spatial experiences

design lab spring 2020

Sarah Xi
16 min readApr 16, 2020

Project Objectives:

  • Design modular systems to create three dimensional forms and spatial experiences.
  • Consider form and structure in a range of scales to develop an understanding of the relationships between 3D forms.


  • Canson Watercolor Paper
  • Xacto Knife
  • Copic markers

4/16/2020: Module Design 1

This design was very leaf-like. I had scored it down vertically with an Xacto and cut out four slits on each side.

I first linked it horizontally, which eventually formed into a flower-like shape. What I realized that with this test configuration, however, is that it wasn’t possible to link chains of this on top of each other. As such, I ended up experimenting with various ways to join each module piece.

(left + middle) same rule, flower-like structure; (right) exploring a different rule
(above) exploring another rule but alternating/mirroring each module

In the end, the two configurations I did was more ‘organic’ as it didn’t follow an exact rule or linear method of joining together. The explorations as seen above were explorations of different rules, and the configurations I ended up creating were just exploring ways to use the module to ‘grow’ the structure. For both configurations (as seen below), I mostly focused on connecting it to each other (which ended up forming two loops with each other).

Configuration 1:

(above) config 1

Configuration 2:

(above) config 2

Module Design 2:

For my second module design, I wanted to experiment with geometric shapes. I also changed the orientation of the slits to see if it was more ‘stackable’/versatile than having the slits perpendicular to each other like the first module.

Configuration 1:
The first configuration was structured around intercrossing pieces that unified together. I first created two loops with the modules and then found ways to connect it into a larger structure.

(above) config 1

In the process of building the structure, I realized that using different sides/faces of the module changes the direction in which it can grow. This then led to the realization that being able to mirror a module can create more opportunity, which gives you an option for more complex structures. As long as mirroring each module is a part of the rule, it allows for more versatility in what you can create.

Configuration 2:
The structure of the second configuration was similar to one of the first module designs in that I created two ‘loops’ that looked a bit like a spiral from the top view. This configuration mostly explored how flexible the placement of the slits made the module, how stackable/versatile it is. As such, this structure was built with how it much it can grow (how much it can expand or move in different directions) in mind.

(above) top view

Module Design 3:

For my third module design, I made it to be a quadrilateral (parallelogram). The placement of the slits here was an exploration to see how the position of them limits the type of structures I can create, which was why I only had vertical slits and no horizontal ones.

Configuration 1:
For the first configuration, I interlocked two pieces together on alternating sides to stack into a tower-like structure.

Something I noticed when building this configuration is that mirroring the orientation of a module affects the pattern seen on the structure and how it can ‘grow’. With this configuration, however, I realized that there weren’t slits to allow for expansion and it could only grow ‘taller’.

Configuration 2:
For the second configuration, I alternated stacking single pieces and pairs on top of each other to create a ‘peak’-like structure.

By using a single module as the piece that ‘advanced’ the tiers, I was able to create a structure that grew both taller and longer length wise. If I continued to stack under the configuration I showed in the picture, I think I would be able to create a pyramid-like structure.

Things to note/Critique:

  • Couldn’t really think about what I wanted the configuration to look like until I cut all the pieces together and pieced it together
  • Placement of slits and shape changes how flexible the module is for configuration.
  • Interesting note of how placing a module mirrored (even with few slits) can create more complex structures → can create complexity with simplicity.
  • Cuts + slits with the same length will create a better sense of ‘regularity’ in structures.
  • Pay attention to the rule of the configuration! (also don’t forget to take a picture of the rule)

4/21/2020: Modular Structure

I created two modular designs for my structure. One is made from a triangle with scores that allow the edges to fold up, and the other is made from the same triangular shape but trimmed down on the sides.

The trimmed down shape is to act as a ‘connector’ for the scored triangular shapes.

(above) measuring out 2x2x2 inch triangles
(left) taking a pre-made connector module to cut more out from triangles; (middle) the two modules; (right) showing how to put it together

To create the first module, I took a triangle and scored on two of its sides to create the two side flaps. I then cut two slits in the middle and a notch on each side. Then, to create the second module, I trimmed the tip of the triangles off and cut a diagonal slit on each side to create the second module.

Using the connector modules, I was able to stack through the two slits in the middle of the triangular module. I then was able to connect the entire thing using the slits and notches.

(left) process of stacking it together; (right) sitting person made out of paper and sharpie

Finished Iteration:

(above) angled views
(left) back view; (right) top view

Some things I realized while I was making this was that I had made the triangle sides 2 inches, not the height. I realized that I was working a tad bit small halfway through and this definitely contributed to some struggles, especially when piecing it together. I ended up using a pair of tweezers that I had to make it easier. Because it was so small, it ended up being extremely tight knit, which made the overall structure smaller than expected.

Human Reference:

kinda looks like a pine cone. . .

Another thing that I want try next time is to keep building (with proper 2 x 2 inch modules) and have it connect into a circle. By having two slots in the triangular module, this would in theory allow the structure to form a ‘roof’.

4/23/2020: Color & Lighting

The mood I wanted to go with for my structure is inspired by the environment in which the Storm King sculptures are located.

(above) Storm King Art Center in New York

Before exploring coloring, I took a few pictures on the windowsill with natural light.

Because the medium I used is paper, I decided to use Copic markers to color my configuration. Although I didn’t create a bigger version of this structure, I cut off the ends of the triangular modules as suggested from critique last class. This then allowed the structure to be two sided, as people could sit on both sides.

(left) BV20 marker and BV000 marker; (right) cutting off the tip so both sides can be used to sit

Initially, I was going to color one side light violet and the other side blue violet. But because the color was too faint, and that you could only see one side of it, I decided to color the light violet over with the blue violet.

(left) using the darker blue violet marker on both sides; (right) stacking!!

Lighting Explorations:
Here, I used my camera flash to truly capture the colors on the structure as the lighting I had in the house was too dim and warm to capture on camera.

(above) lower angle

Here, I tried to use the light and shadows from the staircase to create a sense of ‘height’ from the structure. The human to structure scale I was working in intended to make the configuration feel like it was towering over the viewer standing below. This way, the people sitting and looking out could see far into the distance.


  • Lavender accent color makes interaction more clear and intentional.
  • Color reminds of metal, sturdy to sit on.
  • Inside structure: individual seats, people can sit next to each other and its more inviting as the seats are pointed towards each other.
  • Outer side: ‘longer’ seats allow for more than one people to sit on, but each individual seat are pointed outwards from each other.
  • Show multiple people on the structure, cut more people out!
  • Light + shadows casted over the structure created deeper ‘beams’ of shadow/light to make structure feel sturdy and dependable (to sit on or be on).

4/28/2020: Color & Lighting + Mood

Physical Context: Storm King Art Center
Adjectives: Peaceful, Sturdy, Structured
Lighting: Mildly dim from the setting sun.

(above) Storm King Art Center — Daybreak/Sunset

For this iteration, I remade the same modules so that the overall structure would be sized up. I made the triangles from 2 x 2 x 2 inches to 2.5 inches.

(left) drawing out the triangles; (right) 2 inches compared to 2.5 inch dimensions

As for the color, I used the same colors as the cool blue violet made the pieces look more ‘steel-like”—which would give off a sturdier impression. This time, I layered my BV20 Copic (Dull Lavender) with BV000 (Iridescent Mauve).

Final Pictures:

The first two pictures were taken as the sun was setting. The scale of the people were the same as before—kind of small, maybe too small.

(above) newly sized up structure, same sized people

Interview 1:

Person 1: Structure looks extremely tall, very precarious, but lighting makes overall structure feel tranquil.
Person 2: Structure looks huge, makes it feel intimidating but it reminds them of trees(???), treetop village(??) but small version. Material looks metallic, steel-like, sturdy.
Person 3: Structure looks bench-like, regal (as if people who judges would sit on it), kind of imposing.

Scaling up people to structure scale:

Here, using the same structure, I drew in bigger people to explore how a size change alters the perception of the structure.

(above) people watching stars or the sunset

Interview 2:

Person 1: Structure looks less tall, not as precarious. Lighting/mood: calming.
Person 2: Structure now reminds them of a bench, structure looks as if it’s meant to be sat on. Still looks cold, but less intimidating.
Person 3: Feels more relaxed, more like a gathering place.


  • Person in the fourth picture (darkest lighting) looks scared.
  • The windowsill picture were nice in a sense that you can see the sky and green, fitting for Storm King.
  • Structure still feels sharp, the darker picture made it feel too intimidating and closed off.
  • Try reconfiguring modules to create more visual interest, current model is too ‘wall-like’.
  • Make structure lower? Take the first row of connector modules out maybe.
  • Definitely scale person up — less intimidating structure.

4/30/2020: Final Iteration

Given the feedback that I got from the previous weeks, I decided to tweak my module designs a bit to help it fit the adjectives/mood better. To start, I used a pair of scissors to round out the harsh edges of both modules.

In terms of color, the original purple color gave the structure a metallic feel. After getting more feedback, however, I was advised to explore the potential use of two colors to show the different sides of my structure (as the user can sit on either side).

(left) experimenting with coloring different sides, either top tip blue or bottom is blue; (right) ultimately deciding on tip to be blue

As such, I used a B14 (Light Blue) Copic marker to create a gradient over the purple I already had.

(above) rule of constructing my previous configuration

Composition 1:
For this composition, I wanted to make the structure lower to the ground for stability. In the previous interviews, the structure was seen as intimidating and precarious when it was perceived as large and tall.

By taking out modules from the bottom and using two connector pieces on the first level to fill both slits, this then allowed the structure’s center of balance be lower to the ground (making it more stabile). This also allowed the structure to be more accessible for people to sit on.

One issue I encountered, however, was that having two pieces sandwiched in between two other modules makes the overall structure too stiff. This made bending it into an S-shape harder.

Composition 2:

To fix the ‘flexibility’ issue, I changed it to using only one connector module that fit in the first slit (narrower) of the lower level and second slit (wider) of the upper level.

(left) connecting slit 1 + 2; (right) first half of structure

To create the structure, I split it in half. I created two of the same sub-structure (seen in rightmost picture above) and then joined them after flipping (mirroring) one of the parts. This then joined together with two more connector modules that create the overall S-shape.

Another issue I had found in configuration 1 was that the ends of the structure ended abruptly. To create a transition from each end of the structure, I took a colored module (the module for sitting) and put it at the ends. By creating only one layer at the ends, it then created a rise and fall leading line along the structure. However, it began to look a little sloppy as the module started to slant, touching the ground.

To fix this, I took a connector module from the first few iterations (where everything was made too small) and put it on the side to lift it off the ground. This stabilized the overall structure more and allowed the ends to curl inwards more.

(above) showing how the smaller module created a sense of rise and how it supports the module on the end
(above) top view to show the S-Shape

As such, for this final iteration, I ended up using three modules: one main module, and two different sized connector modules.

Configuration Pictures:

Human Scale References:
As noticed from the interviews, changing the person scale to be larger made the structure feel more inviting/accessible to sit on.

Final Pictures of Modular Structure:

Final Mood Adjectives: Peaceful, Comfortable, Sturdy
Physical Context: Storm King
Verb: Sitting

With Human References:

(above) structure with human references for scale

Without Human References:


When starting this project, I had only explored with basic shapes to see how different shapes and placement of slits would form into a structure. It wasn’t until I had started thinking about the mood and interaction verb I wanted to portray, that allowed me to hone in on a path amongst the numerous other possibilities.

That being said, I wanted to create a structure that could be created through an obvious ‘rule’ with repetition, in addition to being able to highlight the verb. Since I was looking for a way for the module to be easily stacked or be built in a repeated pattern, I opted for an equilateral triangle shape for the base because it is easily made in quantity. After starting there, I then tried to figure out ways to create modules that would work together. As such, I created two modules from the same sized base triangles: one made with the verb in mind, and the other to allow for multiple ways of configuring the overall structure.

Initially, I created something that was very wall-like. However, it was unstable and visually too linear, so I thought about continuing the pattern so that it connected full circle. The issue I encountered when doing so was that I was forcing the joints to curl a certain way, and when it’s pushed too far, it would break. As such, I then reached a point where I realized that I needed thoroughly change the configuration through the feedback I had received.

All in all, what I took away from this project was that although something may seem set in stone, you’ll never know if there’s a different way of approaching it unless you try.



Sarah Xi

Hey! I’m currently studying design @CMU with a focus on communications design + minor in HCI. You can find some of the projects I’ve worked on here.