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Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

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Industrial Improvisation

Industrial Improvisation

Chryssa Varna joined the Interactive Architecture Lab with an interest in bringing Dance and Architecture together. Her fascinating project between 2012-2013 brought together these two worlds through a series of kinetic installations the last of which “Industrial Improvisation” gathered a lot of attention, no less from leading design blogs like creators project. Below is Chryssa own description of the work and various films and images revealing the processes behind the work.

In current architectural research, industrial robotics are seen primarily as tool for fabrication. Industrial Improvisation is a project which used them as a material for research in movement of kinetic architecture. The project investigates how kinetic design and industrial robotics can embody the complexity of movement found in contemporary dance. Using structured improvisational techniques, a combination of pre-choreographed and improvised performances have been designed to form a gestural dialog between a dancer and two robotic performers. The result is an emerging set of movements that construct an unpredictable and evolving choreography.


Using Rudolf’s  von Laban’s description of movement, the project is divided in 4 parts of movement research: body, time, space and dynamics. The human body and the way it moves is reciprocated in the movement of the robots as different parts of a dancer’s anatomy triggers differing movements. In terms of dynamics, different gestures and shapes based on McGregor ‘s improvisation process cause various qualities of the movement (e.g. A geometrical form (L-shape) and a 3d gesture (twist)).  Space is in constant transformation, modulated by roboticly driven fans, puppetered by robotic armatures. As the choreography develops it creates unpredictable spatial qualities between the dancer and space.

The installation is a proposal of a stage set. The “performers” (i.e. dancer, robot arms) give and receive visual scores to and from each other. Effectively,  the improvising participants (dancer and robots) continuously switch roles between choreographer and performer.

Chryssa Varna is interested in the way performance combined with technology can evolve through stage design and installation art. The project is part of an ongoing research on merging two parallel gradients of choreography and kinetic architecture. It draws observations about how the two disciplines can become complementary towards one another and exchange ideas. In its current state, the project focuses on prechoreographed movements which are creating a gestural vocabulary  to explain and describe a set of rules based on improvisation techniques. As an ongoing project, the next step is to create actual spatial interaction by using this gestural vocabulary. Time is going to be introduced to the performance with a real time dialog between dancer and robots affecting the synchronization, and the response of the robotic performers (using the technology of body tracking with a Kinect camera and computer vision).  This will be the last step towards the main question whether kinetic design and industrial robotics can embody the complexity of human movement found in a dance dialogue in contemporary dance.

The project is part of research on how a designer can achieve spatial interactivity between performers, observers, technology and a space; using the proposed vocabulary to set up a scenery for a performance or an exhibition space. Looking at the wider spectrum of architecture, this vocabulary can adapt and expand in order to choreograph and control heterogeneous materials that include movement. It might propose a further synchronisation of a repertoire of functions/movements/responses in an environment which is in conversation with its occupants. A training system in a space used by people might be choreographed by the aid of an expanded version of the bespoken vocabulary. Improvisation might offer complexity in interactivity as a form of elements that could not be found in a systematic preconceived process. This research contributes some way towards generating renewed and significant relationships between the space and its habitats.