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Edwina Portocarrero Dissertation Defense

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MIT Media Lab

NETWORKED PLAYSCAPES: Redefining the Playground

Committee:
V. Michael Bove

Principal Research Scientist

Neri Oxman
Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences

Ethan Zuckerman
Associate Professor of the Practice in Media Arts and Sciences

In recent years the world became mostly urban, communication untethered and objects surpassed humans connected to the internet. We are being shaped by the intersection of urbanization and ubiquitous computing. “Smart Cities” offer an efficiency driven solution by “programming” the city. But this centralized approach forgets that it is the people that make the city and that playing is central to being human. Digital or physical, play is an act of creation and appropriation, a respite in a world geared towards consumption, efficiency and technological determinism.

Simultaneously, playgrounds are suffering abandonment. Poorly designed, they are deemed childish and boring, the streets insecure, and parents too busy. Portable computing devices have taken over most of the playtime and confined it to human-screen interaction. With less time spent outdoors; social networks and video games are important hubs where we converge to play mediated, across distance, with people we might never meet.

This dissertation proposes that advantages of connected play need not be exclusive to the indoors, and that playgrounds today need no real estate. Additionally, it hypothesizes connected play in the public space enhances the social integration function that playgrounds have served as architectural constructs.

Drawing from research in play, cognitive development, ubiquitous computing, architecture, telepresence and urban planning this dissertation posits the redesign of playgrounds into Networked Playscapes. Grounded in the public space, they take existing urban affordances and add largely-invisible technological underpinnings so as to support connected play.

Deployed in Mexico City, Networked Playscapes is illustrated through three experiments: Triciclo, Andamio and ListenTree. Placed at areas with a high index of marginalization and designed with a broad definition of play, they provide infrastructure for connection at different scales while centering on ludic interaction as the purpose to come together across divisions.

Space informs play as much as play can inform space. This thesis will discuss design guidelines driven from local idiosyncrasy and physical affordances for grounding and place making and proposes taking the telepresent quality of imaginative play as the parameter to make congruous use of physical computing embedded in architectural constructs and nature itself.

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