A WSU research project is using smart devices to create empathetic, responsive, and communicative spaces to help people with disabilities gain control of and shape their environment based on their needs and desires.

The project, led by Mona Ghandi, assistant professor in the School of Design and Construction, could someday be used to help people with disabilities, neuromuscular diseases, motor system disorders, age-related incapacities, PTSD, or autism.

Her research project, “Compassionate Spaces” rethinks conventional architecture in favor of reconfigurable structures that can learn users’ behavior and respond to their psychological needs in real-time.

“The objective is to create transformable cognitive spaces which resonate with immaterial aspects of the human, such as cognitive synapses, thoughts, and feelings. Such user-oriented spaces will help to democratize design and offer a greater role to users in shaping their built environment,” said Ghandi, a recent winner of the 2018 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Architecture. “The spaces can ‘feel’ and empower users by understanding and accommodating their needs.”

Using the neurological data collected from brain activity trackers, face recognition programs, voice detection devices, eye tracker devices, and biological data collected from wearable sensors, Ghandi is developing a wall that “recognizes” the moods and feelings of the users and adapts its shape to create a more accommodating environment.

By creating adjustable windows, controlling the amount of light being let in, opening and closing ventilation, and ultimately changing its shape, Ghandi’s wall could be used as a communicative tool or as a means of helping users to change, heal, or improve their existing mood.

“Architectural spaces are typically built to provide physical convenience,” said Ghandi, who began teaching at WSU in 2016. “But emotional and neurological needs are often ignored. Existing limitations in our built environment could be challenged by pursuing more user engagement to blur the line between the structure as an autonomous entity and the inhabitants of the space. I’m pushing our physical spaces further to achieve seamless levels of structural adaptivity based on deeper levels of users’ engagement which can improve the mental and invisible aspects of a user’s life.”

Ghandi’s interdisciplinary research explores and elaborates on the concept of “Smart Architecture” or robotized self-adjusting buildings. Her research draws upon computational design, while implementing data-driven design processes, robotics, neurosciences, material Science, artificial intelligence, and advanced digital fabrication technologies.

Ghandi will present a paper on her work at the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture 106th annual meeting March 17 in Denver, Colorado. She plans to demonstrate her research with a full-scale wall by the end of the summer.

Pictured at top: Mona Ghandi. Photo courtesy of The Vilcek Foundation. Learn more about the Vilcek Foundation.