Tag: research

Publication about Genetic Constructor

While I was working as a research associate in EGF and DI, I have been working with Autodesk Life Sciences on a new software: Genetic Constructor, developed to support synthetic biologists to design DNA, creating a “new visual language that focuses on functional parts abstracted from sequence”. A paper about it was published at the end of last year in ACS synthetic Biology and I am one of the author, making it my second academic publication after Designing with Living Organisms for RTD.


Genetic Constructor: An Online DNA Design Platform

Maxwell Bates†, Joe Lachoff†, Duncan Meech†, Valentin Zulkower‡, Anaïs Moisy‡, Yisha Luo‡, Hille Tekotte‡, Cornelia Johanna Franziska Scheitz†, Rupal Khilari†, Florencio Mazzoldi†, Deepak Chandran§, and Eli Groban*†

† Autodesk Life Sciences, San Francisco, California 94111, United States
‡ Edinburgh Genome Foundry, School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH9 3BF, U.K.
§ Radiant Genomics, Emeryville, California 94608, United States

ACS Synth. Biol., 2017, 6 (12), pp 2362–2365
DOI: 10.1021/acssynbio.7b00236
Publication Date (Web): October 11, 2017
Copyright © 2017 American Chemical Society


Genetic Constructor is a cloud Computer Aided Design (CAD) application developed to support synthetic biologists from design intent through DNA fabrication and experiment iteration. The platform allows users to design, manage, and navigate complex DNA constructs and libraries, using a new visual language that focuses on functional parts abstracted from sequence. Features like combinatorial libraries and automated primer design allow the user to separate design from construction by focusing on functional intent, and design constraints aid iterative refinement of designs. A plugin architecture enables contributions from scientists and coders to leverage existing powerful software and connect to DNA foundries. The software is easily accessible and platform agnostic, free for academics, and available in an open-source community edition. Genetic Constructor seeks to democratize DNA design, manufacture, and access to tools and services from the synthetic biology community.

Tales of Synthetic Biology

More informations in the report produced along the process.

I imagined an activity composed of cards that allows participants to ‘create’ personalised engineered ‘thing’. They first would have to choose an ‘organism’ and then create a sequence in order to modify it; and finally explain the story behind their creation. Encouraged to reflect on the implications and outcomes (positive and negative) of such creation, it would give both insights of what the general public inspirations for synthetic biology are and a vision of the hopes and fears of the society. Moreover, it would introduce the basic grammar of DNA and its visualisation.
The aim of this activity is not only to inform participants about the processes of DNA design but also to invite reflection on what it means to design through living organisms.



I have conducted a series of interview with biologists to determine what how they would communicate the DNA design process to the general public: how to keep the process simple but accurate and what could be an interesting interaction to understand the principles of synthetic biology (the same interviews helped to develop the ‘Dominoes’ project).

The final design is a set of cards composed of 25 organisms cards (plus 15 blank ones), 8 promoters, 15 coding sequences (CDS) (plus 15 blank ones) & 8 terminator, as well as 53 story cards, allowing the participants to explain the story behind their creation.

I have tested them during 5 sessions (more than 20 people from designers, artists, biologists, engineers, technicians…) and twice during Louise Mackenzie ‘Transformation – Thinking Through Making With Life transgenic bio-art’ workshops at ASCUS lab Summerhall as part of Edinburgh International Science Festival 2017.



In total I collected: 36 stories, 10 new CDSs and 5 new organisms.

There is no clear tendency in the answers, same range of fantasy story (8%) than proposal for health (7%). Being able to gather more data would help to identify a trend (if there is one). I could imagine developing a webapp, where users could create in the same way (with drag and drop) sequences and write stories link to them. Then, they could share them on social media.
In addition, it would allow to collect thoughts, reactions from the comments and like section. A very small questionnaire after the activity could also help to gather the data from the type of story produced, allowing live data analysis.

Half of the stories are human-centred, while only one quarter would modify human. It suggests that most of the modi cation imagined would be beneficial for humans even if an animal or a plant is the target of the modi cation.

Even though I encouraged to reflect on the consequences (advantages, risks…) on the story card, only 3 stories have a sentence about it. To get more insight on this aspect and encourage broader reflection, designing a longer activity would be necessary.
The sequence and the story would be the first chapter, then the participant of the workshop could have to spot what are the elements part of the ecosystem of this organism and relations with some aspects of human society: cultural effects, group behaviour, social change, social trade-offs, political and economic systems, social conflict, global interdependence… It would be asked to reflect on these connections and establish where could be the potential risks, dangers, uncertainties but also advantages, benefits or values. Each group could analyse the sequence of other groups. From that – chapter 3 – they would come back to their original design and have to change it, taking into consideration the observations from chapter 2. A second iteration of
the second chapter and a third iteration of the sequence could be considered. It would help to illustrate that each choice creates new conditions and entanglements with other factors which result in more constrains in the design.
The aim would be to emphasise the interconnectivity of ecosystems and human society, and how synthetic biology could become an important source of disturbance and that each new design should be carefully considered.




In order to allow to reflect on some of the stories already created, promote the project and share the ideas, I have decided to illustrate some of the cards. We could imagine a series of ‘postcards from the future’ as a series of illustration, promoted on a dedicated website or in an exhibition during a scientific conference, where these stories could be the starting point to discuss public opinion and ideas on synthetic biology as well as the implications of the discipline in human society and on natural ecosystem.



The next step in the development of this project would be to redesign the cards and create a game. Some aspects have already been explore with the help of Erika Szymanski, Research Fellow, Science, Technology & Innovation Studies at the University of Edinburgh.


It has been more than a month that I finished my dissertation. But better later than never…

Here is the abstract and you can click on the cover bellow to access it.

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 15.18.23By obfuscating what western human being take for granted, such as the knowledge offered to us by maps, clocks, or more recently electronic de- vices, my research aims to reveal how technology fails to give us the ‘god’s eye view’ that it promises. This dissertation presents three of my projects: MyMap, Circadian Clock and SAAD, which encourage people to reflect on how we might overcome the challenges that modern technology puts in front of us, in order to reconnect with others and nature.
This dissertation explores the concept of borders; physical, symbolic, invis- ible or psychological, which I would argue are partly responsible for ‘dim- ming’ our perspective of the world. The research and projects, allowed me to develop the concept of ‘Design Geography’, which I define as the prac- tice to mediate the value of human interaction with others and the natural environment, using design processes.


Essay Circadian clock

I invite you to read the reflective essay I wrote around the process I went through to make my Circadian clock.

Find the PDF to read it formatted and get the sources of the images.



United Nations Environment Programme claims climate change is the major environmental crisis of our time (2013). Emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history, impacted people and ecosystem (Intergovernmental panel on Climate change, 2014). It is unequivocal that it will cause long-lasting changes (Intergovernmental panel on Climate change, 2014; United Nations Environment Programme, 2013). Human activities contribute to climate change by creating a large amounts of greenhouse gases, aerosols and cloudiness, mainly coming from the burning of fossil fuels, releasing carbon dioxide gas to the atmosphere (Solomon et al., 2007).

As a result, scientists observe and project increases in temperature, sea level and precipitation variable, which will altered the availability, distribution and quality of water (Kundzewicz et al., 2007). In consequences, water is becoming the primary medium through which climate change influences Earth’s ecosystem, therefore the livelihood and well-being of societies, affecting all natural, social and economic systems (UN-Water, 2010). According to MIT researchers, by 2050 more than half the world’s population will live in water-stressed areas and about a billion or more will not have sufficient water resources (Roberts, 2014). Currently, it is 748 million people around the world who lack access to safe water, that is to say one in ten of the world’s population (WaterAid, 2015). Living in Scotland, well know for his shower rain therefore its high water availability and quality, it is difficult to conceive that in Bangladesh some family have to travel for 30km to collect poor quality water once every ten days (WaterAid, 2015).

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The artist Didier Madoc-Jones do the same statement of fact: “when you live in London, when you hear reports of people suffering in other parts of the world, you can easily forget about those things and put them to one side” (Peters, 2014). To react to this observation, he developed in collaboration with Robert Graves the work ‘Postcards From the Future’. They created images representing imaginative future scenes from London according to different scientific projections, hoping it will make an impact.


It is one of many project trying to heighten public awareness of on climate change issue. Another example is the recent project by the artist Artist Olafur Eliasson and geologist Minik Rosing. They are trying to raise awareness on climate change in the public, assuming that ‘felt’ knowledge can encourage action. They made the installation ice watch in Copenhagen city hall square, where they installed 100 tones of inland ice collected form a fjord in Greenland. The blocks are there as ‘a physical wake-up call that temperatures are rising’, making the climate changes tangible (Azzarello, 2014).


water1water2Water can be described as the lifeblood of the planet, indispensable for all forms of life, serving as the fundamental link between the climate system, human society and the environment (UN-Water, 2010). Moreover, water is interesting to focus on, because it is a marker of equality between all humans. Indeed, our body is composed of 70% of water (Burtynsky & Baichwal, 2013), which means we are all similar up to 70%, no matter the origin or the status we have in society. As a matter of fact, the principles of humanity, stating that human beings have the right to life with dignity (The Sphere Project, 2011, p. 243), and in consequence have access to safe freshwater, safe drinking water and sanitation as it is now regarded as a universal human right (Kundzewicz et al., 2007; United Nations Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, 2003; United Nations Development Programme, 2006).

In regard to these facts, ‘we’ as human, are largely responsible for the fate of our planet and has the duty and power as individuals to act for a greater good and a better future. The goal of this project is to highlight that we are part of a whole and encourage people to find a harmonious and sustainable relationship with planet Earth. The ambition is to foster reflections on the long term consequences of our actions/inactions/behaviours and the butterfly effect each can have, to raise awareness of our right, duty and power as an individual to act for a greater good and a better future.



The first idea to foster reaction was to create an interactive installation called ‘The world as turntable’ composed of 4 turntables representing 4 countries around the world.  Each would play a record engraved with a melody played by a typical instrument All would turn at a different speed corresponding to the environmental footprint of each country. If we all continue to live as we do, we would need 1.5 planets to provide our needs, and Europe would need 2.5 planets (WWF, 2015). The idea is to make the turntable faster related to this idea resulting on a cacophony and visualise the fact that the world is not going well.



The issue with this proposal is that it might be too consensual. No one will ever have the same rights, the same way of living. Therefore, this installation is looking at the world on an equal point of view instead looking at it on an equity point of view. Like equity (see work of Elena Kovylina in St. Petersburg, picture on the left), aiming to understand and give people what they need to enjoy full and healthy lives, equality aims to promote fairness and justice, but it can only work if everyone starts from the same place and needs the same things, which is not possible in our society (Stevenson, 2010). Moreover, an other issue with this installation is that harmony is difficult to define — it is not only fast and slow — and can be seen differently depending on the individual.

At this stage, these observations raise the following question: how can I develop awareness on the current world situation without being consensual and sermoniser ?

There is urgency to act and fast according the scientific community (Gore, 2006). However, Dr. Martin Patchen argues that “a large amount of people seem to be little concerned about climate change and little inclined to take personal actions, or to support policies, that can counter such change” (2006). Ecosystems — the complex interdependent webs of living organisms and natural resources — play a critical role in supporting human wellbeing and driving economic growth through the valuable services they provide such as food, water for drinking and irrigation, pollination and climate regulation. Yet human society has systematically undermined these natural allies, treating forests, arable land and rivers as though they are inexhaustible (United Nations Environment Programme, 2013). The issue is that these resources are not infinite as highlighted previously, but are still essential for our survival .

From these considerations I started to search for a design solution to make individuals act for the better good of the planet. I started questioning what are the possible actions and when there would be time to achieve them, or at least think about the issues. To find these moments I conducted two different studies.

The first one was to investigate around jobs which involve a lot of waiting, with ‘fallow time’ period and find out how do they occupy their time, when there is ‘nothing’ to do. Like taxi driver, lollypops lady… and lifeguard. I decided to focus on Lifeguard, as I have been one for 8 years. It consists of spending hours waiting: with and inert body, however the mind is constantly in alert to identify someone needing help. Most of the interventions are preventives, so the job could be compared to ‘Minority report’: lifeguards alert or even punish before problems arise, trying to visualise what could happen in the future, preventing potential accidents.
The question I am asking from these observations is : As the Lifeguard do, should we all keep an eye, not on people swimming, but on the planet and prevent disaster ?  Could we all become PLANETguard ? And how to get people to watch and prevent the disaster in every day life?

earth_planet guard

To get answers I sent a questionnaire to 5 of my colleagues in France. The questions are around the way they invigilate the swimming pool, how they manage to stay focussed, and how they detect that something bad could happen. Finally I asked if they needed a tool or an invention to help them to do a better job. In the answers I had, they insist a lot on the observation and prevention. They believe that concentration comes with experience and you develop the ability to detect problem before they arrive, developing a 6th sense in time. To do the job well they recommend to move, be in action, fight against monotony. Prevention is their key word. As suggestion to improve the surveillance they would like to instal camera under the water, give a better education to the people, and a good one is create bionics ears to detect calls for help.
In addition to the questionnaire I asked them to attach a camera to the chair from where they work to film them in order to analyse the face and the surveillance method. Even if there is not a lot of people to look after at the time the video has been taken, the two lifeguards have their eyes almost constantly on the pool. They seem relaxed at first but when you zoom on the eyes you can detect the concentration.


My conclusion from this first study is that education is a key solution in the journey to educate ourselves to look after ecosystem. A 6th sense should be part of each of us, making everyone act for the best of the planet without even realising it.

people listening to tree.psd

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 17.45.16From this first assumption, I got the idea to create a device to develop the sixth sense: I wanted to hack a stethoscope to make it a tool to listen to the nature. Like a person gasping for air when it’s in short supply, living trees make noises when they are running out of water, and a team of French scientists is a step closer to pinpointing the noises (Howell, 2013). The participative installation by the Artist Alex Metcalf: Tree Listening Project, already explores this idea. The work allows visitors to listen to the sounds of trees (water being pulled up from the roots to the leaves through the xylem tubes) from headphones hanging from the trees branches. The project aims to provide an experience that links both science and art, hoping to develop into the public a keen interest in trees (Metcalf, 2007).

By making people listen to nature for real, it could help to encourage to reflect on our relation with the planet. It could contribute to make people remember that it is our one and only host. The issue with this proposal is that it would be an accessory and ephemeral experience, which could have an impact but only on a very small part of the society. It might be worth exploring to be developed for educational purpose in primary school.

The other conclusion the study can give is that we should not stay in our comfort zone. Recalling the advice from the interview, we should be in movement, fighting against monotony which make us forget about what is outside our daily life.

However it is difficult to break the routine. Looking at the problem from another point of view, instead of breaking it I started thinking how I could use routines to foster environmentally friendly actions.

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Some tools have already been created to make people participate to greater action by accomplishing usual or easy tasks. The first services I came across are the ‘Green Search Engines’. These sites are similar to other search engines (google, yahoo…) , however they divert advertising dollars back into charitable causes. One example is Ecosia which plant trees with 80% of its surplus income (Ecosia, n.d.).

Another possibility is taking the concept of the Mechanical truck from amazon (crowdsourcing Internet marketplace that enables individuals and businesses to coordinate the use of human intelligence to perform tasks that computers are currently unable to do (Amazon, 2005)) or the SETI project (scientific experiment that uses Internet-connected computers in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI)(SETI, n.d.)) to make individual do a small task that will have a huge impact if made by the population.


This led to the second study, where I questioned the habits and routines of people trying to find out how individuals occupy their time nowadays. My goal was to spot if there is still time for reflection and for actions. I was particularly interested to find where are the ‘in-between’ moments. I created these little cards ‘TIME FLIES’ where people are asked for 2 consecutive days to colours their time line, and where the actions are taking places. For each day they can propose an alternative day, asking themselves at the end of the day the question : what would I have done differently? The back of the cards were made with data about the state of the planet. I wanted to see if quantitative information would have made the participant questioned their behaviours and if it would have influenced the results for the alternative day. Moreover, I wanted to compare if the fact of asking an alternative day, influenced the second day. I got 27 participants to fill the cards.

From the results I noticed that most people didn’t report any inactivity. Also, the action of ‘reading’ appears in what they ‘wish to do’, but almost no one find the time to read during usual days, or they favour another activity (spending time on smartphone, tablets, TV…). In the comments, some people pointed out that it was interesting to get the opportunity to reflect and think about what we actually do in our days and that is it hard to change bad habits. Someone said that it is difficult to track what we do, but also remember it. We are so much in the flow of our day that we don’t even realise what we accomplish. Thinking of an alternative day doesn’t seem to affect the second day, in the same way as the data I put at the back. An interesting discovery was that what is considered as activities is different from one participant to another. For some the action of eating, sanitation, travel have been not evoked; while some others tell precisely when they were in the toilet or even have sex. A common finding was that very few people had inactivity. We all have some time in a day where we do noting, but this study show that either we don’t really realise it, or there is no moment to do nothing nowadays.

Another noticeable difference was between people with a job and students. The ‘workers’ have more routine days than students. It brings out these questions: Is the fact to have commitment only for ourselves and not for an employer, would make ‘students’ less well-behaved ? Do we need to get paid to have discipline ? Or maybe the routine dictated by company work is not equal to productivity, and a student can be as productive, or more productive than a worker without a routine ?

From the results coming out from the ‘alternative days’, I could divided the participant in to two categories: half would like to do more shopping and leisure and the other half more sport or reading. It suggests that half of the participants is more willing to adopt a lifestyle construct on consumption behaviour (Røpke, 1999), while the other half would be more concerned to have a “green lifestyle” (Kahle & Gurel-Atay, 2013). It is quite representative of today’s society.

This experience put me back into reality: it made me remember that it is extremely  difficult to change the habits of people and intervene in there everyday life. If I want to make refection on our action on the ‘planet’ it is not on work time: the mind is not receptive, and working tasks are prioritised. Moreover, I want to keep the in-between moments, as I believe that they are important and already very little.


I deducted that the best place to foster reflection on our connection and the effect of human action on ecosystem seems to either at home or in the ‘in between’ places. It would allow me to infer a message on the everyday life, not something intrusive like the quantified self, but something more subtle: ‘it’ would be here to remember ‘something’ about the planet but also, ‘It’ would blend in the environment like a painting or a sculpture.

An example of such object would be the ice pendant lamp. Swedish designers Siri Bahlenberg and Sofia Bergfeldt have created a lampshade made of ice that slowly melts back into its mould so it can be re-frozen and used again. They want to awaken reflection and awareness about the consumption of everyday objects that often are taken for granted (Treggiden, 2015).



From these latest observations and coming back to my initial goal, that is to say  foster reflection and make people remember that natural resources are not inexhaustible and we have responsibility to act, I developed the concept of a personal water leaking sandglass. A sandglass is meant to give the time like it is indefinite, but what if it was leaking ? Adaptation to climate change is closely linked to water and its role in sustainable development (UN-Water, 2010). Water is very symbolic as it is essential to our survival and it is taken for granted in western countries as argued previously. The amount of water inside the sandglass would be equivalent on the volume available on earth/per person, and would leak in accordance of the diminishing of the resource. The choice of making a personal object meant to be at home is supported  by the fact that a house is an expression of identity. It is a site of memory “filled with objects to remind them of family and event” (Blunt & Dowling, 2006). Having such an object would emphasis the personality of the owner. The object itself will be host of event and memories. However, it also means that this kind of object would be have for target green activists mostly. Moreover it conveys a dramatic message. Having had conversations with different people, some argue that the ecological situation on earth is so alarming that it is the time to deliver the brutal and choking message to raise awareness. Others, would argue that fear tactic will put off people and lead to inaction and fatalism. They are convinced that most people prefer to bury one’s head in the sand. It is also my personal opinion, as I believe that otherwise most people would already have reacted. That is why I am still seeking for a more subtle way to encourage reflection and action toward ecosystem. Instead of putting forward the disaster we produce, I decided to find a way to reemphasise the fact that we are part of the nature we destroy. From that I am hopping to make people remember that our action on ecosystem have a direct impact on human life.



One of the idea was to show this inextricable link we have with nature by showing that our rhythm are interconnected. I wanted to build a clock made with 3 cogs: the gear driver would make turn the arm representative of the ‘planet’; making turn a transitional one (to make the two other turn on the same direction), making turn a third one with an arm for ‘human’. The challenges were to find data which would give me a duration of the cycle of a natural resource in nature and compare it with a cycle in  human body, allowing me to determine the speed and the number of teeth for each cog. The message I wanted to foster was that humans, like nature, have inner clocks, and each component of our body is regulated by cycle: blood in our vein, heart beat, water and oxygen coming in and out in a cycle. Moreover the underline message was that if the gear driver stop (the planet one), the human gear will stop too. I choose water again for the same reason as previously and I investigate the time it stay in the body, the duration it takes to be fully assimilated… I researched the same for plants and trees, looking at the cycle from assimilation to transpiration. I also looked into the cycle of water and the time it stay in rivers, atmosphere, seas… The issue was that all the data I found was approximative and depend on the person, on the tree, the climate condition. Too many parameters had to be considered for each calculation, which made impossible to get a precise universal duration and rhythm which would have make sense to link human and nature. Therefore, this idea did not succeeded, however it made me start researching around the concept of time. I knew the answer was to find an alternative way of conveying a sense of time which would revive the connection between humans and nature.

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Multiple objects have been created to tell the time: the hourglass (uniform interval of time), sundials (indicate moments in time but not short uniform durations ), clepsydra (represent long intervals but not moments in time, and they are not uniform), cockcrow, metronomes (isochronous but do not indicate moments in time ), water clock (Birth, 2012). The primary use of time is to provide methods of enabling and managing the timing of encounters, meetings, tasks and activities (Bastian, 2012).

According to the designer Larissa Pschetz there is three key principles for working critically with time in design: “1) identification of dominant narratives and an attempt to challenge them, so as to reveal more nuanced expressions of time; 2) drawing attention to specific alternative temporalities; 3) exposing networks of temporalities, so as to illustrate multiplicity and variety” ( Pschetz, 2014).

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 09.29.12Designers, artists and activists developed products and projects to challenge the usual clock-time, this field is called ‘temporal design’. Examples would be ‘a clock that knits’ by Siren Elise Wilhelmsen, demonstrating the passage of time (Wilhelmsen, 2010); the ‘manifold clock’ by Studio Ve, aiming to emphasise the ever changing yet remains the same property of time (Studio Ve, 2010); or ‘The Present’ by Scott Thrift, offering a way of rooting oneself in a time that operates on a different scale, placing the viewer in a ‘present’ that lasts a season rather than a second (Thrift, 2011).

“Every clock tells a story. Every clock takes a position in a debate about time. Every clock is an attempt to shape how people think about time” (Birth, 2012).

In accordance with Aristotle, our capacity to perceive time is interlinked with our capacity to perceive change: a “before” and “after”. Clocks can be understood as devices for providing communities with continuous and predictable “befores” and “afters”; enabling us to reliably notice change and so perceive time as passing (Bastian, 2012). For Einstein a clock is “a thing which automatically passes in succession through (practically) equal series of events (period). The number of periods (clock-time) elapsed serves as a measure of time” (Birth, 2012, p. 37).

Birth argues that we should reserve the term ‘clock’ specifically for devices that are “isochronic and determine duration and timing through the scalability of uniform intervals” (Birth, 2012, p. 2),

Clocks are an ever-present element of personal and public life, it is one of the first object people looked at every morning. However, they have primarily served as symbols of oppression. Foucault even argues that clock time destroys humanity (Matz, 2009, p. 836). Nevertheless, Bastian claims that clock time doesn’t need to be fundamentally about linear, objective time, or even necessarily capitalist time, but has the potential to be redesigned, having the potential of being used as a support for being creative and critical tools (2015).

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 17.45.59Concerning the design of clocks, it is important to keep in mind that clocks are conventions. Online image searches for ‘time’, for example, return pages and pages of standard clock faces. This suggests that the clock face has become so tied to dominant ideas of time in Western cultures that there may be little room to shift its semiotics (Bastian, 2015). That does not prevent us from designing new ways of telling the time, moving away from absolute commensurability and predictability of current clock, reducing “the time” to a sequence of numbers. Bastian proposed to think about new kinds of clocks that could be produced to “coordinate” ourselves with and through other relations within our world (2012).

It is particularly important in the current time: far from being able to coordinate our actions with the significant changes our world is currently undergoing, we are increasingly out of sync, forgetting that we are part of it.

There are two ways of thinking toward the fact we are out of sync: the first one is to think that mankind who has become slow-moving and seemingly unchanging (McKibben, 2008). The second one is that our experience of time is too accelerated and short term. This trend gave birth to the slow movement (Honoré, 2004) and particularly slow design (Hallnäs & Redström, 2001), leading on projects seeking to support more contemplative experiences, encouraging a wider environmental awareness and to reshape everyday behaviours (Strauss & Fuad-Luke, 2008). The installation “Temps Imparti“ by Jean Bernard Metais illustrate this movement, inviting us to slow down our own tempo (Metais, 2009), just as the ’10,000 year clock’ designed to be a symbol for long-term thinking (Bezos, 2011).

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As mentioned above, our conventions for coordinating ourselves—for telling the time—are thus simply not adequate in the current context. This inability humanity has to respond swiftly and proportionately to the massive ecological changes currently taking place, environmentalist Bill McKibben argues that it is due to the implicit distinction Western societies make between the time of culture and the time of nature (2008), making ‘human time’ being isolated from ‘environmental time’. Rather than coordinating our lives with and through a stable and predictable atom, augmented by the movements of a planet around a star, it would be more interesting to try to coordinate our lives with something less predictable, highlighting who or what is in relation with other things or beings (Bastian, 2012).

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 09.29.42Some designers, scientists and artists get down to propose answers to the issue of telling the time in the context of global warming. The San Jose Climate Clock Initiative propose a completion to create installation to gather and display climate change merging public art and technologies (Siembieda, Rubin, Slayton, Goldstein, & Sicat, 2012). It results in very complex ever-changing installation like the ‘Organograph’ or the ‘Huey-Dewey-Louie’. There is other and more accessible projects like the ‘Doomsday Clock’ communicating how close we are to destroying our civilisation with dangerous technologies of our own making (nuclear weapons, climate-changing technologies, emerging biotechnologies, and cyber-technology) (The Bulletin, n.d.), just as the ‘One Hundred Months project’ telling us that this current time of climate change is both non-linear and finite, recalling that “everything that we do from now matters” (New Economics Foundation, 2011).

In both of these last examples, clocks no longer tell ‘the time’ but instead ask questions about it, delivering a frightening message. In contrary to I would like to build the relationship between the ‘inner time’ of subjective experience and the ‘outer time’ of the world, as the previous example in my opinion push us away from acting, making us spectators of the disaster and is not building a connection to make us actor.

They are again objects based on “ideas of time deliberately divorced from terrestrial experience” (Birth, 2012, p. 2). By creating objects of time, humans created a system of time, different from the one animals use, abstracted and elaborated in a way that they no longer correspond to apprehensible cycles and rhythms in the environment (Birth, 2012, p. 17).


Seasons, cycle of plants, day light are some of the natural cycles. The complexity of modern life means that humans are no longer influenced by these cycles, and technology gives the illusion that we are the architects of our environment and are no longer slaves to the cycles of nature (Thomas, 2013). However, we have internal clock, and the 24-hour cycle called circadian rhythms influence our physiology and behaviour (Barkai & Leibler, 2000; National Institute of General Medical Sciences, 2012; Thomas, 2013). If our daily routines fall out of sync with our body clocks, sleep, metabolic and other disorders can result. Circadian rhythms are used by a wide range of organisms to anticipate daily changes in the environment from cyanobacteria, plants to mammals (Barkai & Leibler, 2000). Plants open and close their petals with the sun, activities associated with photosynthesis synchronise the release of fragrances and pollens according to the time of day (Thomas, 2013).

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 09.30.04From these information, Linnaeus imagined a flower clock. He argued that because of the daily blooming cycles of certain flowers, it is possible to predict when a specie would open and when it would close, given the possibility to give the time from the different flowers (Birth, 2012, p. 47). A more recent example is Bril’s Coniferous Clock, create from coniferous leaves that brown slowly over 365 days, making the owner able to feel the seasons in his homes as if he was in forests (Treggiden, 2014).


The sleep–wake cycle is the most obvious and extensively studied of the circadian rhythms amongst humans, as light is influencing it the most (National Institute of General Medical Sciences, 2012). But most humans tend to ignore the intricacies and demands of their circadian cycles (Thomas, 2013). Birth even suggests that change between daylight saving time and standard time will not even be noticed, as modern cognitive processes have been trained to ignore environmental time cues (Birth, 2012, p. 40).

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 09.29.56Uji wall clock heartbeat is an attempt to remember us that we are clock ourselves, by displaying your heartbeat instead of the time (Quah, 2014). Cohen’s Artificial Biological Clock is going further by constantly remembering of the temporary and fragile nature of fertility. It is an attempt to compensate the increasingly lost of instinct of female body. The clock seeks the attention of the owner when she is physically, mentally and financially ready to conceive a baby (Cohen, 2008).

The differences and tensions between solar cycles and work rhythms measuring duration suggest that the representation of time can be a loose collection of lunar cycles, seasonal cycles, the circadian rhythms of humans and animals, and mechanical means of ideas and perceptions and not a coherent cultural system. (Birth, 2012, pp. 3-4)

Birth argues the use of bioindicators operates in a very different way to the traditional clock (Birth, 2012, pp. 159-160). He identifies the clock’s isochronism as particularly problematic for research on ‘body clocks’. Biological organisms respond to the variability of the cycles of light and dark, both on a day-to-day and seasonal basis, when technology need isochronic timescales to function (Birth, 2012, p. 9). Trying to mix both would suggest polyrhythmic timing (Birth, 2012, p. 8). Given these factors Birth suggests a process he calls ‘triangulation’ which involves using different sources of information to determine the right moment, such as the use of solar, lunar and weekly cycles to determine Easter Sunday (Birth, 2012, p. 7). It is what I want to suggest, I don’t want to replace the clock time we all use everyday, but propose a complementary one, based on the light cycle, in order to resynchronise ourselves with our natural internal clock. What I want to create is what Vygotsky called a psychological tools. These are “artificial formations…directed toward the mastery of [mental] processes—one’s own or someone else’s— just as technical devices are directed toward the mastery of processes of nature” (Vygotsky, 1981, p. 85). That is to say, a clock that will allow individuals to resynchronise with natural cycle, in my case light cycle to resynchronise with our circadian rhythm, and widely nature.

In medieval times, they were doing it naturally, using canonical hours: the length of the hours were being tied to the amount of daylight—something that varies considerably with the seasons and latitude (Birth, 2012, pp. 19, 49-51). Looking at it from our point of view it was more complicated than modern timekeeping by clock time that relies on uniformity.

For long, time consciousness of the Middle Ages was simply not translatable into clock time, as it wasn’t embedded in the logic of design of our modern clocks, that is to say with isochronic timescales (Birth, 2012, p. 52). It is now possible with very affordable technology.






I created a light and night clock (the needle has a 360 degree rotation during sunlight and another revolution during nighttime), seeking to encourage a wider environmental awareness and to reshape everyday behaviours. It emphasises that we are part of nature with a natural cycle and that we don’t listen anymore in the modern way of living. This project aims to coordinate ourselves in a more adequate way, weaving ‘human time’ with ‘environmental time’, particularly important in the current context of environmental and social crisis.

I created two different face of the clock, one in plywood for indoor public places and mirror acrylic one for outdoor.


As described previously, clocks are ever-present elements of personal and public life.

From the study “Time Flies” I found that there is little chance to interfere in private life or modify routine. By using public spaces and in-between places I can engage stakeholders. Urban installations exhibiting objective data have the potential to elicit reflection, change or action, playing a critical role in the construction and reflection of social behaviour  (Claes & Vande Moere, 2013; Galloway, 2004).

The image engraved on the clocks are drawings of lace lichen. They are one of the most documented bio-indicators. Usually growing on Oak tree, their diversity correlates directly with air quality and human health. It is view as the symbol of  wisdom of time, an evolving barometer of climatic change, a biological indicator (Bardell, Bucknum, & Howe, 2012).



The clock is composed of a stepper motor of 200 steps, an Arduino YUN, a motor shield, a battery pack and a NeoPixel Ring. It is connected to the WIFI and will be able to geo-localise itself in the future. For now the location is given to the program, then from this information, it gets the time of sunrise, sunset and the actual clock time from the online data base. The rate of each step is calculated depending of the length of day light or night, allowing the needle to do 360 degrees in day time and the same in night time. The user will be able to see when looking at the clock if there is more or less of the day remaining with light in comparison with what already passed.



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