Inauguration speech at the Society of Arts, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts & Sciences (KNAW)

Recently Ronald and Erik Rietveld were inaugurated as members of the Society of Arts at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), which promotes cross-fertilization between the sciences and the arts. Other artists at this Academy are Anton Corbijn, Arnon Grunberg, Barbara Visser, Heddy Honigmann, Iris van Herpen, Jaap van Zweden, Louis Andriessen, Pierre Audi, Paul Verhoeven, read more...Below you will find a video of our inauguration speech at the KNAW (in Dutch) and an English translation of our text.

 

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Inauguration speach by Ronald & Erik Rietveld at KNAW, d.d. April 1, 2016.

“For us this is a great honor! The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), where the arts and the sciences meet, has invited us to become members as a duo; a duo that operates at the intersection of architecture, visual art and philosophy.

ERCfigure2forwebsiteWhat you see here is a philosophical worldview. Philosophers normally make a world in words, typically in books without pictures. This is a materialized and experiential translation of my philosophical research at the University of Amsterdam. It is a landscape of affordances. Affordances are the possibilities for action that the environment offers us. Your seat affords you to sit on it, a book affords reading, etc. The installation that we built offers many opportunities for supported standing, leaning and hanging, and invites you to frequently switch positions and postures throughout the day. This installation also represents my position within the philosophy of the cognitive sciences. Cognition is not something that takes place purely in our heads. Cognition is made possible and supported by the affordances available in our human ecological niche.

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What you see here is a spatial thinking model. This dissected monument represents our way of thinking and working. The work:
– breaks through existing conventions,
– breaks through indestructible structures,
– breaks though different disciplines, and
– breaks though past and present, looking for new meaning in the future.

This installation, which we provocatively named The End of Sitting, is also a vision on the office of the future, of 2025. It explores what a world without chairs and tables might look like. In the coming years we would like to make more of these visual explorations of the future. This fits perfectly with what has become both a tradition of the KNAW as well as a strategic priority of the scientific part of the Academy, namely the making of future explorations. However, there is an important difference. The foresight studies to be made here at home have typically been written reports. What we want to do is start from our own fascinations and make imagination central to our foresight in a visual way. We would like to build foresight; to materialize thinking models. By building our visions on the future we make them tangible and sensible to people. We call these visions that we build at the intersection of visual art and architecture, “architectural art installations” or, ‘bouwkunst’ in Dutch (literally translated as building-art).

More than ever, the field of architecture needs new types of ‘bouwkunst’:
– A ‘bouwkunst’ that goes beyond the pragmatism and efficiency thinking of today.
– A ‘bouwkunst’ that develops new spatial thinking models.
– There is a need for a ‘bouwkunst’ that encourages new radical experiments, free from conventional constraints.

In short, working from within the KNAW, we wish to dedicate ourselves to making architectural art installations that show society new vistas.”

 

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The End of Sitting on a research tour

‘The End of Sitting: Cut Out’ functions now as a platform for empirical research for several Dutch academic medical centers. In Maastricht the Faculty of Health, Medicine & Life Sciences and the University Library joined forces to enable students and researchers to experience The End of Sitting. Check out ‘The Rock’ at UNS 40, Randwyck, Maastricht this month (June 2016)!

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Earlier this month the art installation was presented at the conference ‘Building the Future of Health: Game Changing Concepts for Healthy Aging’ at Groningen University. Human movement scientist Dr. Simone Caljouw is currently investigating how much energy people spend by working on it (a follow up of her earlier study published in Sports Medicine). In May a research team led by Hidde van der Ploeg at the department of Public and Occupational Health at the VUmc Amsterdam studied the use of the object in the main university building and invited members of the Dutch Association of Human Movement Scientists (VvBN) to try it out (see image below). Read her an interview with human movement scientist Dr. Hans Savelsberg in the Observant newspaper of Maastricht University (in Dutch).

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Update 28/6/2016: Netherlands Cultural Heritage Agency (RCE), Ministry of Education, Culture & Science (OCW)  and Staatsbosbeheer are the proud first owners of a End of Sitting-Cut Out standing landscape. This Cut Out can be visited by anyone interested because it is located at the public first floor of their headquarters. Visiting address: Smallepad 5, Amersfoort, The Netherlands.

New publication in Harvard Design Magazine

Harvard Design Magazine has now published our article on the way the theory of affordances developed in our philosophical VIDI-project has contributed to RAAAF’s award winning End of Sitting landscape of standing affordances. The paragraph below gives an impression of the philosphical ideas behind this enactive art installation.

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“Can we use this soliciting power of relevant affordances to make healthier working environments? Can we create new material affordances that solicit different activities? Recent philosophical work on affordances in embodied cognitive science defined affordances more precisely:

“Affordances are relations between aspects of a material environment and abilities available in a form of life”, which includes socio-cultural practices in our human case (Rietveld & Kiverstein, 2014, p. 335).

This definition suggested to us, the Amsterdam-based multidisciplinary studio RAAAF [Rietveld Architecture-Art-Affordances], that it should be possible to piggyback on peoples’ existing abilities for standing, leaning and hanging to create new affordances for working in all sorts of supported positions. Moreover, from studies on affordances in ecological dynamical-systems theory we know that offering a large variety of affordances can help create an environment that invites roaming around in a certain area (see Bruineberg & Rietveld, 2014 on “metastability” and action readiness). The combination of these ideas let to the End of Sitting, a large, spatial art installation that offers an entire landscape of (body-scaled) affordances that scaffold working in many different positions and invites people to switch positions frequently.”

Download the paper here:

Rietveld, E., Rietveld, R., Mackic, A., Van Waalwijk van Doorn, E., Bervoets, B. (2015), The End of Sitting, Harvard Design Magazine 40, pp. 180-181.

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New publication: enactive ethnography of skilled intentionality in architecture

Well known philosophy journal Phenomenology & the Cognitive Sciences has accepted our paper on optimal grip on affordances in RAAAF’s architectural design practices. It is based on Anne Brouwers’ ethnography as an embedded researcher at RAAAF ‘s studio.

Download it here: Rietveld, E. & Brouwers, A.A. (2016) Optimal grip on affordances in architectural design practices: An ethnography. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, doi: 10.1007/s11097-016-9475-x

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This paper will be interesting for philosophers of enactive/embodied cognitive science, philosophers working on distributed cognition and architects/artists curious about RAAAF’s way of working and affordance-based architecture more generally.

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New Enactive Art Installation: The End of Sitting

The End of Sitting is a large spatial installation at the crossroads of visual art, architecture, philosophy and empirical science.

The End of Sitting. Photo: Frederica Rijkenberg

In our society almost the entirety of our surroundings have been designed for sitting, while evidence from medical research suggests that too much sitting has adverse health effects. RAAAF [Rietveld Architecture-Art Affordances] and visual artist Barbara Visser have developed a concept wherein the chair and desk are no longer unquestionable starting points. Instead, the installation’s various affordances solicit visitors to explore different standing positions in an experimental work landscape.

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The End of Sitting marks the beginning of an experimental trial phase, exploring the possibilities of radical change for the working environment. This project is a spatial follow-up of the recently released mute animation ‘Sitting Kills‘ by RAAAF | Barbara Visser, developed as a vision on the workspace of 2025, commissioned by the Chief Government Architect of the Netherlands. Moreover, the art installation is the visual component of Erik Rietveld’s philosophical research project titled ‘The Landscape of Affordances: Situating the Embodied Mind’; the installation visualizes the  philosophical notion of a Landscape of (Standing) Affordances. You can find a link to the philosophical paper on the landscape of affordances in this earlier post.RAAAF-Rietveld-Architecture-Art-Affordances-The-End-of-Sitting-000958image

The End of Sitting is a collaboration with Looiersgracht 60, a new space for art and science in Amsterdam. Gibsonian ecologicla psychologist Dr. Rob Withagen of the University of Groningen (Center for Human Movement Sciences / University Medical Center) has studied 1) how people use the landscape of standing affordances and 2) how the amount of movement and 3) productivity compare to working in a traditional open office setting. The experiment on the rock of standing affordances has been recorded with 4 camera’s. The subjects’ use of standing affordances and data on productivity are currently being analyzed by Dr. Withagen. They expect to publish the findings on affordance use and productivity next spring.

You can find an overview of the attention this project attracted in the international media here and a summary of RAAAF’s research for the End of Sitting below:

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New publication on self-organization and skilled intentionality

Jelle Bruineberg and I have published a new paper on self-organization and skilled intentionality. (An earlier 2008 paper on this topic can be found here.) Jelle is one of the PhD-students on VIDI-project ‘Landscape of Affordances: Situating the Embodied Mind’ at the University of Amsterdam. The paper is published in a Frontiers in Human Neuroscience special issue on the implications of Tony Chemero’s (2009) book Radical Embodied Cognitive Science. Here is the abstract and a link to the page where one can download the PDF of our paper:

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Self-organization, free energy minimization, and optimal grip on a field of affordances

In this paper, we set out to develop a theoretical and conceptual framework for the new field of Radical Embodied Cognitive Neuroscience (cf. Chemero, 2009). This framework should be able to integrate insights from several relevant disciplines: theory on embodied cognition, ecological psychology, phenomenology, dynamical systems theory, and neurodynamics. We suggest that the main task of Radical Embodied Cognitive Neuroscience is to investigate the phenomenon of skilled intentionality from the perspective of the self-organization of the brain-body-environment system, while doing justice to the phenomenology of skilled action.

In previous work, we have characterized skilled intentionality as the organism’s tendency towards an optimal grip on multiple relevant affordances simultaneously (Rietveld, 2012a/b/c). Affordances are possibilities for action provided by the environment (Gibson, 1979; Chemero, 2003). In the first part of this paper, we introduce the notion of skilled intentionality and the phenomenon of responsiveness to a field of relevant affordances.

FigureRietveldBruineberg2014ISSASpdf2Figure 1: Sketch of conceptual framework to be refined (Rietveld, 2012c). Through skilled intentionality one gets a grip on a field of affordances. (Inspired by: Thompson, 2007, 2011; Chemero, 2003, 2009; Dreyfus, 2007; Tschacher & Haken, 2007; Rietveld, 2008a/b/c).

Second, we use Friston’s (2000, 2011) work on neurodynamics, but embed a very minimal version of his Free Energy Principle in the ecological niche of the animal. Thus amended, this principle is helpful for understanding the embeddedness of neurodynamics within the dynamics of the brain-body-environment system. Next, we show how we can use this adjusted principle to understand the neurodynamics of selective openness to the environment: interacting action-readiness patterns at multiple timescales contribute to the organism’s selective openness to relevant affordances.

In the final part of the paper, we emphasize the important role of metastable dynamics in both the brain and the brain-body-environment system for adequate affordance-responsiveness. We exemplify our integrative approach by presenting research (De Haan, Rietveld, Stokhof & Denys, 2013) on the impact of Deep Brain Stimulation on affordance responsiveness of OCD patients.

A giant monkey rock, that is how the office of the future might well look like

Sitting kills. RAAAF | Barbara Visser made with their Outstanding Landscape of Affordances a vision on the future of the workplace where the chair and the table are no longer the starting point. Barbara Visser is a visual artist and since 2014 chair of the recently re-established Society of Arts of the Netherlands Royal Academy (KNAW). This new work was commissioned by the Netherlands Chief Government Architect and motivated by a widely shared feeling of dissatisfaction with present-day standardized open spaces for “flex-working” as implemented at the various ministries, municipalities and universities.

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Medical research has suggested that constantly sitting at work is bad for you. Even worse, a recent BBC News article noted: “We can’t simply fix it by heading for the gym.” Sitting kills. The BBC-article was titled: “Could offices change from sitting to standing?” Outstanding Landscape of Affordances shows how our offices could invite a more active and healthy life style. RAAAF | Barbara Visser presented an animation of a futuristic landscape of possibilities for working while standing up, a sculpture to be realized by the artists in Amsterdam later this year.

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The mute animation ‘Sitting Kills’ shows a large rock-like structure. It is designed out of a thousand different possibilities for working in positions between standing and laying. The key is that the sculpture’s affordances stimulate people to take up different working positions during the day and promotes concentration. The richness of this landscape of affordances gives people the freedom to find the optimal position for their different tasks and needs during the working day. This vision presents a radical break with regular office furniture and current working models such as “flex-working”, which all are still based on sitting. In fact our societies’ entire surroundings are designed for being seated. This is a first step towards a future in which standing at work is the new norm. A lifelong health where we are both physically and mentally active.

This project is is also a next step in visualizing the landscape of affordances, this time focusing on possibities for standing, leaning and hanging provided by the monkey rock-like sculpture. Links to earlier visualizations related to Erik Rietveld’s VIDI-project ‘The Landscape of Affordances’ can be found here.

Designboom’s coverage of the animation can be found here.

See also how Barbara Visser has filmed the tendency towards optimal grip on standing affordances in these making-of movies: 

Update 11/12/14: The Landscape of Standing Affordances has now been built as an enactive art installation, see here.

Upcoming invited talks Spring 2014

Over the next few weeks we will present work at several interesting and recommended events. Most are in the field of enactive or embodied cogntive science, some in the fields of art & architecture.

May 22, An Outstanding Landscape of Affordances, lecture and animation, RAAAF together with Barbara Visser, Invited by Atelier of the Chief Government Architect (Rijksbouwmeester Frits van Dongen), Ministry of Finance, The Hague.

May 26, Sitting Kills: Towards an Landscape of Standing Affordances, Grand Round, Academic Medical Center (AMC), Amsterdam.

June 20, The Landscape of Affordances: Situating the Embodied Mind, Expert Meeting Psychiatry & Philosophy, Radboud University, Nijmegen.

June 20, Expert Practice in DBS Parameter Optimization (presented by Maarten van Westen), Expert Meeting Psychiatry & Philosophy, Radboud University, Nijmegen.

June 24, Vacant NL on the Move (together with Ronald Rietveld), Kunsthal, Rotterdam. (An interview with Dutch newspaper Volkskrant can be found below.)InterviewVolkskrant2zoom230614

June 24, Vacancy Studies (presented by Arna Mackic), Strijp S, Eindhoven.

June 26, Affordances in archtectural practice, EWEP 13 symposium organized by Rob Withagen ‘Affordances and architecture: Towards an ecological approach‘, Queens University, Belfast.

July 6-14, Action readiness in a landscape of affordances (together with Jelle Bruineberg), International Summer School in Affective Sciences, Swiss NCCR Affective Sciences Center (ISSAS), Geneva University, Château de Bossey, Switzerland.

 

Sketch of the Field of Affordances published in Frontiers

One of my ongoing interests is visualizing the field of affordances. See for instance the Trusted Subcultures-project RAAAF presented at the Sao Paulo Biennale 2009, using social affordances to create new public domain for the centuries old water city of Amsterdam. Or, more recently, our project Outstanding Landscape of Affordances.

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Another example is the Dutch Atlas of Vacancy in which we investigated the affordances (in context) of 10.000 empty public builldings in the Netherlands. For instance the possibilities for making noise: at a vacant air base or in a vacant bunker one can make sounds of 140DB without disturbing anyone.

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In a new special issue on Neurophenomenology edited by Evan Thompson for Frontiers, Sanneke de Haan, Martin Stokhof, Damiaan Denys and I have now published a more abstract sketch of different fields of affordances.

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Figure: Sketch of different fields of relevant affordances (De Haan, Rietveld, Stokhof & Denys, 2013)

We propose that the changed world as described by the 18 OCD patients with Deep Brain Stimulation interviewed by us at the Academic Medical Center can be fleshed out in terms of changes in their field of relevant affordances. We can distinguish three dimensions to this field: the “width” refers to the broadness of the scope of affordances that one perceives. This dimension relates to having a choice or action options. The “depth” of the field refers to the temporal aspect: one not only perceives the affordances that are immediately present here and now, but one is also pre-reflectively aware of future plans and possibilities for action: the affordances on the horizon that one is responsive to, so to speak. This temporal horizon reflects our anticipatory affordance-responsiveness. Lastly, the “height” of each of the affordances refers to the relevance or importance of the affordances that one is responsive to, i.e., to the experienced solicitation or affective allure. This dimension of relevance and salience relates to the motivational force of affordances.

The title of our (open access) article is: The phenomenology of deep brain stimulation-induced changes in OCD: An enactive affordance-based model. 

Graduation show Master Vacant NL reviewed by Tracy Metz

Tracy Metz (the architecture critic of the Netherlands national newspaper NRC Handelsblad/Next) reviewed the graduation exposition of our students at Sandberg Institute’s Master Vacant NL. This is the first program in the world that focuses on the potential of ”temporary use” of empty architecture. Working on-site, the graduates unlock the affordances of vacant building with novel interventions. Their projects present opportunities for sequential temporary use (hopping from building to building) and provide users with unorthodox tools to colonize vacant cultural heritage, thousands of unique, goverment-owned buildings. Read the review here (click to zoom in; the article is in Dutch).

See also a review (in Dutch) by journal de Architect.

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Skinned by Jorien Kemerink at Looiersgracht 60, Amsterdam (photo: Rob ‘t Hart)

VIDI-grant awarded by Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO)

Great news: Today I learned that I’ve been awarded a VIDI-grant! This means 5 years of fundamental research in philosophy and generous NWO-funding to develop my research group. Here is a short project description:

The Landscape of Affordances: Situating the Embodied Mind

In many situations, experts at work act successfully, yet without deliberation. Architects, for example, perceive immediately the opportunities offered by the site of a new project, and intuitively improve the size of the door in one of their designs. One could label these manifestations of expert intuition as ‘higher-level’ cognition, but still these experts are just acting unreflectively. Traditionally in philosophy, so-called ‘higher’ cognitive capacities are associated more with explicit deliberation and linguistic forms of rationality than with unreflective action, but this has left unexplained the characteristic phenomenon of intuitive expertise (e.g. intuitively improving a design).

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The two central ideas behind this NWO VIDI-proposal are (a) that many of these context-sensitive episodes of ‘higher’ cognition can be understood along the same lines as everyday skillful unreflective activities, such as grasping a coffee cup or riding a bike; and (b) that our surroundings contribute to skillful action and cognition in a far more fundamental way than is generally acknowledged.

My long term aim is to use these ideas to develop a novel conceptual framework for embodied or ‘enactive’ cognitive science (Thompson, 2007; Chemero, 2009). The cognition we find in expert intuition is very context-sensitive because it consists of responsiveness to multiple possibilities for action provided by our surroundings, or ‘affordances’. I argue that the notion of affordances is rich in application, so it makes sense to say both that a cup affords grasping and that a friend’s sad face affords comforting. Moreover, we are bodily responsive to a multiplicity of affordances simultaneously (Rietveld, 2012a/b). Embodied cognition amounts here to skillful responsiveness to the many affordances available in one’s surroundings; a selective responsiveness to a whole field of affordances.

This integrative, philosophical framework is innovative in showing how the increasingly influential field of embodied cognitive science has a much wider scope than previously thought. Findings thought to be exclusively valid for everyday unreflective action (or for sensorimotor behavior) can now be applied to skilled ‘higher’ cognition, or better, expert intuition (project 1). We will also show concrete, real-world applications in the domains of architecture (project 2) and psychiatry (project 3 on Deep Brain Stimulation), respectively. Interactions with renowned experts in these practices feed the development of the overall framework. Another project (4) will advance convergence with Karl Friston’s influential work on the anticipating brain, by situating the latter in the whole system ‘brain-body-landscape of affordances’.

Read more: interview with SMART Cognitive Science

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