Unresolved Ironies, 2018

MFA thesis

+ Speculative Design
+ Interactive Architecture
+ Brain Computer Interface

+ Arduino
+ MindFlex
+ Interactive Prototype
+ Video

Unresolved Ironies imagines a future when physical spaces are able to reflect one’s “Han,” which is an unresolved emotional irony in Korean culture. Psychosomatic symptoms of Han are called “Hwabyung”, and are commonly described as “the body is not listening.” If the body is an extension of built architectural spaces, Unresolved Ironies proposes three different physical spaces that ‘listen’ to one’s Han. Therapeutic performances are based on spatial reconstruction from an audience’s brainwaves (EEG headset), orchestrated by auditory, olfactory and tactile experiences that are displayed to alleviate one’s Han. In many ways, the project challenges the irony of emotional technology. For example, what IoT technologies are eager to advertise is that Artificial Intelligence create space “more human than human.” Whereas, biofeedback considers that human bodies should be measured like "more machine than machine." But, how can physical space understand us, even though we cannot fully explain ourselves? The therapeutic machine is personalized activism towards cultural and political norm of “artificial humanness.”

The spaces are situated in both private and public context. And, it is especially designed for people who migrate to LA from different places with heart of unresolved ironies.

Therapeutic Performance at Vasquez Rocks


Before starting the project, I conducted general desk research to understand universal mechanism of human emotion, especially when someone is going through depression. And, I explored what is the general therapeutic method to overcome one’s emotional distress (such as triggering coping mechanism, meditational training or reminding positive reassurance.)

However, I realized that analyzing therapy methods are not the subject that matters the most, but why individuals are going through such emotional and physical symptoms, and how to measure one’s emotional distress. There is a possibility to misread ‘depression’ in a cross cultural context, because the symptoms of depression are mostly defined by western psychology practices, especially the Diagnostic Standard Manual (DSM). Here are some of the interesting facts that I learn through researches:

“ Iranians see “western”- based symptoms of depression as consistent with the
normal experience of falling in love. ”

“ Chinese women’s inability to get along with her family, would not be counted
as symptoms of depression toward a DSM diagnosis. ”
(Dejman et al, 2010)

Extracted from ‘understanding depression across cultural context’

Even though DSM is a method that has been broadly accepted to measure one’s depression, it can create a misunderstanding for the individual’s emotion with different personal, cultural and environmental backgrounds. It made me think about the feeling of ‘Han’ in Korea, which cannot be explained with DSM.  It is often described as ‘body is not listening,’ from the people who are experiencing ‘Han.’ Also, from this description, we can find that people considered their body as the physical layer that can be separated or controlled by one’s emotion. It made me question: What if physical architectural space ‘listens’ to our emotional changes interpreted by our everyday intimate data?

Based on these questions, I conducted visual researches, especially searching for the architectural structures or wearable designs that physically react to one’s emotional data or conceptually describe human emotions. 

Haus-Rucker-Co, Environment Transformers Vienna, 1968
Victor Papanek and James Hennessey, Relaxation Cube from Nomadic Furniture 1, 1973
Joan Littlewood and Cedric Price, Fun Palace, Stratford East, London, England 1959–1961
Simplified interaction diagram of Gordon Pask's Musicolour Machine from Haque GSM2 Proceeding,1956
Atsuko Tanaka, Electric Dress, 1956
Sooja Kim, To Breathe: Bottari, Korean Pavilion, Venice 2013, installation view Artist Tomás Saraceno, Transparent net playground, Kunstammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen museum in Dusseldorf, Germany.
Ikeda, Suruga-ku, Shizuoka, Floating Tea House Exhibition title: World O-CHA (Tea) Festival, 2007

Stelarc, Ping Body, 1996


Initial iterations played with three different sensory experiences (e.g., sounds, colors and textures) that can creates the interactive space. I used bells, colorful fabrics, origami paper and balloons to design the possible experiential environment.

1. Initial experiment with the bell’s sound patterns and brainwaves: The sound was inspired by the Korean shamanistic rituals and mechanical sounds from servo motors.

2. Experiment with emotional balloons, that can be popped with one’s meditative level (brainwave). The purpose of this prototype was to explore psychological, physical and metaphorical experience of the fragile self.


Based on the initial prototype constructed with bell sound and brainwave data, I decided to build a geodesic dome, called Reflective Space, that can creates various sound patterns based on one’s meditation level. 

Following video demonstrates the dome deployed in a desert for a performance. The mechanical rhythm and bell sounds in the space slowly assimilate to one’s breathe, which is interpreted by their emotional status analyzed from EEG data. Also, the holographic film, surrounded by the dome structure like a biological membrane, reflect and deflect the sunlight based on the time of the day.

Video presented at 2018 Thesis Symposium, Windtunnel Gallery, Pasadena, CA

01.Reflective Space is composed of transparent, and reflective materials such as holographic films and mirrors with its’ symbolic quality to reflect one’s retrospective future. One is asked to confront oneself with blurry vision of surroundings that are filtered with holographic layers and the mirrors on the floor.

02.Colored Space plays with the irony of emotion: we have ‘Han’ because of our inability to express our feeling in the society we belongs to. But the moment we heal ourselves is when we cannot feel the existence of ourselves: immersed in white noises and objectify the sensation of angers. The room is composed of myriads of bells, reminiscence of Korean Shamanistic rituals, that imitates the rhythm of the performer’s breathe.

03.Silent Scream challenges the fragility of one’s emotion, which has been accumulated in one’s body. Because he or she couldn’t expresses it. Through popping the balloons with one’s meditative power, participants festively liberate themselves from emotional entrapment.

Special thanks to my thesis advisors: Tim Durfee, Ben Hooker, Elise Co, Adjunct  advisor: Jesse Kriss, Elizabeth Chin, Anne Burdick, Molly Wright Steenson and Erick Wang