re: Relational Architectures by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

Snippets of Lozano-Hemmer’s works can be viewed here! [12:35 and 13:16 for my personal favourite cuts from Body Movies (2011)]

Lozano-Hemmer’s works subject architecture to fluctuation and instability not only in the literal sense that facades are projected with fleeting moving images, but also within the unpredictability of visual outcomes and activities generated. His works invite spontaneous engagements with space and the unfolding of unpredictable social relations within. In doing so, they inject the city with an additional element of surprise, on top of setting up unexpected encounters of illuminated facades for urbanites.

“As Lozano-Hemmer rightfully cautions, there is no guarantee that a work will function in the same way everywhere.”

The same intervention generates a variety of responses and engagements from people at different sites, from different cultures, from different walks of life. Personally, it is this spontaneous and performative quality to his Relational Architectures series that I enjoy most. The playful ephemeral engagements from passersby are in stark contrast with the canvas of monumental architecture that they take place on – with the impression of rigidity and stasis. A city is full of movement and life, yet these moving images generated by spontaneous participants are able to shift the city in ways other “human activity” and ordinary traffic cannot. They are able to stop people in their tracks to look and engage more actively with a space, using their bodies. Lozano-Hemmer’s works invite human activity, or more specifically human embodiment, that is personalised; projections of actual shapes of man onto the city stand out from its flurry of light and white noise. 

As I was viewing his works, I reflected on how similar technologies could be used to incorporate greater participatory elements to the projection installations at different Singapore art festivals. I wrote in the Heritage Light Up reflections that I hoped the average Singaporean passerby could see him/herself or a personal contribution physically manifest on the facade of our national monuments. There is definitely appeal to being handed some control and power to manipulate something larger than yourself, in both personal and collective settings. 

HOME sketch: living room shapes

  • mapping self-proclaimed personal space territories of each person
  • little difficulty building walls around ourselves while occupying the same space (defining personal space in shared space)
  • limited interactions and incentives

  • forcing view of shared space: tangible lines / planes to define our vision
  • difficulty: acknowledging and reacting or accommodating to the presence of others sharing the same space
  • drawing tangible lines or planes extrapolated from the positions of our personal space to shift our vision to a shared space (heighten consciousness)

  • stress of “tunnel vision” and felt sense of “connection”, of constantly having to acknowledge presence of others – can we share the burden and negotiate our interactions in space together?
  • if using flexible ropes tied to our heads: tightest when we are at the maximum distance apart, easing when we are closer together (does it necessarily encourage interaction/ relational intimacy?)


In the same physical space, we see and hear each other but neither encourages us to engage with each other in a shared space. We don’t touch each other though, obviously since we are spaced apart. So perhaps allowing each other to physically feel and register each other’s presence while at a distance might prompt a new awareness or way of perceiving each other in space? 

What happens also when this form of connection is established between people who are not in each other’s vision and hearing field (in different rooms)? 

Would a rope tied to the heads of different people be space connectors or dividers; do they join or separate? 

Tension of rope X stretched elastic, morphing space

Shifting mats under our feet

Careful not to step on each other

re: Singapore Heritage Light Up

What is it that is being communicated?

I think the installations/event had a heavier emphasis on the message of solidarity than celebration.  I initially expected to be unimpressed, but the experience was surprisingly rather memorable as an edition of light display in Singapore that was particularly context-specific and responding to our present reality of living under a pandemic.  It was unlike any of the other typical displays saturated with fancy sound and moving animations.  It was still and powerful. To visit the installations with the expectation of it being sensational and exciting would be misguided. The atmosphere was instead a mixture of solemn, prideful and introspective reflection – and appropriately so.

This time, the grandeur and structural integrity of the monumental buildings were accentuated by the light displays rather than made secondary. In other instances, I have only ever paid so much attention to them as mere blank canvases for their animated skins, that can be rather random and remotely related to the show’s theme. Highlighting the structures of these monuments that define Singapore’s cityscape, by painting them in our bold national colours, is a simplistic but perhaps effective way of communicating our national identity and evoking solidarity. From my observation of the people around me who stopped to watch the still monuments, a simple display of light and colour can be a uniting force among family and friends and even between strangers. I personally felt an unspoken sense of connection with some of the families viewing the installations beside me.

A family stopped to watch the show (grandma pulled a chair too)

One of the many families visiting the light-up together

Comparing the feelings evoked from Switzerland’s projection of Singapore’s flag on its mountain made me realise that these feelings of solidarity and reflection with the nation that I felt could not have been evoked from the mere display of national colours, or their plastering on any other structure. (This would however be interesting to explore) The mood and messages of the installation were brought out by the site specificity of the selected buildings, all of which shared a certain quality of firmness. Notably, the experience of these cultural institutions were not transformed by lights alone but by the pandemic’s effects too – the stillness of the night and less than normal crowd flow and traffic contributed to my experience.

Singapore flag beamed on to the Matterhorn mountain in Switzerland
National Gallery Singapore
What might the “curators” have to consider to plan such a transformation?

Curators would have to consider:

1. Designing each skin to complement the structural integrity and specificity of each building. Since every building is given the same treatment of red and white lights, curators would have to create designs that were unique to each building to allow some visual interest and differences amongst the different sites.

Victoria Concert Hall
Asian Civilisations Museum

2. Selecting appropriate sites and using design interventions to connect them. It is noteworthy that the sites chosen for the light displays are in close proximity to each other and share similar architectural elements, on top of having cultural or monumental value. Projections were designed to facilitate way-finding between the sites, such as through visual rhythms of alternating red and white pillars on buildings themselves, or smaller lights illuminating smaller paths. Having a consistent style of the red and white skin also helped me spot the next site from afar and encourage searching of the landscape to continue my journey. Considering not only the site but the area around it is important, especially if the curator wishes to design a certain flow and continuity to the  experience.

Strong visual rhythms in projections
Way-finding lights at Old Parliament / Art House

3. Designing interventions that would complement but also stand out from the surroundings. The buildings are situated in the heart of the city flooded with lights. If it were not for the distinct red and white lights, the buildings would have blended in and competed with the flood of lights surrounding it (blue, white, yellow, pink etc.) Way-finding would have been compromised too.

What alternate ways could YOU imagine transforming these sites to communicate something unique or unknown about Singapore culture?

(Putting aside the context of the pandemic) It would be interesting if the public could be invited to decide this themselves and project what they think to be unique or unique to Singapore culture onto these sites. Many projection mapping works already explore enabling greater participation of the average Joe on the street.

For an analogue intervention, one of the things unique to Singapore culture and arts and cultural institutions in particular that came to mind was our (relatively unpoliced) vandalism with visitor stickers (e.g. I AM MADE FOR SAM / NGS / NMS stickers). These stickers can be found plastered over structures like street lamps in the proximity of their galleries/museums. Combining this imagery with that of (illegal) bubble gum on our roads, I think it would be interesting to invite the public to “Kusama-fy” the floors/steps of these cultural institutions with their visitor stickers. (unlikely but just for fun)


Intervention for 2 persons with true vision

What senses you are manipulating and how does this change your sense of emotion or feeling in space?

When we think of manipulating sight we usually think of the extreme and taking sight away completely. Yet for many of us, the intermediate steps of blurr y vision are lived realities that our youth and corrective lenses help us forget. While blurry vision may not evoke the same sense of panic and disorientation while blind, they still bring intense discomfort and frustration especially for long periods of time. We take (clear) vision for granted. 

The mapped circle around two myopic people is smaller than that of two with “perfect vision”. While physical proximity does not translate to relational intimacy, I’d like to think that people are closer together when they occupy a shared field of their true vision; they are further sensitised to the differences in their eyesight and the need to communicate and accommodate each other to remain in each other’s field of vision.

The person with better eyesight has the benefit of greater comfort and security in the space drawn about the pair. As this person, I felt a sense of responsibility towards Yi Xue, and some discomfort in knowing we were unequal in this circle meant to enclose our shared field of vision. 

To share/make a space with another, awareness of the differences between two people is required – and by extension, accommodation from at least one of them. Dejan also raised a point about honesty being needed for the circle to be drawn true to its intention; mutual trust is also necessary. It was suggested that eyesight test cards could be used to verify positions of the two people at a certain distance to map more accurate distances, but even this in hindsight requires trust from both parties to respond honestly to the test cards.

re: The Poetics of Space – Nests, Gaston Bachelard

I found it interesting that the last line of the chapter presents space as the one changing with – or adapting to man, rather than the inverse:

“Mankind’s nest, like his world, is never finished. And imagination helps us to continue it.”

The popular conception of space as a larger static environment unresponsive to its occupants needs and interactions within it has lost its relevance. Design trends in modular furniture and dynamic, shifting environments capture this shift in our understanding of space.  

Normally we think of humans and living things being the ones to adapt to spaces, changing themselves to fit spaces. We are after all the smaller beings with adaptive capabilities, within larger “inanimate” spaces. However the reading foregrounds the inverse, exploring how spaces are the ones moulded instead to fit humans. Even in scenarios where a space is not intentionally designed to suit a particular person, he or she can still “own” the space and make its existing reality fit him or herself. It is an illusion that we have little influence on our surroundings as individuals, and even more so as a collective.

The chapter made me reflect on the concept of ergonomics and what it means to “possess” or “make” a space one’s own. I am reminded of concepts of place-making whereby the distinction between a space and a place lies in the people and memories engaged with them. While perhaps not moulding space directly with our bodies like birds, the body is still man’s primary tool for shaping space. Carrying forward the idea from Tuan’s essay on body relations and spatial values, our sensory engagements with space through our bodies define how we perceive and relate to space. We shape spaces through our personal encounters and lived experiences within them. One section of this chapter describes memories that “make” a space for a person through sensorial experiences: 

“It is as when a family, your neighbors, return to an empty house after a long absence, and you hear the cheerful hum of voices and the laughter of children, and see the smoke from the kitchen fire. The doors are thrown open, and children go screaming through the hall. So the flicker dashes through the aisles of the grove, throws up a window here and cackles out it, and then there, airing the house. It makes its voice ring up-stairs and down- stairs, and so, as it were, fits it for its habitation and ours, and takes possession.”

Our lived experiences in a space arguably have a greater effect in “moulding” it than its physical structure imposes limitations. Anything can become a nest (or home/place):

“A tree becomes a nest the moment a great dreamer hides in it.” 

The essay also presents the skill of building nests and making it fit their bodies as innate to birds by nature. This made me wonder if the same applied to humans and the extent to which human needs addressed in the formal study of ergonomics are likewise intuitive for us – how much of the conditions for making a space suit or fit man are about meeting primal needs? How much is derived instead from social constructs like our evolved definitions of well-being and quality of life? What in-built knowledge do we have on making spaces fit us?

re: Body, Personal Relations and Spatial Values

The essay explores space as a humanly construed concept, beyond the conventional understanding of space as a mere physical atmosphere or environment. It takes an anthropocentric view in explaining how people organise space differently – and similarly – with respect to their own living bodies. I appreciated how the essay drew a web of connections between different bodies (biological, cultural, social) and relations (people-people, people-space, people-time etc.) based on space. 

One thing that stood out for me was the primacy of vision in defining the living body’s experience of space and the spatial schema imposed on it by extension. To perceive and measure space in terms of height and proximity relations etc., sight plays a crucial role. It would be interesting however to explore how the schema and vocabularies of spatial organisation might be different, if man relied on non-visual stimuli and experiences from engaging other senses instead. If we could not see, how would we divide, measure and assign value to space through only hearing, smelling and/or feeling the world? If we closed our eyes and were completely still (but awake, upright and conscious), and relied predominantly on our sense of hearing to engage with space, would right and left be primary, and front and back secondary instead? Since our ears are designed at the sides of our heads, the degree of sound stimuli from circumambient space would vary most along that axis. Might we also move along a horizontal axis, led by hearing instead – side-stepping like crabs in space instead of walking forward and backward “normally”? Proximity relations might be informed by ambient sounds too, instead of distance and scale relations observed visually. While touch (and movement of our body to do this) might still allow us to identify the polarities and centres of a space without sight, how significant would these divisions be in influencing how we assign value to parts of a space? Where we still identify the centre and polarities of space based on touch alone, perhaps it is the ends of a space rather than its harder-to-pinpoint centre that gain greater importance for the sense of security and structure it offers a blind person. The position a blind person might value most might not be the centre of the world then but its ends. 

Space differs among different people because they measure and organise it with different bodies. But focusing on the living body as a “measuring tool” for space, space can also differ for the individual, if we augment the way we use our bodies to measure space.