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Fabricating Performance: The interaction of dance and construction

Fabricating Performance: The interaction of dance and construction

The following article is a copy of our paper for the upcoming Architecture InPlay Conference in Lisbon July 2016.  The Interactive Architecture Lab is launching a new Masters programme (MArch Design for Performance & Interaction) in October in 2017 where research between dance, interaction and architecture will be developed further. Contact us for more information on this project or the new Masters Programme.

Abstract: The analogue and digital notational systems for documenting choreographic movement provide promising alternative strategies for spatial design. These strategies overlap architectural design and dance choreography to explore reciprocal exchanges regarding the body, geometry and methods of spatial notation.

Analogue and digital notational systems are compared to illustrate a change where, instead of simply recording a performance, the notation is fed back to the performer and used as inspiration for further iterative performances. Whilst the use of analogue notation systems support the criterion of fundamental design, they have limitations which are overcome with the use of flexible digital systems that more readily adapt to change and interrelate to dancer’s intentions for movement creation.

Performance-driven fabrication explores practical application of this process. Two stages of ‘Performance-driven design’ and ‘Data-driven fabrication’ are combined resulting in a spatial design and construction system that incorporates interactivity between human and robotic performers. As in dance choreography, the motion dynamics of the participants supply data driving the fabrication that, in turn, is fed back to the inhabitants in an iterative process.

Keywords: notation; choreography; performance; fabrication; robotics



The relationship between architecture and choreography in the construction of space has been a constant source of discussion between architects and choreographers since the 1900s. Reciprocal exchanges of language to discuss the body and its geometry have been assimilated, often altering the meanings of these terms and offering designers and artists new insights into the creative process.

However, architectural drawings rarely capture moving factors typically illustrating frozen conditions, they fail to convey changing environments of human life and its energy.

Digital technologies can address the problem of notating moving elements in dance choreography and architectural design. This paper explores design tools that employ a concept of movement. Subsequently the method is tried and tested on the creation of a spatial environment.

Rudolf von Laban (1879-1958) introduced the term quality of movement in relation to spatial interaction – the interconnection of geometry & movement and how physical motion is notated. In this context, Laban conducted research on an icosahedron model (Figure 1), producing diagrams entitled Labanotation (1926, Fig. 1), many choreographers have further built on his work.

Fig. 1. Laban with Icosahedron model _ Labanotation

Fig. 1. Laban with Icosahedron model / Labanotation


The observed quality of movement in Laban’s research has a Euclidean exactness. Human sized physical models allowed visual analysis, that could be transcribed into rhythmic patterns, and informed notation. Concurrently Euclidean geometry was helping to describe the quality of movement of ‘Jitterbug’. Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) used a kinetic model that morphed between icosahedron, cuboctahedron, tetrahedron and octahedron (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2. Buckminster Fuller’s ‘Jitterbug’ model

Fig. 2. Buckminster Fuller’s ‘Jitterbug’ model


  1. What value the notation of choreography and architecture?

In the search for defining alternative tools for choreographing movement, it is essential to identify the information of movement (i.e. speed, accent), as well as the physical form of it (i.e. geometry, position, angle). Architects and choreographers attempts of analogue notation are analysed.

  1.1 The role of notation in architecture

Drawings and descriptions of designs give architects the means to mediate the relationship between themselves, client and building, setting the rules for negotiation between concept and realisation. Gage (2007) argues for Architects to consider behavioural rules in design and how adaptability and habitation affect occupation of designed space. Notation of movement here may help to predict behaviour.

Notation methods are pivotal in some information diagrams. In the ‘Fun Palace’ Cedric Price (1934-2003) used mechanical systems to programmatically actuate his building. He used diagrams to explain the movement and behaviours of people and services and notate habitable conditions in the context of a moving building with free flowing people (Fig. 3). Notation allows coherent communication of function and experience.

Fig. 3. Network analysis diagram for Fun Palace

Fig. 3. Network analysis diagram for Fun Palace


Following Price’s approach, Tschumi (1996) devised modes of notation derived from choreography to expose the complexity of phenomena in architecture and culture he wished to communicate.

Fig. 4. Screenplays and The Manhattan Transcripts

Fig. 4. Screenplays and The Manhattan Transcripts


Here movement becomes contextual information capturing the implications of spatial arrangement on participation and occupation. The essence of movement appears in drawings and diagrams but the dynamics of interaction between user and space fail to be captured.


1.2 The role of notation in dance choreography

Transcribing dance challenges the creative process of choreography. An analogue process traces a transient segment into a frozen state on paper. Languages have developed to expediently notate movement. Trisha Brown, Locus (Fig. 5, left), coopted Mathematics to describe movement. Her Scores required dancers to move sequentially through numbered points in a cubed format space.

Fig. 5. ‘Locus’ (1975) _ ‘Melody Excerpt’ (1977)

Fig. 5. ‘Locus’ (1975) /Melody Excerpt’ (1977)


In contrast Lucinda Childs’s notations (Fig. 5, right) simultaneously arrange multiple dancers’ movements in larger space. Weinstein (2013) explains this successfully organises rhythms and patterns to be executed, as opposed to Labanotation, which “does not convey full scalar spectrum of information”. This highlights the discrepancy in notations and difference in transcribing movements.

Such attempts show notations cannot simply extract geometrical position information and relay it as two-dimensional records. Where Brown annotates quantitative factors in space, Childs choreographic procedure presents contextual movement in patterns to be interpreted. Analogue techniques now form the basis for notation but have limitations in specificity of movement and scope with multiple dancers.


2. What tools measure the perceived quality of movement?

Fig. 6. The diagram as a metaphor by Negroponte

Fig. 6. The diagram as a metaphor by Negroponte


Negroponte was keen to use new digital notation methods to help visualise movement and activity in the city. His diagram (Fig. 6) uses visual variables as a means of handling large amounts of information.


2.1. Visualisation

For Wayne McGregor’s recent piece ‘Atomos’ (2013), visual artists OpenEndedGroup developed a system to choreograph dancers’ movements by screening them a visualisation of biometric data such that the dancers movements are a never repeated response to a related input – a constant and continuous creative process.

Fig. 7. ‘Becoming’ for ‘ATOMOS’ (2013)

Fig. 7. ‘Becoming’ for ‘ATOMOS’ (2013)


2.2 Scaling

The above project enabled designers and choreographers to use an external variable to conduct a dance, rather than didactic notation. It frees the system from scale.


Fig. 8. ‘Moving Target’ (1996)


In Moving Target (1996, Figure 8), Diller + Scofidio & Frédéric Flamand, the challenge of ‘scaling’ and ‘de-scaling’ can be seen. Dancers and projections simultaneously occupy the arena also combining a reflected stage and projected dancers. Encounters between the real dancer’s movement and the virtually reflected bodies are merged, while dancer’s movements are governed by moving projection targets. Several technologies support an optimised scenography creating deception and dynamic responses.

Here technology turns space into an instrument to be played in a dynamic act – the quality of body movement is reshaped each time. Ultimately, they become observable objects as well as being independent from the original scale. Collard (2015) explains “By refusing stable reference points, it shifts our attention from artistic product to signifying process”. The evidence of this piece shows how precision is perceived in different individuals.


2.3 Timeframing          

A timeline offers a way to recognise periodicity within a score. The digital notation allows information on the score to recur freely, but allocates it within a dynamic framework using a set of rules. For Forsythe’s piece One Flat Thing (2013), ‘synchronous objects’ (Fig. 9) was developed with digital artists at Ohio State University. Codes give hierarchy and individual tasks. It frees dancer’s to produce individual movement whilst attention can still be paid to the collective movement. Grove (2012) describes how these scores “do not transcribe movement, but call attention to how ideas produce movement and how movement occasions ideas”.

Fig. 9. synchronous Objects for ‘ONE FLAT THING’ (2013)

Fig. 9. synchronous Objects for ‘ONE FLAT THING (2013)


The timeline can be used in architecture as a tool for organising and situating conditions of changing environments. Kamvasinou (2010) demonstrates this in her ‘Stansted project’ (Fig. 10). Notation focuses on the experience of space, rather than object. Information of a site is more precisely identified as transitional factors occurring in time. Time based interfaces offer routes for individuals. Digital processes help manage this plethora of data in future design processes.

Fig. 10. Timeline notation for ‘Stansted project’ (2010)

Fig. 10. Timeline notation for ‘Stansted project’ (2010)


3. Performance driven fabrication generates space and form.

Fig. 11. Performance-driven Fabrication Scenario

Fig. 11. Performance-driven Fabrication Scenario


In our research project “Fabricating Performance” developed at the Interactive Architecture Lab, Bartlett, UCL, digital scores are in dialogue with a fabrication system (Fig. 11). An iterative feedback loop bridging analogue and digital processes, dance, motion capture, digital notation and robotic construction.

‘Improvised movement’, ‘Rule based movement’ and ‘pre-choreographed movement’ (Fig. 12) were examined using an OptiTrack motion capture system. What emerged, was an ‘Annotative’ activity which offered dancers an opportunity to express a notational system spatially..

Fig. 12. Data from Improvised, Rule based and pre-choreographed movement

Fig. 12. Data from Improvised, Rule based and pre-choreographed movement.


3.2 Data driven fabrications

Aluminium tubing was chosen as the materialisation of the notation. (Fig. 13) for its ease of bending while maintaining structural capabilities. Body movements were rationalised into ‘toolpaths’ for robotic bending with an applied set of rules that included the constraints of material.

Fig. 13. UR 10 Robot and and bespoke end effectors _ Fabricating performance

Fig. 13. UR 10 Robot and and bespoke end effectors / Fabricating performance


Rationalization of performance data enables the translation of movement into assemblies of discrete gestures. Space becomes an regregation of moments of communication. Within the repetition and transfer, rhythms are created in which inhabitants can perform and occupy building areas of density and flight.

These iterative qualities of construction challenge the audience as later invited inhabitants to sense and touch the intent of a performance that emerges within the complexity of movement. During this process, the autonomy of such a system draws attention to where the expression of a performers’ thinking process is focused (Groves, R., et al., 2007).

This is the cycle of creativity, which happens in the translations and interdependency between attention, thoughts and approaches. Sharing what is happening in the procedures creates an invitation for the information to be kept and renewed. These procedures gradually grow in form, ultimately making the invisible ‘quality of movement’, visible. The notions of repetition, rhythm and patterns designate vital potential to qualify movement in space and raise questions of how these qualitative segments (movement) can be articulated in quantitative (physical) matter.


Using movement to create a designed performance and designed space of performance synchronously, demonstrates how interactive drawing notation might become a more dynamic communication and construction tool. Our circular design process, occurs within changing conditions based on ongoing inhabitant behaviour. The work therefore contributes to both discourse on drawing in the age of digital and interactive representation and in practices exploring the interrelations between body, movement and spatial design.



Collard, C.: 2015, Moving or Morphing Target? Hypermedial Hybrids, Diller + Scofidio-style, Body, Space, and Technology 14, Brunel University.

Gage, S.:2007, Constructing the User, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., Wiley InterScience, 313-322.

Groves, R., et al.: 2007, Talking about Scores:William Forsythe’s Vision for a New Form of ‘Dance Literature’, Knowledge in Motion, TanzSctipte, 91-100.

Kamvasinou, K.: 2010, Notation timelines and the aesthetics of disappearance, The Journal of Architecture, 15:4, 397-423.

Negroponte, N.: 1970, The Architecture Machine: Toward a More Human Environment, Cambridge: MIT Press.

Tschumi, B. (1996), Architecture and Disjunction, The MIT Press.

Weinstein, B.: 2013, Performing Architectures: Closed and open logics of mutable scenes, Performing Research: A Journal of the Performing arts, 18:3, 161-168





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