LA Design Festival – ArtCenter South Campus

The ArtCenter College of Design is a private non-profit school whose focus is pretty clearly communicated in its name. The main campus is a bit removed, but their south campus is right near the heart of Pasadena and a venue for them to participate in LA Design Festival.

ArtCenter wind tunnel

Three buildings make up the ArtCenter south campus. The one hosting Design Slam 2018: Prototyping the Future Saturday evening used to be a wind tunnel facility for several aerospace firms that formerly worked in the area. The actual wind tunnel volume is now subdivided into cubicles that appear to be graduate student offices, and many of its its former support spaces are now classrooms. My favorite part of the building is Archetype Press, a letterpress facility where the old fashioned art of typesetting is kept alive for students to experience firsthand.

ArtCenter rooftop

The roof of this building has a space that will host student projects this evening. Beyond that rooftop patio, there was an installation that may or may not serve some practical purpose in addition to being rooftop art, and nestled between these elements is a garden that I did not expect to find on the roof of a (formerly) industrial building.

Since I have a personal interest in the developing field of virtual reality technologies, I was drawn to student projects exploring the same. It’s encouraging to see ArtCenter found the means to provide students access to leading edge technologies like VR. There were multiple HTC Vive VR headsets. Student projects on display were created in Unreal Engine so they don’t have to build VR experiences from scratch.

ArtCenter dual VR

One criticism of today’s VR technology is that it’s very isolating. Once a person straps up a headset they’re visually cut off from everybody else in the room. One project explored experiences designed around multiple VR users in the room interacting with each other. By default each user can move around in their own world, but what they could see was very limited on their own. But when the two users look directly at each other, their perspectives open up to see more of their own world as well as seeing the other person’s world. Fully exploring both of these worlds require the two users to communicate and coordinate, making this VR experience a group activity.

ArtCenter tactile VR

The other VR project present explored a different shortcoming of VR, which is the fact the current technology only conveys the visual and aural representation of a different reality. This student project seeks to add tactile feedback to the experience by building some tactile feedback – in this case vibration motors originally designed for cell phones – into their VR experiences. They are built into small battery-powered, WiFi-controlled devices strapped on to various parts of your body and vibrate on command from the core VR program. The project included a few different experiences, the one they tried to get up and running was standing in the middle of a desert and the user can hear and feel the wind blowing by. Sadly there were some technical difficulties and I did not have the chance to experience this project firsthand.

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