by Jincy IypeMar 04, 2022
As a response to the coronavirus pandemic, Rotterdam-based architect and artist Cosimo Scotucci has conceptualised a dynamic installation that helps maintain social distancing. The installation, titled Physx, which is designed to be placed in front of the Rotterdam Central Station, is the first proposed dynamic solution that enables social distancing. Physx comprises a membrane made of coloured elastic fibres installed about 50 centimetres above the ground. When a person steps on the membrane, the tensile surface absorbs the pressure and exhibits a valley-like depression in a different colour to signify a “safe zone” of 1.5 metres arond the person. This “safe zone” shows the distance that the person should always maintain when socialising or interacting with other people.
Here, Cosimo Scotucci discusses his inspiration behind Physx, his design process and the ultimate goal of his works.
Pallavi Mehra (PM): Please tell us a little about your journey as an architect, artist, innovator and future driven thinker.
Cosimo Scotucci (CS): I have always been fascinated by architecture, from its ability to shape the world and to foresee tomorrow's life. Throughout my career, I have had the privilege to work at many important architectural firms across Europe, where I have learned how to be critical and determined. In my free time, I am a reader, I read about 35 to 40 books a year, and I am always listening to lectures and talks from the most influential people in the world. This spurs me to always find new intellectual challenges and to seek creative ideas.
PM: In Physx, your latest social distancing installation, you have conceptualised a dynamic model instead of the currently proposed static solutions. Why did you think there was a need for a more dynamic solution?
CS: People's reality is much different than a static model, it is much more articulated—we usually move around in not given patterns. I deeply believe in people and in their empowerment, so I thought that the best solution would be to give them back the chance to move freely in a space.
PM: Physx has been inspired from the space-time net, in which an astronomical body bends the spatial network around it defining an “area of interest” depending on the mass and the gravity that generates. How did you think this could help in social distancing? Also, what do you hope to achieve with Physx?
CS: I am extremely interested in astrophysics and for this project I really took inspiration from one of the most powerful scientific concepts—gravity. What really makes Physx unique is that it doesn't need any electricity or mechanics to operate. It can be installed anywhere and it will work under any environmental condition, inside as outside, on a rainy day or under the bright sun.
After the release of the project, I have been contacted by many actors—mayors, curators, developers and journalists from all over the world. People are enthusiastic about this idea and they want to build it in their own city, town, festival or company. I am currently prototyping the special membrane together with some institutes and companies spread across the globe and I hope to be able to install Physx everywhere it could help. My goal is to develop an open source, copyright-free material so that everyone could build one to help in the fight against coronavirus.
PM: What inspires you to create the projects and installations that you do?
CS: Everything starts from the investigation about a crucial topic for humanity, something that has a great influence on people and on their future, such as the pandemic, the climate etc., and then I research what has been done so far. In a second moment I ask myself, “how can I bring this a step further, how can I outsmart that issue?”
PM: Please talk about your process, both how you conceive or plan your designs and then how do you go about making the work?
CS: It is never an epiphany but a daily effort, day after day, iteration over iteration. I try to approach the problem from every possible perspective, evaluating every single possibility and eventually, I get to the best solution.
PM: Your works always seem to have a social message, such as raising awareness for global warming and rising sea levels. What is your ultimate goal for these works?
CS: The goal is to help people to realise the problem, to get them involved, to bring them to action. United we can overcome every single challenge.
PM: From fibre and glass to plastic and steel, you have used a wide range of materials for your projects. How do you decide which material to use for a particular project or installation?
CS: The material is just a medium to express a specific concept. After I have got the idea of what should be done or built, I start the investigation on the most suitable material to do so and then I pick up the phone, write huge piles of emails to companies and entrepreneurs to define the very best option.
PM: All your installations are futuristic. What advice do you have for architects and designers that want to achieve a similar design aesthetic without going overboard?
CS: Cross-pollinate your professional knowledge with the one from other fields. Inspirations are everywhere!
PM: What must a designer remember in order to create a more democratic, resilient world and a better future?
CS: That whatever we do will inevitably have an impact on our lives and on the ones of the generations to come, we all have a tremendous responsibility.
PM: What is the biggest challenge while converting intention into action when it comes to changing ecosystems and lifestyles?
CS: Some people are either reluctant or afraid to change their behaviours, but we need everyone involved and we, as designers, have the great power to stimulate the change. Today, we design the infrastructures, the solutions and ultimately the society for the world of tomorrow.