Objects and our part in their journey.


In his book, ‘Shaping Things’, Bruce Sterling uses the information contained on a bottle of wine to demonstrate the processes and extent of information that can be obtained about an object, before he purchased it. These processes are existent in every product, but we take it for granted and often choose to act in ignorance of what is involved in its production and what happens when we choose to discard the product. When we discard a product, we actually pass it on to someone else – we have opted to no longer be involved in it. It is no longer our business.

Sterling asserts his concern that this cycle of ignorance is typical of capitalist consumption and is unsustainable. However, the information on the bottle – the bar code, the websites, the codes and regulations the bottle of wine makes visible on the label make it easier for us, the user, to trace its path and enable us to assess our part in its existence and inform our decisions about how or whether to  interact with it.

The ‘Spime’, is detailed by Sterling as the immaterial, technological interactions that we are a part of and involved with an object, before or after our contact with it. For example, buying something online is a digital transaction – we do not physically intercept the object like we would if it was on the shelf of a supermarket. Instead, we enter into a series of digital processes that guarantee our ownership of the object and activate a set of processes that bring it to us.

The diagrams below demonstrate my understanding of an object’s life and the involvement of the user. The final diagram explains how this can be applied to the context of a school using tags to record stories of objects.

Object/person interaction diagram

How can the stories and processes between humans and objects within the school be explored and exploited as a beneficial educational resource?

How do we populate space? Is a space just the experience you have with the people you’re with and the objects you use? Does it matter if it’s in a particular location?

Can the characteristics of a space be formed by the experiences recorded and recalled within it?

How can these queries inform how the approach to design and the implementation of activities in new spaces? Could the architect could provide a platform for the lead user to inform the characteristics of place by involving objects and recording stories about life in the school?

Existing School – Context Analysis

Portobello High School already provides a very rich environment of objects and stories of past interactions in and around the building. The Home Economics department is entirely composed of ingredients and objects that are a part of the Spime world and past memories in exactly the same way as Bruce’s bottle of wine.

Testing in the existing school, I intend to provide a discourse or series of tools to aid a different type of spatial understanding – one of layers of information and of an immaterial trace that is present in the places and things we occupy.

As I say, there is a wealth of stories already present in and around the existing school. Portobello have made an effort over a period of time to personalise their school grounds. On my guided tour around the building, by Home Economics department head Zoe,  there are artifacts that contain stories everywhere that inform use and provide recollections. Will the new building facilitate the same spatial richness

Objects from around the school building

Can we populate old memories in a place that doesn’t exist…like ghosts for a future graveyard?

The pupil’s experiences in a school also constitute a large part of the learning process, but there’s nocurrently no means to record the day to day occurences. Can we populate old memories in a place that doesn’t exist…like ghosts for a future graveyard? Can the communal areas of the new school become a site that can be populated with stories of lessons and pupil’s experiences and actually form an integral part of its day to day functionality?

This can be achieved by using the communal spaces of the school as part of the learning environment, tagging the objects or events that occurred and recording stories that can be recalled later.

Concept image – the proposed school plan with the images of stories of the objects tagged in various locations.
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