave forms (figure 9).

Ignoring the religious aspect of the performance, the lifting of the skirt is architecturally very interesting. The performer has a direct control over the shape of the skirt and the feedback that they receive from the skirt is a form of physical reassurance. When an array of performers are spinning together, the spatial condition are constantly changing and a very organic architectural phenomenon is occurring. The presence of the fabric spinning and the slight release of air is enough invoke a presence and influence in an environment.

I propose to build an array of spinning fabric disks that form a canopy over an audience and a performance space. The characteristics of the fabric and the speed in which they will be mechanically spun will be dictated by an input generated by the performance. This system of performance responsive architecture is intended to convey a spatial narrative completely unique to performance, whilst creating architectural containment and presence through physical enclosure and movement.


2.2 Technical Design Case Study

As a starting point I looked at similar projects that could help me with the initial prototyping of the system. Zoro Feigl’s – Poppy project (2012) is the perfect precedent to start with from a technical point of view. “Poppy consists of a large piece of tarp hanging downwards on a motor and has a ten metre diameter. Poppy starts in a resting position: when completely unfold-ed, the tarp finds a balance, it finds its own rhythm. Between these stages there is an eerie moment of cumbersome take-off” (Feigl, 2016) Although not interactive or responsive, this project outlined the possibility of a suspended spinning fabric disk as an architectural scale. To test the system of interaction and the experiential benefits of a kinetic canopy, I first needed to define the performance input and build a prototype.


2.3 Prototype One

Due to the nature of the design, the site for prototype one had to offer an accessible and temporary place for to hang from. It was decided that a black box (a truss framed box clad in heavy duty black curtains) was the best choice due to the exposed truss frame internally, which offered multiple hanging points.

It was quickly learnt that the desired effect of the spinning fabric fundamental relies on the relationship between the fabric specifications, diameter, weight and the motor capabilities. It is essential that the motor can meet the torque force requirements of the material if it is to successfully drive the fabric at the correct speed. Too slow and the fabric will simply not lift but rotate slowly with a slight flare. Too fast and the fabric will bind together below the spinning plate and cause the rotating shaft to sway unevenly as it collects drag on the sale like surface of the material. Taking all of the above into careful consideration with the addition of cost limitations, prototype one was dictated by the desired material. The chosen fabric was available in a role with a width of 1 meter. This meant that the disk was restricted to a 1 meter diameter. The material was cut and weighed and a torque calculation defined the ideal motors available to provide the appropriate power.

Torque = (Moment of Inertia)*(Angular acceleration) Moment of inertia = (½ Mass) * (Radius)2
τ = I α
I = ½MR2
Weight of fabric = 180g
Desired angular acceleration 800rpm
Ï„ = 1Nm (aprox.)

It became obvious through testing at a series of different scales that the waveform phenomena is extremely versatile in regards to scale, the only variable that needed consideration was the fabric as it does not scale down well due to its weight and thickness. However, a more delicate lighter fabric at a smaller scale will behave the same once properly tuned. Considering that at this point, prototype one was designed at a scale of 1:3, it gave me confidence that with a more powerful motor and larger diameter of fabric, the prototype was very straightforward in terms of scalability.

The material for prototype one was specified after multiple fabric tests at small scale using a DC motor and a bearing support to minimise shaft sway. (figure 12). Plastic , cotton, and latex backed cotton were all tested. The favoured material was the latex due to its versatile characteristics. Aesthetically, the latex offered two different sides, the shiny side appeared to have an unusual liquid like shine when spun, whilst the back side was very matt and accentuated the curves of the fabric.

Figure 11 Section – Oliver Townsend, 2018


Figure 12 Fabric Tests – Plastic, Cotton, Latex backed cotton


Prototype one – Input Design Schematic

Prototype one was installed in the black box for testing in July 2018. It was decided that a synthesizer would be used to generate input data which would then be used to then control the speed of the motors and character of the fabric. The concept being that the spinning canopy would form an architectural extension of the performance, directly affected by the way in which the music was played. To do so, a KORG MS-20 mini was used as a MIDI controller and connected to the laptop using USB (figure 13). The MIDI signal, a numerical value between 34 – 84 was then mapped to a figure relative to the output speed of the motor (0-250) This value was then sent to an arduino to deliver the signal to the motor driver.

Figure 13 – Oliver Townsend, 2018





Figure 14 Prototype One – MAX MSP Patcher Oliver Townsend, 2018                                                                    Figure 15 Prototype One – Arduino Code Oliver Townsend, 2018

Prototype One Analysis

To summarise, prototype one was an overall success. The material behaved as expected. The interaction was mainly positive in the sense that it was almost instant. A key press would trigger an action and the reaction was quick and clear. However, when two keys were pressed relatively close together, the movement shift in the fabric was minimal. In addition to this, if a user was to play a song, the relationship between the song and movement had no obvious connection as it was a key press not the sound that was controlling the movement. In regards to hardware, the plywood and acrylic construction was stable but often made a creaking sound when the motor was spinning at a low or high speed.

2.4 Prototype Two

As before, the site for prototype two had to offer an accessible and temporary place for to hang from. It was decided that a black box (a truss framed box clad in heavy duty black curtains) was again the best choice due to the exposed truss frame internally, which offered multiple hanging points.

Rather than increasing the size of the fabric disk for prototype two, I decided to build three disks instead to see how the system would behave as an array. Each disk had a diameter of one meter and installed in a triangular formation with a slight overlap.

Again the latex was chosen due to the aesthetic success of prototype one. It was also found that the shiny nature of the latex in prototype one generated alternative ways to light the installation.

In order to remove any creaking from the plywood/ acrylic structure, the second prototype was constructed from thick aluminium plates with hollow steel spacers to give it a rigid framework. This ultimately proved to be successful in terms of structure but failed to remove all of the noise pollution that was actually being generated from the motor.

Figure 16 Section – Oliver Townsend, 2018

Prototype Two – Input Design Schematic

Prototype two was installed in the black box for testing in September 2018. It was decided that a vinyl record player would be used to generate input data which would then be used to then control the speed of the motors and character of the fabric. This time I wanted focus on a relationship between the sound and the movement. The record in this iteration was used to represent a live musical performance. To do so, the same data input process was used, only the record player ran through a sound card and its peak frequency was used to communicate a speed to the motor drivers.

Figure 17 Oliver Townsend, 2018


Figure 18 Prototype Two – MAX MSP Patcher Oliver Townsend, 2018

Figure 19 Prototype Two – Arduino Code Oliver Townsend, 2018


2.5 Speculative Design Proposal

In this section of the thesis I want to propose my initial response to the brief outlined earlier on in the thesis with a series of diagrams. Based on the results of prototype two and the convincing level of architectural containment and responsive success, I want to propose that the canopy array as earlier envisioned would prove to be a very interesting addition to the world of architectural augmentation.
The initial design problem that arises with this idea is obviously its structural design as a frameworks needs to be provided to suspend the fabric disks. Not only does this structure need to be demount-able and temporary for festival use but it also needs to be transportable and designed in a way which identifies and promotes all the theories discussed so far in this thesis. Through my research in tensile net structures (Figure 20) I found that a combination of above and below cabling with intermediate vertical support members plus the addition of using the suspended motors as weights, this was the most effective way to achieve a lightweight stable structure, especially for spanning large distances.

Figure 20 Evolution of tensile net surface

Figure 21 Arrangement of fabric disks – open vs closed                                                                                          Figure  22 Arrangement of fabric disks – open vs closed within the containment of a tensile grid structure

Figure 23 Structural Plan 1:200 @A4                                                                                                                          Figure 24 Elevation 1:200 @ A4

Figure 25 Section proposed motor housing 1:4 @ A4


Figure 26 Tensile cable intersection details 1:4 @ A4

Figure 26 Roof structure section NTS                                                                                                                     Figure 27 Roof structure elevation NTS



Brook, P. (1968) The Empty Space: A Book About the Theatre: Deadly, Holy, Rough, Immediate, New York, Simon & Schuster, p. 23, 25

Brook , P (1984) Speaking on camera as part of Ronald Harwood’s BBC Television series : All the world’s a stage. Broadcast in 1984: transcribed by the author in:
Jones, P (2016) Architecture and Ritual: How Buildings Shape Society, New York, London, Bloomsbury, p 316

Butterworth, P, McKinney J (2009) The Cambridge Introduction to Scenography, Na, Cambridge University Press, p.4

Dean, S (2016) The Telegraph: Business. Do the growing number of music festivals actually make any money? [Accessed 17th September, 2018]; Available from:

Doyle, W, (2017) Noisey: Help or Harm? How social media can impact musicians mental health [Accessed on 24th September 2018]

Glanville, R (2009) A (Cybernetic) Musing: Design and Cybernetics: Cybernetics and Human Knowing. Vol. 16. 175 -186, NA, Imprint Academic, p.6

Southern, R, et al. (1964) Unusual Forms of Stage. In: Stephen Joseph’s. Actor and Architect. Man-chester, the University or Manchester: University Press, p.50, 56

Garnier, C (1871) Le Theatre. Paris, Librarie Hachette et Cie, P 1-2, 16-17
Translated by:
Jones, P (2016) Architecture and Ritual: How Buildings Shape Society, New York, London, Bloomsbury, p 296-297

Jones, P (2016) Architecture and Ritual: How Buildings Shape Society, New York, London, Bloomsbury, p.308, 320

Ellis-Petersen, H (2017) The Guardian: Music.UK music industry gets boost from 12% rise in audiences at live events. [Accessed 17th September, 2018]; Available from: https://www.theguardian. com/music/2017/jul/10/uk-music-industry-gets-boost-from-12-rise-in-audiences-at-live-events

Hu, Y, Manikonda, L, Kambhampati, S (Na)What We Instagram: A First Analysis of Instagram Photo Content and User Types, Department of Computer Science, Arizona State University. p.1

Instagram (2013). Instagram: Press, statistics. Available from:{}.
Haque, U, Bullivant, L (2007) The Architectural Relevance of Gordon Pask, Architectural Design, Vol.77(4), pp.54-61

Pask, G (1968) “A comment, a case history, and a plan” in: Cybernetics, Art and Ideas, NA, P. 76


Containment : Self defined

Augmentation : Oxforddictionaries/ definition/ [Accessed 24th September, 2018]

Cybernetics : Oxforddictionaries/ definition/ [Accessed 24th September, 2018]

Presence : Gumbrecht, H (2004) Production of Presence: What Meaning Cannot Convey,                                    Stanford, California, Stanford University Press, p. 1(Preface – Users Manual)

Social Media : Oxforddictionaries/ [Accessed 24th September, 2018]

Symbiotic : Oxforddictionaries/ definition/ [Accessed 24th September, 2018]


Submit a Comment