current research embodiment

Health and Design; Man Machine Technologies


Critical and Clinical Carthographies Conference

Two-day Conference TU Delft 13-14 November 2014

The ambition of the 3C conference is to rethink medical and design education in the context of digital technologies. Cyber-physical technologies, a current locus of architectural and medical practices, assist the shift from the physical body to embodiment. Long after its impact on medical practices, digitalization further challenges the ecological, economic and aesthetic habits of the architectural milieu.

Medical knowledge has advanced rapidly over the past century and it continues to progress at an unprecedented speed. A lot is at stake, not only public health, but also public money. Medical instruments like MRI scans and dialysis machinery ask for substantial long-term investments. These developments in the medical sciences relate to the more theoretical discourses on ‘man and nature’ in the (new) humanities at large. The two terms are not as innocent as they might seem and we propose to approach them both critically and clinically.

The conference on Embodiment and Technology and Care and Design is organised by the Theory Section of the TU Delft Architecture Department, and the Hyperbody group, in cooperation with the Bio Mechatronics and Bio Robotics Section of the Department of Bio Mechanical Engineering of TU Delft.

Key speakers: Antoine Picon (Harvard University), Christian Girard (Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture Paris Malaquais), Arie Graafland (Anhalt University, HKU), Rachel Prentice (Cornell University), Jenny Dankelman (Bio-Mechatronics, TU Delft), Kas Oosterhuis (Hyperbodygroup, TU Delft), Robert Babuska (Robotics, TU Delft), Sjoerd van Tuinen (Erasmus University, Rotterdam), Frans van der Helm (Bio-Mechatronics TU Delft), N. Katherine Hayles (Duke University)

Publication forthcoming

Arie Graafland, “A Research into Man Machine Technologies” in Critical and Clinical Cartographies: Embodiment / Technology / Care / Design, eds. A Radman and H. Sohn (Edinburgh University Press).  (









The leading question throughout this research is the relation of a normative construction of the ‘materiality’ of the human body, in other words its physical and emotional experiences, and contemporary digital techniques in human machine interfaces in medical sciences and architectural design. Katherine Hayles uses embodiment for the contextualized body and describes how embodiment is converted into a body through imaging technologies that create a normalized construct as a result of averaged data. In contrast to the body, embodiment is contextual enmeshed within the specifics of place, time, physiology, and culture, which together compose enactment. She makes a comparison with digitization of books, and notices that we lose something in the process. It is not a study on medical sociology, neither is it a discourse on advanced parametric design. I will enter a field of recently developed ‘discourses’ and ‘practices’ which are transgressing their traditional boundaries. I am particularly interested in the scholars who question current disciplinary thresholds, and are successfully transgressing them. You could envision this field of interest as a provisional landscape, a map, you would have to travel through it to understand it. There is no aerial picture from above available, no charts, summaries or shortcuts. In molecular biology our body is understood as an expression of genetic information and as physical structure. In the literary corpus it is at once a physical object and a space of representation, at the same time a body and a message. When we look at bodies and books as pure information we lose something, what we lose is the resistant materiality that has always marked our experience of living creatures. The same might be happening in current digital culture in architecture. This is not about good or bad, but about the new directions architectural design is taking, its new vocabularies, and economies that matter.

Image: Zebrafish (Danio rerio) is akin to our ecology. Zebrafish is known for its regenerative abilities and has been modified to produce several transgenic strains. It is tool in the etiology of human genetic diseases like cancer, infectious diseases, kidney failure and diabetes. Zebrafish is akin to Donna Haraway’s OncoMouse™, the mouse is patented, a site for the operation of a transplanted, human, tumor-producing gene,- an oncogene, that produces breast cancer in woman.