The Bartlett School of Architecture


Andre Afonso

Coloured lights installation: Andre Alfonso PhD profile



Exploring embodied interactions with urban media installations as means for placemaking.

Primary and secondary supervisors




The migration of digital technologies to urban settings blurs the boundaries between Architecture and Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). A growing number of interactive media have been deployed in outdoor urban spaces, affecting both the social and the spatial qualities of the urban environment.

Among the different approaches and models of interaction, there is a special category of projects which rely on whole body interactions, where people are encouraged to engage with the media in a notably active, performative and usually playful fashion, for example by running, jumping, sliding, swinging or simply moving their bodies in unexpected ways.

Drawing from art critique, which refers to “installation art” as an artistic form that emphasises the corporeal presence and bodily responses of the person into the artwork (Bishop, 2005), it is possible to classify the aforementioned projects as urban media installations. Thus, this research explores the concept of urban media installations, aiming to better understand their roles and potential in terms of placemaking.

The relationships between media installations and urban places are investigated on two entwined scales: from (a) the narrow scale of the individual moving and perceiving body, up to (b) the broader scale of social encounters that take place around specific installations.

The research aims to shed light on the following questions: to what extent does whole body engagement with urban media installations create and sustain lively urban places? Can urban media installations support diverse social encounters? If so, how?

The methodology is based on a bottom-up, exploratory approach of different urban media installations, both transient and permanent, and deployed in different urban contexts, like London and Bradford, UK. Following a preliminary analysis of each spatial and social context, a small number of relevant media installations will be selected as case studies, whilst the installation Another Life (by Usman Haque/Umbrellium, 2012), in Bradford, will be more thoroughly explored as the main case study of the thesis.

This investigation will focus on real time, manifest actions and social encounters that take place around the media installations, as well as deploying a set of ethnographic tools, with a special emphasis on time-lapse photography, but also employing supplementary methods such as field notes, video recordings, semi-structured interviews and systematic observations.

As Marshall and Hornecker (2013) point out, the theme of embodied interaction has been a major area of interest within HCI. However, so far there is a lack of detailed accounts exploring the ways in which whole body engagement with urban media installations affects the life of urban outdoor places.

This PhD research is an attempt to clarify the significance of whole body interactions with installations for the creation and sustainment of lively urban places. The main expected contribution of the thesis is to deliver a consistent theoretical framework as well as methodological insights to support the design and analysis of urban media installations.


I hold undergraduate degrees on Architecture and Urban Planning (at Federal University of Minas Gerais – UFMG, 2008) and on Graphic Design (at Minas Gerais State University – UEMG, 2009).

In the Design course I found the opportunity of bringing to the forefront some of the most compelling issues that had risen from my background in Architecture. These issues are summarised in my Design graduation project Square Lights: the design as a renderer of urban services – a first, somewhat speculative attempt to merge Design and Architecture in fruitful and responsive ways. Since then I have been particularly interested in a variety of core research areas such as Experience Design, Interaction Design and Information Design, with special attention to urban digital media.

My Masters degree on Architecture and Urban Planning (UFMG, 2013) consists of a further effort to establish a more holistic, encompassing perspective towards the deployment of digital media on urban public spaces. The dissertation entitled Urban Media Surfaces addresses part of the key issues I intend to deepen and elucidate in the doctoral research.

Publications and other work
  • Long paper and oral presentation: "Modified Social Benches: Exploring the Role of Aesthetic Interaction to Placemaking", 10th Conference on Design and Semantics of Form and Movement, Delft and Eindhoven, Holland, 2017.
  • Short paper and video: "Emojis on the facade: Exploring social media graphics to transmit urban issues on media facades", 6th Pervasive Displays Symposium, Lugano, Switzerland, 2017. Authorship: Afonso, A. G. et al.
  • Academic walk: "Look, feel, move: experiencing interactive media installations in Canary Wharf", a walk exploring the light art installations of the Winter Lights Festival, London, Jan 2017 (part of the Bartlett PhD Walks programme). 
  • Workshop Organisation: "Encounters and Movements of Encounter", a workshop exploring the design of a site-specific content for a media facade in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Dec 2016 - Jan 2017. Authorship: Afonso, A. G.; Fatah gen. Schieck, Ava.
  • Presentation of upgrade seminar: "Comparative analysis of embodied interactions in public spaces: case studies of urban media installations in London", Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, 2016.
  • Conference Poster: Full Bodily Engagement as a Means for Placemaking. Presented at: Media Architecture Biennale – MAB 2016, Sydney, Australia.
  • Conference Paper: Square Lights: Towards an Expanded Approach to Urban Surfaces For The Design of Media Facades. Presented at: Mediacity 5 Doctoral Consortium, Plymouth, UK, 2015.
  • Conference Paper: “Subsídios teóricos para o Design da Experiência em espaços públicos: as noções de Lugar e de Experiência Urbana a partir de um estudo de caso.” Andre, A. (2014). Theoretical support for Experience Design in public spaces: the notions of Place and Urban Experience from a case study. P&D Design 2014 - Brazilian Conference on Design Research and Development, Brazil.
  • Conference Paper: “Superfícies urbanas como recurso expressivo e comunicativo para sistemas de sinalização urbana digital: o projeto Luzes da Praça.” Andre, A. (2013). Urban surfaces as expressive and communicative resources for urban digital signage systems: the project Square Lights. CIDI 2013 – International Conference on Information Design, Brazil. 
  • Masters Dissertation: “Superfícies Midiáticas Urbanas.” Authorship: AFONSO, Andre; Supervisor: Prof. Renato Cesar Ferreira de Souza. Urban Media Surfaces. Federal University of Minas Gerais – UFMG, 2013.