University of California, Davis
One Shields Avenue
Davis, CA 95616

Helen Koo and Brett Snyder

Team Members
Domocracy Team
Bret Yourstone
Rong Ben
Malak Dirdiry
Michelle Lee
Marissa Meier
Jacqueline Truong Su
Katherine Ta
Dat Vo


CONNECT 2016 - University of California Davis CONNECT 2016 - University of California Davis
(717 KB),  23-Oct-2016 09:09 PM

UC Davis Design’s submission to CONNECT at SOFA CHICAGO is called Domocracy, and consists of a circular seating area built from CNC-milled plywood and stretched translucent fabric. As we began brainstorming possible themes for our installation, we decided to look at UC Davis as an institution to understand what makes our experience as design students unique. Possible ideas ranged from the interdisciplinary nature of the university to themes based on our location in Northern California. Due to student protests on our campus over recent years we settled on highlighting the role of freedom of speech. We also looked to structures on our own campus—the UC Davis Domes—to inspire the design of the installation’s form. Every element of the design references the core value of free speech within our community while taking inspiration from some key components that make the UC Davis campus unique. 

The design of every CONNECT installation is required to incorporate seating, lighting, and somehow represent the participating institution. We have designed a domed seating area, covered in fabric, with all the seating located inside the dome, facing inwards. Within Domocracy, the central rounded seating area is designed to put everyone on an equal level, giving a space for his or her voice to be heard. As a public university, freedom of speech is extremely important to everyone in the community. Especially over the past few years at UC Davis, the freedoms of speech and assembly have actually resulted in change on our campus. Our seating area represents the importance of free speech on a public campus like UC Davis, and attempts to stimulate a conversation by encouraging discourse within the space itself. 
The dome itself is inspired by the UC Davis Domes, a sustainable living community on campus that is unique to our university. The structure is also inspired by the geodesic dome perfected by Buckminster Fuller in the mid-1950s. UC Davis underwent a massive period of growth and expansion in the 1950s and 1960s, and many of the buildings on campus are distinctly mid-century in architecture. 

Our installation, made of fiberglass poles, plywood and wrapped in fabric, the dome creates a “soft space”. The stretched semi-translucent fabric allows the light to play up into the dome structure, as we attempt stimulate conversation. The plywood base provides a sturdy foundation, while the fiberglass rods extend upwards and create tension for the fabric to be fastened. This creates an immersive environment where the audience is put into the story of the relationship between UC Davis and freedom of speech. The dome structure in Domocrac” not only references this unique living community on our campus, but also ties into the greater history of design by referencing the time period in which much of UC Davis was built. 

The wooden structural framework of Domocracy has been inspired by flat-pack construction methods and Japanese joinery, techniques that involves interlocking materials together to maximize stability and material-efficiency. After researching and studying existing techniques, we began to explore ways in which our design could maintain itself while supporting human weight. Our earliest cardboard models developed into rapid prototypes on the CNC mill to find which design is most reliable. Many of our early models included individually designed seats attempting to stimulate various points of repose and posture. The original idea was for the seating itself to stimulate discourse within the space, but we felt that was ineffective and began to look too cluttered. We felt this design did not create a cohesive, unified seating area and instead redesigned the seating into a singular, adaptable profile.

Each profile of the seating arrangement is attached to its counterparts with an arc, a track that forms a 20-foot circle holding a profile every 20 degrees. The track is then locked into place by both vertical and horizontal stabilizing pieces that slide into place. Both the track and stabilizing pieces are made of plywood. The idea behind the design is to minimize the tools and hardware needed to assemble and support the whole installation. Although this will increase the weight of the installation, this maintains the idea of simplicity and interaction of materials. The use of plywood also connects to the structure of the dome, unifying the entire structure into a cohesive environment. Because we are breaking down the installation and reassembling it on site, we want to minimize the amount of hardware. By using the Japanese style joinery, we create a structurally sound seating area, with quick assembly time when we get to the convention hall. 

In order to keep the track off the ground, we have been experimenting with different methods of joinery, as well as considering using coated metal cables that will also suspend the seating fabric. The suspended cables not only hold the fabric in place and create enough tension for a human to sit, but also allow the lighting design to shine through the semi-translucent fabric. The intent is for the seating, lighting, and story to be as unified and simple as possible, and create an immersive experience contained within the structure.

Domocracy incorporates responsive lighting. The volume of the conversation and the presence of people utilizing the seats are factors in influencing the two light sources outputs. Our lighting consists of two individual sets of lights, one will be overhead lighting positioned in the dome that are manipulated by the motion sensors placed on the framing of the seating. The second set of lighting is be integrated in the wooden frame seating and is manipulated by the audio data that is recorded by the live microphone hanging within the structure. The lighting offers additional project collaborations, with support from the California Lighting and Technology Center.

The programming language, Arduino, is being utilized to interact with the data recorded from the installation that manipulates the intensity of the various lights. The code is in Arduino, and speaks to the electrical hardware embedded within the structure after being downloaded into the chip that records the audio data as well as communicate with the motion sensors. There is a set of ranges that will be pre-determined and coded so when the data is received from the microphone, each value falls into a certain range. Each of these ranges corresponds to a different level of intensity for the lighting integrated in the wooden frame seating. Using sensor technology, we are able to see how many people are seated at one time, and allow the lighting to react accordingly. These motion sensors are situated upon the framing of the seating and are able to tell when the fabric of the seating dips down in front of a sensor. The programming for the motion sensor is in binary code to determine whether the fabric is in front of the sensor or not and that in turn affects the intensity of the overhead light. The biggest challenge we face is to be able to properly combine the Arduino programming and the hardware to interact correctly with one another. By themselves, we have been able to produce desirable results but we have yet to put it all together to see how the code and the hardware intermingle.

Our intent with Domocracy is to tell a unified and cohesive story through the materials, design, and interaction with our audience. Our vision is not just a passive seating area, but one that allows for the audience to interact and change the environment by talking or sitting. As a public university, the right for students to express their opinions and stand up for what they believe in is a crucial element to UC Davis. Domocracy attempts to stimulate conversation by allowing those within the physical structure to have their own space to speak their mind, and participate in a productive discourse. Every design decision we have made goes back to this story and theme, and creates a unique and dynamic space at SOFA CHICAGO.


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