Fireside Chats with Empathic Futures Lab
Episode 34: Value Engineering w/ Alex Bahr

Episode 34: Value Engineering w/ Alex Bahr

July 3, 2019

In this episode, Christian and Colter sit down with architect Alex Bahr in the lobby of UIC’s Gallery 400 to discuss speculative architecture, subversive detailing, and alternative means of shaping the built environment. Bahr’s thesis project, the Play of Parts is also explored, check it out at the link below!


The Play of Parts (Portfolio +Thesis)


Alex Bahr’s Website

Episode 33: Dumb AI

Episode 33: Dumb AI

June 3, 2019

This episode’s home base is “AI” or rather...the current iteration of AI which attempts to pass as Intelligent. The idea behind the conversation is really that AI is at the cusp of being quite useful but it still is flopping around, making decisions that are almost right but wrong in silly ways.


Essentially, the conversation is about Dumb AI.



Episode 32: Deep Dive on Heritage

Episode 32: Deep Dive on Heritage

May 12, 2019

Welcome to another episode of Empathic Futures Lab. This one features a guest appearance by Souyma Dasgupta. It's a pretty intellectual episode (after 5 minutes of fun/goofy introduction anyways) so buckle up. It was a really good discussion if you like that sort of thing. 


The topic is about “Authenticity” and “Heritage.” Soumya is a Phd student who’s research centers around the topic. Colter too has researched the topic a bit. We start the discussion by defining the subject, what it means, and what it means to us in particular.


Colter discusses how he’s interested in unpacking or exploding authenticity because of how he perceives the inauthenticity around him. Souyma explains the nuances of heritage to his research. He explains the difficulty of even defining what is “authentic” at any one time.


This sort of sets us up for the largest talking point of the episode: We discuss authenticity and how it is derived from/related to identity. Moreover, how do we even draw define or draw boundaries around “identity?”


It’s probably one of our best discussions to date. Enjoy.

Episode 31: The Many faces of Interfaces

Episode 31: The Many faces of Interfaces

May 5, 2019

We are trying this new thing where we come up with a topic and then just riff on ideas that come from that topic. This episode’s discussion was nominally about “interfaces.” That was our jumping off point, our “home plate” if you will, was interfaces or invisible interfaces.


Before we jump into the ideas though, we define what we mean by interfaces and what we mean by “invisible” interfaces. We discuss what effects they might have on society at this point in time. I’m pretty sure Colter uses the word “automagically” at some point during this section.


We then get into Christian’s idea and riff on it for a bit. It gets fun from there. The speculation is based on if your interfaces were connected to particular people or places.


Our following discussion gets into place based interfaces. How would that work and would that be better or worse? And does that relate to the demographic composition of that said place?


Colter then brings up the new Dimension that he has discovered in technology. This part is actually quite interesting as well. You should take a listen.


Hope you had fun. Listen again next time.

Episode 30: [AR]chitecture

Episode 30: [AR]chitecture

April 2, 2019

This discussion is our follow-up to our last discussion on Mirror World’s. This time, we have Colter on with us as well.


We start by discussing different ideas for mirror worlds such as how we might simulate feelings or very large spaces within the context of small physical spaces.


Somehow, we end up on a tangent of really “bad” technology. Ideas such as the digital murphy bed, America’s funniest AI home videos, and what’s the dumbest thing that you can make self driving?


The first part of the episode is really just a giant tangent though. Eventually we work our way back to the real discussion. Colter get’s us started by bringing up the differences between working in physical vs digital design processes. Particularly, he brings up the idea of svelteness or the scale/fuzziness that occurs in the physical world that we do not get in the digital world.


He brings up Dreams by Media Moleculte: as an example of sveltness in the digital world.


This leads us to a discussion about the human-ness of this technology. How do we get people started in digital tools vs physical things? How do we expose room for error?


What does it mean to be “literate” in 3D modeling in a truly digital world? What does it mean to be design literate in general? Does this increase or decrease the value of design?



Episode 29: Mirror Worlds - or why the future is Green

Episode 29: Mirror Worlds - or why the future is Green

February 20, 2019

This episode was inspired by Kevin Kelly's MirrorWorld article for Wired. Here is the link:

Our conversation starts with summing up the article and describing what a Mirror World actually is as an augmented reality future. While doing this, we dig into particular sections of Kelly's writing starting with his ideas of "super vision" - the ability AR might gives us to see the digital insides of every object.

We then discuss what "authenticity" means in a world such as this where we can augment reality - past, present, future melding into one - on top of what "actually" exists. How does this change how we understand "place"? What is "place" in a world where we have a much larger control over how we experience space? Does placemaking no longer necessitate building new buildings and should we then discuss new business models for create places?

What does it look like to design something for the mirror world? Or is it purely a visual overlay? Why pay for architecture if all of the cool stuff is just an overlay?

Then we get to this point in the discussion where we ask if the future of architecture is quite literally "green".

Mirror World article with the mountains and school children that we discuss.

For those of you looking for the Architectural Intelligence book that was referenced a couple times, it is here: ce

Instagram photobooth article:

Episode 28: Disconnecting - find your premium

Episode 28: Disconnecting - find your premium

February 13, 2019

At Empathic Futures Lab, we often put technology on a pedestal. This episode's discussion is about stepping back and trying to figure out how to get away from technology when we feel the need to. Colter is back with us as well this week.

The episode starts off with Colter discussing this time in a sensory deprivation tank and what that experience meant to him and how he thought about "being." We then discuss how we can build off of cheaper or easier DIY solutions for that. Is there a difference between consuming vs producing in terms of overload?

We then discuss why offices and coffee shops are different in terms of production? Often times, it seems we enjoy working in coffee shops more than offices... How does out attention work and how can we plan for that in terms of which environments we live and work in? Is this large number of  distractions a problem for us as humans?

We then discuss who is best able to fix the issues? Is it the technologists themselves or our public servants or someone else? Do we needs apps to mitigate our app overload? 

We then discuss Front Porch Forum, its article on the Verge, linked below, and how it gives an example of how perhaps apps can be beneficial to the larger community...though by perhaps forgoing revenue streams to do so. 

This leads to a discussion on what is "premium" engagement? What does it mean online and what does it mean as an "environment?" 

Colter brings up Sea Ranch as an example of a "premium" environment: 

We end on a thought that Colter brings up: "How do you make good design high volume, low margin"?

Trickle up design: 

Episode 27: What AirBnB’s Backyard project might mean and other tangential topics

Episode 27: What AirBnB’s Backyard project might mean and other tangential topics

February 4, 2019

Christian and Chris step back into the news cycle (or at least the news cycle at the time that this was recorded rather than the time of release) to discuss AirBnB's recent announcement of their Project Backyard. Not much new has come from AirBnb since that initial press release. 

We start the discussion by talking about what AirBnB is and what it means to produce "authentic" experiences in the real world through a digital application. We then discuss why AirBnb might get into the physical nature of architecture and what that might mean for the industry of architecture. We conclude by diving into how successful AirBnB might be in creating new architecture, how that architecture might affect the places that it is located in, and what all that data collection might mean to the people who live in that architecture. 

Spoiler alert: we think they will do a good job on the actual physical product. Jury is still out and if it'll be good overall or not. 


AirBnB best instagram experience referenced in the episode: 


AirBnB/Samara Backyard: 

Episode 26: Digital Environments - Picnics or otherwise

Episode 26: Digital Environments - Picnics or otherwise

January 25, 2019

This episode features a special guest: Colter Wehmeier. Christian and Colter took on the final design and construction of the Digital Picnic and absolutely killed it. It looked great while it was up. Colter is a fascinating and very intelligent guy so it was great fun to have it on the show. 

During the episode we discuss the Digital Picnic, the design decisions that we made as well as how it turned out. We also discussed the future of technology in terms of the immersing the digital world within the physical world and what happens when we blur or even remove the boundaries between the digital and physical environments. 

Episode 25: Edges, Interfaces, the Formalization of the Digital

Episode 25: Edges, Interfaces, the Formalization of the Digital

December 7, 2018

Christian and Chris delve discuss the how the digital world is formalized in the physical world through interface design. They discuss how our interfaces and interactions with digital environments have evolved over time.  How have physical forms of digital entities been explored in the past and what has led to the reduction of formal elements over time?  Is the phone really the best universal interface? What do stores such as the Amazon Go Store or Nike's new House of Innovation mean for architecture and digital design? How does an entire building act as an interface for people's interactions in the world?

Y2K Futurism: 

Gun for Shooting Tears: 

Nike Flagship NYC: 

Hyper Surfaces: 


VR Healing: 

Strange Nike Forms: 


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