Responsive Mirror

Sullivan & Charles Architects Melbourne Residential Architects_Interactive Architecture-Cambridge Mirror05-960


A continuation of the themes explored in the Interfaçade project, Responsive Mirror is an interactive mirror installed in the main entry of Gund Hall at the Harvard Graduate School of Design in the spring of 2012. The mirror is 4 feet by 8 feet, to fit in the relief of a single plywood sheet in the building’s concrete formwork, and distorts in response to human presence. Essentially a dynamic funhouse mirror, the device measures sound and light through a microphone and two embedded photocells and reacts in various ways to sensed changes in its environment. There are two independent information processing systems embedded within it. One receives audio input and translates it to control signals for linear actuators, which transform the plane of the mirror (and everything reflected in it) into complex geometries. The other system receives light values from the two photocells and triggers solenoids inside the mirror, producing mysterious, shifting rhythmic sounds. Because one system receives light and produces sound, and the other system receives sound and manipulates light, the mirror “speaks” to itself in addition to responding to human presence as well as ambient environmental effects. The result is an enigmatic set of complex behaviors emerging from the interaction of these various systems, influenced but not explicitly dictated by its users. Countering the expectation of controlled interaction, this project responds with an extended agency—passersby commented that it had a personality, a character of its own.

“Transition from an industrial environment to an informational environment constitutes a much wider and deeper revolution than earlier transitions. The revolution consists not of technological change or changes in employment patterns but of changes in the mental framework that makes our environment coherent to us. Our new mental framework encompasses different notions of the role of time, space, and dimensionality as a whole. It incorporates different ideas about the organization of knowledge and about the meaning of learning and intelligence. Most of all, it allows for a different relationship between humans and machines.”