Tobias Bay Bang
Streams as urban objects
Vann, klima, natur, objekt, urban

The installation consists of an acoustic object together with a sign

The shape of the construction is formed out of two acoustic horns, facing opposite ways, tied together by a pipe. The purpose of the horn is to direct the sound towards humans walking by, ultimately creating a reinforced experience. The piece questions the way we experience spaces, where our attention goes, and urges its visitors to think in the vastness of the stream.

The sign consists of a short message encouraging the user to focus towards the acoustic horn, in combination with an abstracted version of the water cycle. By pointing out where in the water cycle the user is, the goal is to create an awareness of how the stream consists of something bigger, and our limitation to perceiving it.

The water cycle describes how water is connected on earth. It is essential for all living species. As humans we are aware of it through combinations of natural (for example rain, rivers and oceans) and man-made / cultural (for example drainage, waterways or water reservoirs) experiences. Timothy Morton describes this kind of phenomenon as a Hyper Object; In relation to the water cycle, I understand this to mean that there are two different scales; the one we experience at a given moment, and everything that is beyond our senses . They are happening simultaneously.

Throughout history, streams have served as a significant part of human attention, and have been associated with establishing habitats in geographical spaces. Today, that relationship is different. Humans no longer rely on natural water sources for daily necessities such as washing and cooking, but can access it through valves and taps served by a system of pipes. In many urban areas, naturally open streams have also been directed/ re-directed underground in developed urban areas to hide away the water and create more space. With climate change creating higher temperatures and more precipitation, leading to more water into systems which are not sized to handle the amount of water, an interest has emerged in opening/ exposing these streams in urban areas. This creates an opportunity to engage city-dwellers with natural processes, creating spaces for nature connection, social spaces and sensory experience.

The information age has enabled humans to live outside of their physical sense of place. Many have the ability to navigate around in urban areas using technologies such as smartphones, almost entirely without experiencing the spaces, as their attention is directed into a digital dimension. This new way of experiencing is increasing isolation between humans and nature, which provokes a series of negative effects on health and wellbeing. How might we use design to imitate our ancestors’ attention to water/ nature in order to fulfill our fundamental needs?

Creating alternative ways to perceive natural processes to re-establish human-nature relations, might trigger what the behavioural psychologist Paul W Shultz describes as the cognitive component: “How integrated ones feel with nature.” Leading to a change of the affective component: “Individuals’ sense of care for nature” and the behavioral component: “individuals commitment to protect the natural environment”.

Is it possible to expose the disguised natural aspect/forces in urban contexts in order to enable acknowledgment of the physical world and the experience of the hyper objects’ invisible properties? How may we harness the processes of what already exist and use them as tools for thinking and understanding? Hyperobjects are real whether we think of them or not, and are invisible to humans for stretches of time. Humans experience Earth in finitude (the state of having limits or bounds), this means that we find ourselves inside of much bigger places than we experience.

Throughout this thesis, I have reflected on how humans experience urban spaces, with a main focus on the relationship between streams and humans. Investigations suggest that the human attention towards streams today has been significantly reduced compared to our ancestors, and that there are few interventions targeting better relations between humans and streams in Oslo.

Applying design to create deeper experience with nature, might not create a more efficient city. It does not make the metro faster or collect data. But Results suggest that by exposing streams in new ways the human attention and experience of space can be improved. The intervention interferes with a fragment of the urban space, but offers a way of experience which could potentially change the way we perceive and respect nature in general.

The thesis aims to challenge the way we perceive natural cycles, through exposing spaces in new ways. In developing future urban areas we should consider aspects that might be hidden from us, and make the unfamiliar familiar, in order to create diverse urban spaces.