Augmented reality: Cedric Price’s Generator

I recently posted about augmented reality: arguing that it is not just surveillance and data displays, but reality that responds and adapts to you. Shortly afterwards I found a reference in ‘White Heat Cold Logic‘ (Chapter 4) to Cedric Price‘s Generator project.

There’s very little about this on the internet. Even the Wikipedia entry on Price (see link above) does not mention it.

The chapter in ‘White Heat Cold Logic’ by John Hamilton Frazer describes it as “proposed as a kit of parts that enabled enclosures, gangways, screens and services to be arranged (on a forest clearing in Florida) to fulfil the requirements of users… The forest floor was gridded with foundation pads, and a mobile crane was to be permanently on site to move around parts of the structure, providing endless reconfigurations in response to a self-organisation strategy…we proposed embedding microelectronics into every part of the structure and connecting them to the foundation grid so that the whole structure would ‘know’ where all the parts were. Thus all parts of the structure would cooperate to compute new configurations to meet changing user needs and responses. In the event that the users did not suggest many changes,the building would get ‘bored’ and start suggesting alterations. This would trigger a learning cycle by which the building would discover how best to configure itself…” (p 47.)

This is sophisticated stuff, and you wonder if it was really possible in 1979. (The project was never built; the sponsor, Howard Gilman, who had inherited the Gilman Paper Corporation, was accused of ignoring the company and spending too much on sponsorship of the arts.)

However, the point is that it would be possible now. Already, intelligent buildings turn lights on when you enter the room and off when you leave it. An academic survey of intelligent buildings focuses solely on energy efficiency and concludes that (in 2012) “many projects are still in the prototype stage, but will soon make the transition from research to viable industrial products and broad applications.” Other intelligent building uses, briefly mentioned, are security and medical monitoring. Clearly Price’s ideas have not yet caught on.

Yet surely, ‘reality’ is responsive? If you cross the road without looking, reality can knock you down. If you plant a seed a flower may grow. So surely augmented reality should have augmented responses – more useful, more helpful, more efficient, more aware of your presence and your needs. This is not just about projecting data on screens.

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