Inhabiting & Interfacing the Cloud(s): all research workshops results at once (recap about usages, interaction, territory)

Note: the 6 research workshops we organized in the frame of Inhabiting and Interfacing the Cloud(s) took place during the “preliminary sketches” phase. A known and common phase that takes place in the course of each design process, during which we could naturally involve peers partners and students so to increase our “trials and errors”.

The outcomes of these experimental workshops were further analyzed in two posts by N. Nova and P. Keller (ethnographic “Lessons” and design “Learnings“), to further develop design proposals as the main results of this research, along with two publications to come.


Introduction to I&IC & field study (10.2014) – no sound :

Soilless – a research introduction and a field study from design research on Vimeo.

More information about “Soilless, diagrams of uses” at HEAD – Genève on


Situations, usages and alternative clouds (01.2016 & 11.2014), at HEAD – Genève:

Cloud Gestures – A workshop with S. Pohflepp at HEAD – Genève from design research on Vimeo.

More information about  Cloud Gestures on


Cloudified Scenarios – a workshop with James Auger at HEAD – Genève on Vimeo.

More information about Cloudified Scenarios on



Interaction and data interfaces (11.2014 & 11.2015), at ECAL:

Botcaves – a workshop with Matthew Plummer-Fernandez at ECAL on Vimeo.

More information about  Networked Data Objects / Botcaves on


The Everlasting Shadows – a workshop with rAndom International at ECAL from design research on Vimeo.

More information about  The Everlasting Shadow on



Networked and decentralized cloud infrastructures (02.2015), at EPFL-ECAL Lab:

Data territories – a workshop at EPFL-ECAL Lab with ALICE from design research on Vimeo.

More information about  Distributed Data Territories on


I&IC within Poetics and Politics of Data, exhibition at H3K. Pictures

Note: a few pictures from the exhibition “Poetics and Politics of Data” that is currently taking place at the Haus der elektronische Künste in Basel.

With works by artists such as Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Moniker, Aram Bartholl, Ludwig Zeller, Jennifer Lyn Morone, etc., the exhibition gives a sharp view on the production of artists (some of which were presented on this blog) around the contemporary theme of “data”.


We had the pleasure to present the temporary results of our design research as the main part of a scenography created by fabric | ch and accompanied by texts from Nicolas Nova and myself.

Note also that Nicolas Nova will be a speaker during the conference Data Traces: Big Data in the Context of Culture & Society that will take place at the H3K between the 3rd and 4th of July and when a publication will be released: Poetics & Politics of Data, Sabine Himmelsbach & Claudia Mareis, ed. Christoph Merian Verlag, Basel, 2015.

I&IC Workshop #4 with ALICE at EPFL-ECAL Lab: output > Distributed Data Territories

Note: the post I&IC Workshop #4 with ALICE at EPFL-ECAL Lab, brief: “Inhabiting the Cloud(s)” presents the objectives and brief for this workshop.


The week of workshop with ALICE finished with very interesting results and we took the opportunity to “beam” the students presentation to LIFT15, where Patrick Keller and Nicolas Nova were presenting the research project at the same time. The EPFL architecture laboratory already published a post about the workshop on their blog. The final proposals of the intense week of work were centered around the question of territoriality, and how to spread and distribute cloud/fog infrastructures. You can check out the original brief here and a previous post documenting the work in progress there.


Data territories – a workshop at EPFL-ECAL Lab with ALICE from design research on Vimeo.




The students Anne-Charlotte Astrup, Francesco Battaini, Tanguy Dyer and Delphine Passaquay presenting their final proposal on friday (06. 02) in the workshop room of the EPFL-ECAL Lab.



Proposing to make these infrastructures visible raised a flood of questions concerning their social and architectural status. Similarly, it questions several fields about the presence of private data in the public space. How do we represent the data center as a public utility? What types of narratives/usage scenarios emerge from such a proposition? By focusing on different but correlated territorial scales, participants were able to produce scenarios for each case.



The overall Inhabiting the Cloud(s) research sketches on the wall.


Swiss territoriality and scale(s)?

The three distinct territorial scales chosen were the following: the national/regional scale, the village/town or city, and the personal/common habitat scale. The proposals were established on the basis of an analysis of the locality where the workshop was held: the small city of Renens and its proximities. The research process focused on preexisting infrastructures which responded to several criteria necessary to implement server rack structures: access to regular and alternative power sources, access to cooling sources (water and air), preexisting cabled networks and/or main and stable access routes (in the mindset that the telegraph/telephone lines were setup along the train lines), and finally seismic stability as well as a certain security from other natural disasters.

Doing so, it also speculates about the fact that data centers could (should?) partly become public utilities.


Water, water mills?

The first proposition was to rehabilitate old water mills along existing rivers on the countryside leading to cities and villages in the role of “data sorting centers” or “data stream buffers” facilities. As there is no cabling this proposition may seem odd, however especially concerning Switzerland’s topography, the idea is interesting as it investigates several culturally rich aspects, not to mention the abundance of water. The analogy between water streams and network flows seems obvious, but water is also a necessary cooling source for data infrastructures. It could also be considered as a potential energy source. One could even go further and speculate on the potential interactions between the building and wildlife, as in the image used to cover this article published by Icon magazine just a few days ago.


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Water Mills, water cooling scenarios and their local position on the map (around the city of Renens).


Disused post offices?

On the scale of the city, the preexisting infrastructure chosen was the Post Office. Postal services are still functioning, but the buildings are deserted of much of their social interaction with the public since the coming of age of internet access. The buildings are also identically structured on a national scale, which could facilitate implementation. They are strategically positioned and already well equipped with network standards. Moreover, it could revive the social role of the village square, or redefine the city as a radial organization around data (versus spirituality). Amongst the implementations discussed were the ability to use the excess heat to create a micro-climate over the square and the possibility of redefining the public space inside the post office as a Hackerspace and Makers Lab, a bit in the same way libraries function.


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The “front” and “back ends” of most villages’ disused post offices offer quite interesting and appropriate spatial organization, if not metaphors.


Neighborhoods’ nuclear shelters (from the cold war period)?

On the scale of the office or housing building, the nuclear shelter was immediately proposed. In Switzerland, every home is to have a nuclear bomb shelter. This situation is unique in the world, and most obviously, better serves local metal groups and wine cellar enthusiasts then security. Nevertheless, however awkward this may seem, these shelters are almost a blueprint for a personal data center. Every one of them is equipped with high-end air filtering systems, generators for use in case of power outings, and solidity and stability standards set to resist a nuclear attack. This couldn’t become a model for the other countries though…


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The building would therefore embed the capacity to develop it’s own thermal ecosystem alongside the usage of private, communal and public dataspaces.


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This last proposition is finally interesting as it would redefine the organization of the habitat as a radial one, a bit like the students-researchers suggested earlier above for the city. The building could therefore become a transition space in itself between public space, community space and private space. Different directions were also explored with a particular interest on the vernacular “chalet” as a possible candidate for an alpine “meshed data harvesting facilities” scenario.

For now, we’ll stick to the dream that one day, every family in Switzerland will be able to send their kids play in the data center downstairs. But remember: No Ovomaltine on the ethernet hub!





Many thanks to the ALICE team in general and to Prof. Dieter Dietz in particular, Thomas Favre-Bulle for leading the workshop, Caroline Dionne and Rudi Nieveen for organizing it. Thanks to Nicolas Henchoz for hosting us in the EPFL-ECAL Lab, Patrick Keller and Nicolas Nova for their introduction to the stakes of the overall project, Lucien Langton for its hard work, good advices and documentation along the week and last but not least to the students, Anne-Charlotte Astrup, Francesco Battaini, Tanguy Dyer and Delphine Passaquay for their great work and deep thinking proposals.

I&IC Workshop #4 with ALICE at EPFL-ECAL Lab, Work in progress


Above: an illustration of the third scaled model presented further.


As the week unrolls the workshop is starting to produce scenarios. Wednesday (yesterday) we had a quick presentation of the work in progress, which is documented briefly in the current post. Students Delphine Passaquay, Tanguy Dyer, Francesco Battaini & Anne-Charlotte Astrup working on Inhabiting the Cloud(s) as a team developed a global perspective on the subject. Their approach is focusing on four distinct territorial scales in order to question the centralized data center model. While the proposal doesn’t have a name yet, it however clearly speculates about a distributed isotrope network. The student architects focused on the preexisting urban infrastructure in order to establish their proposal.

I&IC Workshop #4 with ALICE at EPFL-ECAL Lab, brief: “Inhabiting the Cloud(s)”

Note: we will start a new I&IC workshop in two weeks (02-06.02) that will be led by the architects of ALICE laboratory (EPFL), under the direction of Prof. Dieter Dietz, doctoral assistant Thomas Favre-Bulle, architect scientist-lecturer Caroline Dionne and architect studio director Rudi Nieveen. During this workshop, we will mainly investigate the territorial dimension(s) of the cloud, so as distributed “domestic” scenarios that will develop symbiosis between small decentralized personal data centers and the act of inhabiting. We will also look toward a possible urban dimension for these data centers. The workshop is open to master and bachelor students of architecture (EPFL), on a voluntary basis (it is not part of the cursus).

A second workshop will also be organized by ALICE during the same week on a related topic (see the downloadable pdf below). Both workshops will take place at the EPFL-ECAL Lab.

I introduce below the brief that has been distributed to the students by ALICE.


Inhabiting the Cloud(s)


Wondering about interaction design, architecture and the virtual? Wish to improve your reactivity and design skills?

Cloud interfaces are now part of our daily experience: we use them as storage space for our music, our work, our contacts, and so on. Clouds are intangible, virtual “spaces” and yet, their efficacy relies on humongous data-centres located in remote areas and subjected to strict spatial configurations, climate conditions and access control.
Inhabiting the cloud(s) is a five days exploratory workshop on the theme of cloud interfacing, data-centres and their architectural, urban and territorial manifestations.
Working from the scale of the “shelter” and the (digital) “cabinet”, projects will address issues of inhabited social space, virtualization and urban practices. Cloud(s) and their potential materialization(s) will be explored through “on the spot” models, drawings and 3D printing. The aim is to produce a series of prototypes and user-centered scenarios.

Participation is free and open to all SAR students.

ATTENTION: Places are limited to 10, register now!
Info and registration: &


Download the two briefs (Inhabiting the Cloud(s) & Montreux Jazz Pavilion)


Laboratory profile

The key hypothesis of ALICE’s research and teaching activities places space within the focus of human and technological processes. Can the complex ties between human societies, technology and the environment become tangible once translated into spatial parameters? How can these be reflected in a synthetic design process? ALICE strives for collective, open processes and non-deterministic design methodologies, driven by the will to integrate analytical, data based approaches and design thinking into actual project proposals and holistic scenarios.






Nicolas Henchoz

Based in Lausanne, the EPFL+ECAL Lab was founded by Nicolas Henchoz in 2003 to explore the potential of emerging technologies. Its mission is to foster innovation at the point where technology, design and architecture overlap.

Under Nicholas’s direction The Lab’s activities are focused on three main concerns. First, to develop practical, real-world applications for technologies developed in the scientific labs. Secondly, to drive innovation by widening the scope of designers’ work. Thirdly, to form new links and develop synergy between researchers and wider society seeking technological and other innovative solutions.

One key area of exploration is augmented reality which developed into an exhibition, Gimme More, in New York earlier this year. It is part of a project aiming to better understand how augmented reality can be developed into a medium in its own right.

Nicholas Henchoz’s teaching and research concerns include augmented reality, innovation management and material science. He has been named among Bilan’s “300 Most Influential People in Switzerland”. The EPFL+ECAL Lab is a unit of the Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne – Europe’s leading research & development university –  in co-operation with the Ecole Cantonale d’Art de Lausanne.


Contact: nicolas[dot]henchoz[at]epfl[dot]ch