Frontiers

Caroline Chao

“When sitting or studying, I find myself subconsciously shifting in a series of movements. Crossing my limbs over each other, wedging hands and feet between other body parts for warmth, and gradually approaching fetal position, my body compresses itself through a number of folds. As time passes, the surface area of my body touching an external surface (a chair, floor, or desk) decreases, while the surface area of my body touching an internal surface (my own body) increases. Thus, my habit is about minimizing external contact, while maximizing internal contact. In doing so, my body, to the best of its ability, closes itself to the outside world.”

Caroline Chao

“In mapping this study, I tracked which limbs folded and to what extent over a presumed period of one hour. In addition to the arms and legs, the change in spine curvature is also noted, gradually increasing in amount and complexity of curvature with each timeframe. Visible from the drawing, my body—specifically my spine and limbs—continue to compress in folds, while simultaneously increasing its contact with itself and decreasing its contact with external objects."

Maria Carriero

“Prolonged Study is the reconfiguration of the body and study objects over time with the attempt to achieve balance between comfort and focus. When practicing this habit, I cycle through positions, some of which allow me to concentrate on work more than others. In each position I try to improve my comfort in part by surrounding myself with successive layers. These layers also serve to refine my focus by limiting my view of irrelevant information. As I cycle through positions, I leave certain items that are now irrelevant to my current task behind, leaving a trail of the areas I could once reach. My body also prescribes the movement of objects within each position, as I push objects in and out of the range of my writing hand and my field of focus. This pattern allowed me to work for a long period of time, although the time spent in each position varies according to the comfort and focus I achieve in each one.”

Maria Carriero

“In order to map this habit, I created several layers of information. The foundation is body. I mapped the imprint of my body in each position on a surface and the section of these positions, taken an inch from the surface and parallel to the ground. The next layer is the extent of the sprawl of objects around me. These are both active objects within my field of focus and inactive objects that I am not concentrating on. At the intersection of these body position maps and sprawl extent maps are the ranges of my focus and of my writing hand. When assembled, these layers allow me to see and study traces of where I have been, the ranges of my focus and writing over time, and the revealed patterns of motion as determined by my body.”

Mary Tsai

“My habit came to be through the acquirement of my watch. It came with a diver’s timer on it so I began spinning the dial as frequently as possible. This eventually developed into a habit and has become an involuntary action that happens whether I am sitting or standing up. I chose to focus on the twisting motion, particularly of my right hand. My fingers, specifically the thumb and forefinger, are the cause of the rotating dial. The space that forms between the fingers subtly changes but is crucial to its exact location in turning the dial. Because of the position alterations in the fingers, the arms move as a result, thus causing most of the upper body to respond to the small motion of the watch twist.”

Mary Tsai

“I chose to draw the center inner lines of each finger and made sure to capture every curve and wrinkle that was included on each axis. The thumb and forefinger were connected due to their imperative relationship that starts the twisting motion. This habit of twisting a dial on my watch forms at my fingertips, a seemingly trivial motion; however, the relationship of all the fingers together forms a larger motion that utilizes the upper body. I enjoy the specificity of my habit to my own character, emphasizing the strange routines that I develop when given an object that is present with me every day.”

Habit-Forming

Undergraduate architecture students chart maps of human-environment interaction.
April 2013

Habits are activities not often subject to conscious evaluation: crossing and uncrossing one’s limbs in a certain fashion while studying; fiddling with a watch or similar accessory. But as Maria Carriero, Caroline Chao, and Mary Tsai—currently seniors in the undergraduate architecture major—discovered, these simple, everyday actions can be the basis for a more complex understanding of humans’ interaction with their environment.

Habit-at is the fourth design project out of a series of six undertaken by students within the College’s architecture program. In addition to the projects, students complete four courses in the history of art and architecture and two architectural theory courses. The projects, completed in courses deemed "design studios," help students gain an understanding of the fundamentals of architecture through the exploration of architectural analogs. In the first phase of the Habit-at project, each student documented a habit through a series of black and white photographs depicting bodies in motion. Particular attention is given to the spatial and temporal dimensions of the action. Using the photographs, each student mapped the movements associated with the habit and made digital maps. In some instances, these maps are combined with the original photographs into collages. 

In the second phase of the project, each student interpreted the photographs, maps, and collages into architectural drawings designed to enclose a range of motions specific to the Habit-at. This enclosure helps explain how the moving parts adjust in order to accommodate and facilitate habitual human actions. Above, see the Habit-at projects play out, with explanation from the student designers.