Syllabus-Sensitive Buildings-2012

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Sensitive Buildings

Fall 2012

NYU, Tisch School of the Arts

Interactive Telecommunications Program


Instructor: Rob Faludi

[email protected]


Course Description:

This is a class is about creating smart habitats for city dwellers. Students will conceive and prototype large scale device networks to benefit the tenants of a 28-story, 325-unit landmark apartment building on Central Park South in Manhattan. The high-rise owners have invited ITP to develop a variety of prototypes that enhance the livability, ecology and community of their apartment building. The class has been newly restructured into three parts: We’ll start by touring the building to learn about its infrastructure, inhabitants and context. This begins our Observation and Design phase in which students will employ behavioral studies, user-centered design and ethnography; paired with tenant interviews and other techniques that inspire first-rate innovations. Next we will quickly cover deploying Wireless Technology to connect interactive devices. Finally, we’ll return to the site with prototypes that explore project possibilities, installing these proof-of-concepts and observing the real-world results. We’ll take what we’ve learned into Final Projects that have the potential to be deployed at scale and considered for long-term sponsorship.

This 1939 building’s recent renovation created lower-level green roofs, various upgrades for energy efficiency and a historically restored facade. It has been described as, “state-of-the-art green architecture before the term was coined.” The building’s motto is “Where The Park is Part of the Plan.” Our class is provided with access to unoccupied units, and opportunities to connect with current residents. The owners generously allow full supervised access to building infrastructure from roof to basement including ventilation, plumbing, heating, elevator and energy systems. Students get an extraordinary chance to invent and deliver big benefits for residents using active observation techniques as they develop interactive networks on a towering scale.


Students will learn observation and research practices essential to interaction design along with technical skills in wireless networking, programming and serial communication. They will gain experience in a real-world environment and think deeply about location-specific work. Assigned projects will explore observation, user research, wireless networking, input-output, building systems and human interactions.

Class Schedule (check for updates):

  1. Intro, overview, basics and background: class introduction, student introductions, overview & syllabus review, about buildings, about observation, ZigBee, XBee, adaptors, terminal programs, addressing.
    Assignments: Observation Assignment; read Building Wireless Sensor Networks, Chapter 1; purchase supplies, pick a PAN ID.
  2. Observation Assignment Presentations: group presentation of assignments with discussion, Q&A with property manager.
    Assignments: Read How to be an Explorer of the World, then pick an exercise and do it; Take a building tour.
  3. XBee Configuration: PAN ID assignment, firmware updates, basic configuration, basic chat exercise and Discuss Explorer exercises.
    Assignments: basic chat exercise, doorbell exercises, read BWSN, Chapters 2 & 3
  4. Focus Groups: XBee exercise review, focus groups discussion, focus groups organization, sensor and actuator basics
    Assignment: Focus Groups exercise, read BWSN, Chapter 4
  5. Sensor Networks:  Focus Groups review, sensor network assignment
    Assignment: Simple Sensor Network, read BWSN, Chapter 5
  6. Ethnography: sensor exercise review, Guest Lecture: professional Ethnographer.
    Assignment: Ethnography Assignment
  7. Data Gathering: discuss Ethnography results, using the XIG gateways, basic ConnectPort, easy connections to the Internet
    Assignment: Final project ideation (100 ideas), Gathering data with XIG on-site, read BWSN, Chapter 7
  8. Review Project Ideas: presentations and discussion of final project ideation, reduce ideas to candidate projects
    Assignment: Form Final Project groups
  9. Off-site at Architecture & Design Firm: Control Group, 233 Broadway, 21st Floor.
    Assignment: First prototypes for final project
  10. Sleep and API Libraries: sleep mode, end devices, direct actuation
    Assignment: Final Project iteration, read BWSN, Chapter 6
  11. On-site Workshop: with technical reviews
    Assignment: Final Project iteration
  12. On-site Workshop: Try out prototypes on-site.
    Assignment: Final Project completion
  13. On-site Workshop: with technical reviews
    Assignment: Final Project presentations
  14. Final Presentations


Observation Assignment: This assignment is designed to open your mind. You will discover the multitude of ways that a space is used by listing the behaviors that you see. Then you will record the prevalence of each behavior type, to understand their relative import. Finally, you will use this information as a thinking tool, to propose new projects that address what you’ve unmasked. The goal is to fill in your mental schema or outline of a place with the richness of what actually happens there, and by filling in the missing parts to discover something new.

Doorbell Projects: Working in pairs, create a basic doorbell using ZigBee and Arduino, enhance this doorbell with roundtrip feedback so the visitor knows that the buzzer has rung. Next, create a doorbell with a nap mode with a silent alert for regular visitors but an eventual wakeup for insistent visitors. Finally, create an advanced doorbell of your choosing, perhaps one that only responds to a secret code, one with a history feature, one that sends an SMS or Tweets, one that provides a text display, or anything else that builds a better doorbell. Use this assignment as an opportunity to get comfortable with round-trip communications, and to think about enhancing practical interactions.

Focus Groups: Conduct a focus group with the residents of 240 Central Park South. The purpose will be to learn about life in the building from the people who live there, and to understand the people themselves—their perspectives, personalities, concerns and aspirations. Your goal will be to replace the schematic representation of what you think the residents and their life is like with a more accurate and richer understanding of their reality. In the process, you will keep an eye out for project opportunities and inspirations.

Simple Sensor Network: Using ZB XBees we will create a mesh networks that covers a large areas including the boards, enclosures, mountings and documentation. The end result will be a robust infrastructure that anyone could understand, use and extend. Each student will take on an area of responsibility to collaborate on making this network.

Data Gathering: Using the XBee Internet Gateway, remotely gather and record environmental data of your choosing on-site at 240 Central Park South. Work in groups of two or three to select information you think will reveal an interesting story, then build a prototype sensor to feed that information onto the Internet using XIG and iDigi for later analysis. Each implementation will be different, but most will want to look at hundreds of data samples over periods of at least 24 hours. You’ll present your findings along with a discussion of what you think the data is trying to say.

Final Project: work in groups to create a building system or device of your choosing. Your creation should aim to enhance the livability, ecology or community of the apartment building, preferably using some of the technologies that you’ve learned about in class. You have been given the tools to create a sensing network, display network or complex interaction. Because you have also performed a number of different observations, your project might find its inspiration in what you’ve seen. It should certainly take into consideration what you’ve learned, and may even benefit from new observations using one or more of the techniques learned in class. This is potentially a challenging assignment in a short period of time so consider what you know about fast collaboration. Work iteratively and keep moving forward.


  • links to documentation for each completed assignment must be posted in the student work area
  • documentation is due within one week after completing each assignment

Building Access:

All students and instructors (Participants) are required to sign the liability waiver and provide it to the building management (CPSA). If a student is under 21, it must also be signed by a parent or guardian.

A list of Participant names will be provided to CPSA including emails and cell phone
numbers. These names will be kept by the package room, and all Participants will enter via the 58th St. ramp to the basement and sign in at the package room. They will be required to display picture ID at the package room. They are also required to leave the same way and sign out.

Tentatively access will be restricted to 1-4pm, Monday-Thursday. For access to any building system areas or any apartments or non-public roof areas, an appointment needs to be made at least 48 hrs in advance. It will be most helpful if students co-ordinate their access times to minimize impact on building staff. Appointment requests should be emailed to [email protected]. Three alternative times should be given, in order of preference. The locations to which access is desired should also be specified. If there are any special requirements for the access (for example, taking off a radiator cover or accessing pipes), this should be indicated.


ITP grades on a pass/fail basis. This class is weighted as follows:

Class participation & attendance 25%

Presentations and projects 35%

Documentation 40%

Office Hours

To Be Announced


Can be open during lectures but should be closed when your fellow students are speaking or presenting.

Making the Most of It:

For best results, come to class early, participate in discussions, ask lots of questions, offer copious and constructive feedback, stretch yourself and have fun.

Required Reading


ITP PAN ID list, register yours here.

Optional Reading



Math and Communication Protocols:

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