Moved!

April 21, 2010

I’ve stopped updating this site. Please visit http://www.xiaoji-chen.com for my blog!

Twitter Tag Cloud Live!

February 21, 2010

When analyzing the web contents of SNCF, I made this realtime tag cloud charter for Twitter. It’s a lot of fun.

Category tree view:

Relevance network view:

Click to play with the app. Be careful it’s a CPU killer…

Tool used: Processing

The Copenhagen Wheel: Data Viz Journal III

December 20, 2009

Presentation of the Copenhagen Wheel project at UN Climate Summit for Mayors in December was a huge success. I would like to post a few videos here which is related to my work:

The idea was that pollutant information collected by the sensors embedded in wheels were transmitted to our server through smart phones. A web interface, accessible with both pc and phones, showed pollutant distribution in real time. One could browse his own data, keep a record of his contribution to a greener city, challenge with friends, and get route suggestions according to pollution level. The city management could keep an eye on the city and react to dangerous level of pollutants right away. The complete and high-definition record of pollutant maps could also cross-reference with land use, weather, transportation etc. in urban research and in long term, support policy decisions.

Tools used: Processing

Customizable Production II: Tree

December 20, 2009

This starts from a project for 4.510: Materializing Design by Prof. Larry Sass.

We made a web applet which support making customizable tree-like canopy for coffee shops. User can access to our website, build his own design in friendly 3d interface, take the generated CAD file to any nearby CNC machine and cut the parts from 3/4” plywood sheets. Following online instructions, he can assemble the parts with a few untrained men. Everything is finished locally.

We have tested the system with prototypes in various scales. The latest ones are 1:6 models made from 1/8” masonite with lasercutter. Metal pieces are cut with waterjet and hand bended. Right now the shape and angle between parts are chosen to simplify design and assembly. Next version in our plan will work with advanced machines and materials to support more flexible and fluid surface designs.


Collaborator: Felecia Davis
Tools used: Processing, Rhino, AutoCAD

The Copenhagen Wheel: Data Viz Journal II

November 29, 2009

Here are some following up images of the finally coming data. We are still figuring out the UI elements and color schemes.

Bird view of noise level:

Urban section:

CO level flowing through the streets:

NOx accumulative in one single day:

Urban heat islands:

Transportation and noise level:

Representations and Processes

November 24, 2009

This is an assignment for 4.580: Inquiry into Computation and Design by Prof. Terry Knight. We were asked to design an extension for Louis Kahn’s Richards Medical Center, and look into the relationship between process and representation.

We translated the plan into two types of components: square units and connections. We then built a program that automatically generate connections from any units layout. The appearance of a connection depended on the sizes and distance of two neighboring units. We believed the program somewhat reflected the underlying logic in Kahn’s original design, and could accommodate most possible extending scheme.


Ironically, in class, most designs submitted by the other groups could not be drawn by our program. Of course we could indicate that they do not follow the ‘true’ grammar of the original plan. After all it is impossible for such a program to accommodate any design intention. Processes are limited by the way of representation we choose. Unless we change the mechanism that machines learn and induce, they can only do things that we understand before them.

Collaborator: Ari Kardasis
Tool used: Processing

Customizable Production I: Umbrella Stand

November 3, 2009

This is a assignment for 4.580: Inquiry into Computation and Design by Prof. Terry Knight. We were asked to make an umbrella stand and discuss the question: to which degree can design process be made accessible for novice user.

We decided to make the most out of our limited material. Our design was a tripod stand with three holder for either long or short umbrellas. Ari did a fabulous job taking advantage of the flexibility of mason boards. The final design could produce 2 umbrella stands from 2 sheets (32”x16”).

Parametric method was used in the testing and implementing phase. The distance, width and angle of legs could be easily adjusted to reach the best performance. We believed this script could be hand to anyone with little training to produce his own umbrella stand. However, it could only exist after all joints were designed by us. It is not easy for a program to invent a way out of its catalog book to implement given design intention.

However, I am an optimist for a upcoming future of far more accessible design-making workflow. The architects tend to be reluctant to accept the idea that ‘anyone can design’. Actually, rural people, as well as city dwellers, have always been empowered to fabricate their own houses and furniture although this ability has waned with industrialization and globalization. If we compromise somewhat on the definition of design – and see it as decision making – ordinary people are already doing it while shopping or commenting.

I see the development in fast prototyping tools as opportunity for designers rather than crisis. One primary reason for architecture’s slow progress over history is the extremely time/resource consuming cycle of design, building and feedback, making it difficult to compare and learn from past experiments. I am doing further attempt on this later this semester for Larry’s class.

Collaborator: Ari Kardasis
Tools used: Rhino, Grasshopper, Illustrator

Moon Chair

October 21, 2009

This is a project for 4.510: Materializing Design by Prof. Larry Sass. I wam supposed to design a chair and run through the rapid prototyping process. My chair was part of a sphere, so it can rock/spin in any direction. The size was limited to one plywood sheet (8’x4′).

I was quite annoyed by the fact that our CNC cutter in the woodshop cannot perform 3D contouring (due to budget cut on software… errr). But I had a lot of fun playing with wood joints. The spine was cut into four segments so the plywood sheet could be used more efficiently. This main joint (#1×3) cost us more than 5 hours to put together. It was very strong. Slightly improved, I believe it can be used in larger scale wood structures.

The plywood sheet we had could be the worst material anyone would expect. It was brittle and cracked under CNC bits. I did realize that my design was not the best for this material in terms of reliability; luckily it worked out in the end (even for Larry) and looked pretty good.

I look forward to an opportunity sometime that I can combine 3d cutting, bending and all other possibilities in wood works. It can be really amazing.

Tools used: CATIA, AutoCAD

The Copenhagen Wheel: Data Viz Journal I

October 9, 2009

The goal of the Copenhagen Wheel project is to create a smart, responsive and elegant emblem for urban mobility. It transforms ordinary bicycles quickly into hybrid e-bikes that also function as mobile sensing units. It allows you to capture the energy dissipated while cycling and braking and save it for when you need a bit of a boost. It also connect your bike to a larger community through smartphone to map pollution levels, traffic congestion, and road conditions in real-time.

I was recruited to visualize the data collected into interactive graphics. In the first review I set myself 3 goals: i) visual impact; ii) insightful interpretation; iii) support for easy reading & decision making.
Embedding sensors in bicycle wheels has obvious advantages that make the visualization interesting, such as mobility and realtime networking. However in current phase of the project, we had no prototypes finished, and could only expect around 15 sensors sent out before the final presentation. That data is too sparse on a city of 4 square km. Moreover, since we have loose control of where the riders go, it is almost impossible to get a filled map at a random time spot.

My first solution was what I called ‘merged time’: users saw data from different time on a merged map, but could also tell which are old and which are new. Data left a fading trace after them. Here is the first demonstration video I made for the concept.

the Symbolic, the Visual, the Recursive

October 7, 2009

This is an assignment from 4.580:Inquiry into Computation and Design by Prof. Terry Knight. We were supposed to parse a design into rules that could be passed on and used to regenerate it.

We took Le Corbusier’s plan of Maison Citrohan (1927). It was crucial to which detail one chose to represent the design. We realized that by just extracting out elements from the plans, shape grammar would be very symbolic and become a shopping catalog. The recursive function and flexibility was a must in order to develop a true design tool. We ended up with a Corb automator with recursive functions but also one symbolic architecture element introduced (the stair).

In class discussion it was left an open question whether the nature of architecture is symbolic, but it seemed unlikely that limited rules can describe everything in design.

Collaborator: Joseph Choma, Siobhan Rockcastle
Tools used: Processing

Simple complexity

September 21, 2009

It was my first time using a laser cutter. I decided to start with a perfectly symmetrical geometry to keep things simple. I took a dodecahedron, making each facet a component, then dived into detailing it. The outcome had the smallest number of components, while got amazingly visual complicated.

Click to see the assembly-in-process pictures:

This is a project for class 4.510: Materializing Design by Prof. Larry Sass.
Tools used: SketchUp

Playing With Voronoi

August 21, 2009

Some quick flash app I did for Smallshan’s urban design work. Click to play:

Some fun afterwards: 11th iteration.

Tool used: Flash

Curtain That Tells Time

February 22, 2009

It was winter holiday and I always stayed in bed till 1pm. Sometimes I didn’t mean to, but it was really hard to get out of my warm bed just to check the time. That’s how this lovely curtain came along – you read time using the shadow dropped by sun.

Tools used: Graph, Illustrator