Cracking the Code of Microcontrollers and Environment Responsive Architecture

June 17, 2015

Architecture has always adapted to new technology that changes the way people interact with their environment, finding new ways to express embodied knowledge and cultural experience. Electronics and microchip technology are ubiquitous in our time; devices have found their way into every facet of our lives. This creates new ways of seeing and hearing. We interact with people, objects, animals, plants, machines, buildings, and the environment in new ways. This proliferation of digital technology has already made its way into architecture. Occupancy sensors, automatic doors, daylight sensors, sprinkler systems, automated louvers, light sensitive apertures, security systems, HVAC controls, and programmable lighting systems, are some examples of how electronics are deployed by architects.

In my recent studies at Portland State University, along with the support of SRG, I had the opportunity to research the Arduino microcontroller. The precision, speed, and computational abilities of computers fascinate me, but, machine language always lacked the creativity I desired from my work. After researching how Arduino is being used in architectural applications, I was inspired to explore environmentally responsive architecture through the filter of this digital device.

My first prototype was simple (see my model above). It consists of the Arduino (crunching all the code), a TSL2561 Lux Sensor, and an LED. Along with a power source this comprises the hardware. The program 1)I developed was put together by understanding the syntax of the Arduino IDE programming software. I was able to find the code for the TSL2561 sensor on Adafruit's website . This allowed me to establish a relationship between the light levels (illuminance) and the function of the LED specific to the device's environment. I was able to splice together the code that animates the LED and the code for the sensor. This makes it possible to program the function of the LED depending on the lux values where the device is placed. Anticipating the use of this device on the surface of an office desk, I programmed it to turn on the LED when the light levels fell below 300 lux. If you have this device on your desk, you will know exactly when the light levels have become inadequate and can change your lighting environment to suit your task.

Tim Rupp