SensorScape at CELA 2015

Back in March 2015, I had the pleasure of organizing what may have been the first panel discussion about using Arduino based sensors in landscape education for the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture.


Environmental Sensors from

SensorScapes: deploying DIY sensors to create poetic and interactive landscapes


Ambient displays, Arduino, coding, environmental sensors, interactivity, landscape performance, microcontrollers, responsive landscapes, ubiquitous computing

Panel Rationale/Abstract

The panel included:

  • Brad Cantrell – Harvard University
  • Allison Lassiter – University of California Berkeley
  • Barry Lehrman – Cal Poly Pomona
  • Lucia Phinney – University of Virginia

Environmental sensors generate data streams about landscape dynamics that can be used to create responsive landscapes.  This panel shares our convergent strategies for prototyping sensor nodes based on the open-source Arduino hardware and programming language (Arduino 2014).

Beyond gaining a deeper understanding of environmental metrics and contemporary design methodologies, prototyping devices provides an essential 21st century digital literacy (Prensky 2008; Davis and Peters, 2013; Vee 2013).  This literacy supports the emergence of a new landscape poetic featuring applied sensing.

Aimed at an audience unfamiliar with the technical aspects of Arduino microcontrollers and coding, our session starts with an overview of the available hardware and software tools.  Then we cover our four complimentary approaches to utilizing Arduino within our courses and scholarship, covering our poetic applications of environmental data, methods and materials, pedagogical practices, and unique learning outcomes generated by using Arduino.

  1. Phinney will report on her pioneering use of Arduinos to create connections between biotic and constructed territories and to enhance thermal outdoor comfort by seamlessly bridging between data collection, graphic analysis, simulation, design, feedback, and fabrication.
  2. Cantrell shares how Arduinos provide a versatile prototyping platform to test real-time feedback loops between ecological systems and landscape interfaces; loops that are then utilized to reimagine new infrastructures that are more tightly integrated and responsive to dynamic environmental processes.
  3. Lassiter covers how customized, coordinated networks (meshes) of Arduino-based sensors can be used to generate high-resolution data.  Identifying space-time variations within a landscape allows her to craft hyper-local, dynamic design solutions.
  4. Lehrman shares technical details and preliminary learning outcomes about deploying Arduino-based ambient landscape displays that reveal eco-technical flows.  cela-2015-arduino-panel-lehrman_small [3.4mb pdf]

We will wrap up our session with a discussion covering:

  • Rising to 21st Century landscape challenges through interactive/responsive prototypes and theatric displays
  • Empowering landscape users with awareness, engagement, and comfort
  • Situating coding, scripting, and hacking in landscape education
  • Low cost DIY devices versus scalable/durable, deep efforts for responsive landscapes
  • Future research and expanding the field of landscape architecture

Though sensing is an old concept – from surveying topography to monitoring river gauges – Arduino (and the exploding ubiquity of cheap sensors and mobile computing) upends who is responsible for data collection.  This enables designers to break from the limitations of designing static landscape with the deployment of sophisticated robots that actively manipulate our landscapes for poetics, performance, and to incite change across the SensorScape.



Presenter’s Bios

Bradley Cantrell

BSLA, University of Kentucky, 2001
MLA, Harvard Graduate School of Design, 2003
Associate Professor in Landscape Architectural Technology, Harvard Graduate School of Design

Bradley Cantrell is a landscape architect and scholar whose work focuses on the role of computation and media in environmental and ecological design.  His work in Louisiana over the past decade points to a series of methodologies that develop modes of modeling, simulation, and embedded computation that express and engage the complexity of overlapping physical, cultural, and economic systems.

Barry Lehrman – Convener

MLA/MArch, University of Pennsylvania, 2005
BSLA, Ohio State University, 1994
Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, California State Polytechnic University Pomona

Lehrman is a landscape architect with an architectural and scenographic background interested in the metrics, monitoring, and modeling of landscape performance; interactions between buildings and landscapes; the water-energy nexus and sustainable urbanism; integration of infrastructure into the designed landscape to enhance sustainability; multifunctional infrastructure; and critical studies of infrastructure.  His Aqueduct Futures exhibit has been displayed at Los Angeles City Hall and Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions.

Allison Lassiter

PhD candidate, University of California – Berkeley, 2015
MCP, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2009

Lassiter applies spatial data analysis and statistics to urban resource management.  Complementing her primary research on water demand, she is working to develop a sensor network for high-resolution, urban microclimate characterization.  She teaches Landscape Hacking: Environmental Sensing and Responsive Design.

Lucia Phinney

MArch University of Virginia 1979
MLA University of Virginia 2003
Distinguished Lecturer, Architecture, University of Virginia

Lucia Phinney hopes to transform 21st century urban climates with dynamic, interactive boundary surfaces that connect interior spaces to the ephemerality of the wild energies and re-engage public gatherings with the experience of thermal delight.  She is Director of the fall Undergraduate Foundation Studio (City+Design), teaches the Parametric Landform research studio, and the Grasshopper Spatial Practice and Soft Surface Operations seminars.