Zenovia Toloudi's research integrates art, architecture and media technology through mixed media, participatory experiments and interactive installations exploring how users perceive space and engage in the architectural/art work. Some of the questions that motivate the research are: How can invisible physical qualities of space (air, light, sound) relate to their subjective sensual perception (smell, vision, hearing)? How can installations and temporary structures become an agency to intervene and actively alter "problematic" situations in public space/domain? How can user cognition, crowdsourcing and social media affect design process, production, and criticism?


Zenovia's doctoral dissertation at Harvard GSD, On Architectural Taste and Identity: Experimenting with PICANICO Game, focused on the topic of style as an identity trademark of architectural works advocating that it can be constructed subjectively by people's preferences and cognitive associations in addition to architects and critics’ descriptions and evaluations. The work argues that the relationship between identity and preferences is formed through a series of classification systems and taxonomies that may both emerge from and influence users. This theoretical framework was supported by the creation of PICANICO online platform that associated pictures of architecture work (photos, drawings, models, etc.) with user-defined tags (e.g. modern, classic, brutal, etc.) and users’ binary ratings (like/dislike) to identify clusters of architectural work with similar characteristics. The platform both “learned” from users and “educated” them by suggesting pairs of images and tags that were most “popular.” Using this online learning tool, a survey-experiment was conducted to collect data from participants from 19 Universities across the world, both experts and non-experts in the field, creating a user-defined classification system for architectural typologies. The resulting series of comparative visualizations revealed aspects of collective taste and form as a social language that compared to the singular classifications by the critics. This work opened within the design disciplines discourse around the role of social media and crowdsourcing in design, with emphasis on relationships between the social and the architectural work.


Many of Zenovia's works position installations as research laboratories for architecture and spatial practices. This question, on collective judgment and form as a social language explored at the dissertation, was continued at MIT ACT during a fellowship, beyond the understanding of the space, to the actual production of space. Talking Rooms experiment is an interactive video installation in which users in two rooms interact through a feedback mechanism. Installations become immersive environments to be experienced by (emancipated) spectators. In Talking Rooms, participants are the space makers; they become the manipulators of patterns, lights, and shadows that constantly form surfaces and space now defined by these intangible media. Beyond being theoretical constructs, installations offer to creators and their audience means to interrogate a variety of scopes, such as cultural, environmental, and tactile, through imagination, invention, and experience. The Three States of Hors d'Oeuvres installation, composed of four chambers filled with different clouds of vaporized food, explores invisible qualities of space (such as mist and temperature) in relationship to user’s sensorial perceptions (such as olfactory experience, taste, and memory) to manifest a spatial form of food consumption. At the same time, installations due to their relative small scale and fast production become experiments to test ideas, thoughts, and realities. At IIT, a large installation of flexible joints, linked to a mathematical and computation modeling was created to test form generation in relation to local parameters, such as site topography, weather phenomena, and cultural events. Furthermore, installations act as communication devices through users’ engagement and participation often intervening and actively altering "problematic" situations. For example, the research artwork Micro-Ceasefire Under Shadow (MCUS) explores how citizens can rethink issues of sound, ecology, technology and the metropolis. This sonic micro-environment improves the spatial quality of the urban street while offering a unique identity through a generative form mechanism that creates innumerable formations that differentiate themselves based on spatial requirements, weather conditions, and aesthetic preferences. Similarly, Photodotes installations emphasize how light’s relation to energy and the survival leads to well-being of people. Photodotes propose new typologies of living modular walls that combine hydroponics and fiberoptic cables to bring natural light in dark spaces, while illustrating how light accelerates growth of living organisms such as plants. Photodotes essentially redefine the nature – tectonic relationship where one does not erase the other but they simply co-exist and co-evolve. The above series of works examine the social, cultural, political as well as personal and psychological reflections and repercussions of installations, temporary structures, and ephemeral spaces through body-specific, site-specific, and audience-specific frames. They link critical inquiries, to society’s cultural, social, and even virtual, enduring artifacts, in this case installations.

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