TOWARD DESIGN FOR
Architecture operates at a different
scale from objects. The scale of an object
leads us to think about stuff that we
can hold in our hands, carry around,
and that we can place somewhere.
Buildings, on the other hand, are large-scale structures that typically occupy a
specific location for a long time and that
we inhabit rather than carry around. We
can hold an object in our hand, but we
enter a building.
Further, with interaction design
at the scale of objects, we have
thought about these objects in terms
of handheld tools, as assistants,
and as functional devices. In many
cases the design objective has been
to make it work and to make it serve
its user. Architecture might also be
designed to serve certain purposes,
but buildings are typically visited or
inhabited rather than strictly used.
This understanding of architecture
is something architects have good
knowledge of, but that interaction
designers might need to learn from.
As formulated by Sengers et al.:
Imagine a world without architects,
where only engineers construct buildings.
With a keen eye toward functionality,
these engineers would make sure the
buildings were sound, but something
would be lacking. People would miss the
richness of architecture—the designed
connection to their lives, history, and
culture. The designed experience of these
buildings would be irrelevant to their
social and personal concept of buildings.
Yet this is the world researchers are
inadvertently creating with ubiquitous
computing [ 3].
So, as we move toward a tighter
integration of architecture and
interaction design, we might need
to shift our focus away from the
design of interactables as interactive,
functional tools, things, and devices,
toward something I call architectonic
But what do I mean by architectonic
interaction? Well, first of all, we
need to think about interaction
design at the scale of architecture [ 4].
This means a shift away from the
objects we use toward the structures
we inhabit. Further, it is about the
design of architectonic elements with
interactive capabilities. This means that
architectonic interaction design both
serves the overall architecture of the
building as an integrated architectural
element and serves the needs of the
people inhabiting the space. In this
way, it works with the construction
of the building, it presents itself as an
interactive technology, and it blends
well with the needs of the inhabitants.
But foremost, and what lies ahead as
the general challenge for doing good
architectonic interaction design, is
in line with Sengers et al.: to design
such interactive inhabitable structures
and spaces that enrich our experiences
of the architecture, that deepen our
connections to each other, and that allow
for dwelling, being, and reflection in those
spaces. While the ultimate form of the
interactable is the lightweight, always-
on, and ready-to-use device in the
form of a tool in the hand of its owner,
the space that allows for architectonic
interaction is a place where people
can come together and interact with,
change, reconfigure, leave marks on,
and be affected by the architecture—in
short, it is interaction design of places
that we can configure so as to feel at
home with the technology, the space,
and each other.
1. Wiberg, M. Interaction design meets
architectural thinking. ACM Interactions
22, 2 (Mar.–Apr. 2015), 60–63.
2. Wiltse, H. and Stolterman, E. Architectures
of interaction: An architectural perspective
on digital experience. Proc. of the 6th Nordic
Conference on Human-Computer Interaction.
ACM, New York, 2010, 821–824.
3. Sengers, P., Kaye, J., Boehner, K., Fairbank,
J., Gay, G., Medynskiy, Y., and Wyche, S.
Culturally embedded computing. Pervasive
Computing (Jan.–Mar. 2004).
4. Wiberg, M. Interactive Textures for
Architecture and Landscaping – Digital
Elements and Technologies. Information
Science Reference, 2011, Hershey, PA, USA.
Mikael Wiberg is a full professor of informatics
at Umeå University, Sweden. He has been a
chaired professor in HCI at Uppsala University
and a research director for the Umeå Institute of
Design. His research focuses on the materiality
of interaction. He is the author of Interactive
Textures for Architecture and Landscaping.
DOI: 10.1145/3036203 © 2017 ACM 1072-5520/17/03 $15.00