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The Aurora Project

The Aurora Project is an index of shifting territorial resources in the Arctic and a speculative vision for a massive new energy infrastructure and settlement pattern.

The Aurora Project

The Aurora Project is an index of shifting territorial resources in the Arctic and a speculative vision for a massive new energy infrastructure and settlement pattern. Aurora suggests an alternative approach to the exploration, exploitation and eventual colonization of the region. It is simultaneously a projection of an imminent environmental condition, and the materialization of how contemporary political, social and ecological trends might be channeled towards a more productive future.

The Aurora installation superimposes the ephemeral qualities of the Arctic ice field with the dynamic behavior of visitors, translating the shifting dimensions of the ice into an immersive system of flickering auroras and responsive luminescent skins. Presented alongside Aurora is a map room ("Terra Incognita") consisting of original drawings, diagrams and other materials that provide a view into how the Arctic region has been represented, claimed, and mythologized in the past and present. A smaller interactive instrument ("The Glaciarium") engages visitors' senses through the sight and sound of a melting ice core.

The Aurora Project was exhibited at the Van Alen Institute in New York (Sept-Oct 2009), and portions of the show are currently installed at the Hong Kong + Shenzhen Biennale (Dec-Feb 2010).

Project Goals: The research attempted to synthesize our interest in dynamic cartography with new fabrication technologies and interactive media. As an undercurrent the project also attempted to engage issues surrounding global warming and sea level rise. Could we leverage cutting-edge design techniques to make a statement, or at least raise questions, about a larger global issue? How could we make a global issue (that isn't yet visible in a local sense) more visceral, intimate or personal so that someone interacting with the piece would make an intellectual or emotional connection to it?

Project Findings: There were many layers to the project and each had their own surprises. For instance, the larger "Aurora" light hive construction really prompted people to move around and even under the piece. It spurred groups of people to have conversations and debate across the luminescent light field, and also prompted them to lie underneath the piece in a kind of meditative trance. On the other hand, the "Glaciarium" actually prompted a more intimate or one-on-one experience. It took most people a minute or two to figure out what the piece was actually about. We also observed that people would return to look several times during a visit to the gallery. Whether they actually understood what our intentions were we do not know, Nevertheless, we think the piece held its ground as a well crafted object that could also be appreciated purely for its aesthetic qualities.

Construction methods: Parametric design and digital fabrication tools including use of Grasshopper (a Rhino plug-in), Laser Cutters, CNC Mill, Arduino Microcontrollers, Processing software
Materials used: PETG plastic, stainless steel, acrylic
Research: Extensive research on Arctic maps and geospatial information in the University of Michigan Map Library

Project Leads

Jason Kelly Johnson and Nataly Gattegno

Special Thanks to: The Aurora Project was completed under the auspices of the Van Alen Institute New York Prize Fellowship and exhibited in the Van Alen Institute gallery in New York. The project was published in Architecture Record [11.2009] and will be published in a number of forthcoming publications including Architectural Design [AD] Territories: Architecture beyond Environment [Wiley, 2010], Pidgin Magazine [Princeton University, 2010], VIA [University of Pennsylvania, 2010]. Portions of the Aurora Project are currently installed in the Hong Kong + Shenzhen Biennale, Dec-Feb 2010.


Future Cities Lab: Jason Kelly Johnson and Nataly Gattegno. Project Assistants: Carrie Norman, Thomas Kelley. Project Collaborators + Assistants: Troy Rogers (Sound and Interaction), Noah Keating from mathbeat industries (Interactive + Programming Consultant) Kezia Ofiesh, Paul Fromm, Sarah Fugate, Hank Byron, Taylor Burgess, Ed Yung, Ben Fey. Poster/Pamphlet Design: Dayoung Shin. Also helping out were: Kyle Kugler, Jim Staddon, Gin Harr, Yuki Staddon, Matt Young, Brad DeVries.

Institutions: The Van Alen Institute (NY Prize Fellowship in Systems and Ecology); The University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning (Research Through Making Grant) - Dean Monica Ponce de Leon, The University of Michigan Map Library; Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts Grant, Columbia University Avery CNC Fabrication Lab (David Kwon, Christo Logan, Nicole Seekely, Philip Anzalone - Assistant Director of Avery Fabrication); NYC College of Technology - CityTech @ CUNY (Carmen Trudell, Joseph Lim, Felix Baez).

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