A responsive system.

Sensors trigger light and sound in response to the movement of people below

‘Fire’ was comprised of 22 laser cut aluminum cones suspended above the approach to the University of Michigan’s Duderstadt Center

Each cone had sensors that triggered light and sound in response to the movement of people below.

The cones were designed to make a complex form from a relatively simple flat pattern. Tabs and holes for assembly and attachment were cut as part of the laser cutting process. Each cone contains a custom programmed Arduino micro-controller with input from an infrared sensor controlling output to 30 super bright LEDs. As the sensor is triggered, the lights blink for a preprogrammed duration. As more sensors are tripped the flickering light reflected on the aluminum surface and the layered sound of recorded crackling give the sensory experience of fire.


‘Fire’ was commissioned as part of a University of Michigan initiative to explore arts-driven inquiry.

Multidisciplinary teams were sponsored to develop work that explored environmental issues. Our team was given the element of fire to work with. We began by asking how to design fire, rethinking or repositioning its characteristics, and attempting to use its broad range without ever having to strike a match. The resulting installation uses the characteristics of fire to extend the way we might consider technology.


‘Fire’ proved popular with the North campus community that uses the Duderstadt Center. On several occasions, we talked with people standing under it during the cold Michigan Winter about the heat it was producing. It was not producing any heat. This effect was purely psychological. It was kept on site for twice as long as had been planned. There was some will for it to become permanent. However, this was not to be. On reflection, mounting subwoofers on the underside of the office of the building’s namesake was unlikely to result in permanence.

‘Fire’ was the first time we collaborated with architect Karl Daubmann. This led to further collaborations (et dukkehjem in 2008, Shadow Pavilion in 2009, THR_33 in 2010, menotme in 2012, Rules of the Road in 2014, and Resonance in 2015), and the creation of a joint venture r+d LAB, LLC – a collaborative entity formed by Cézanne Charles, John Marshall (rootoftwo) and Karl Daubmann (DAUB) that operated out of premises at 100 N. 4th Ave, Ann Arbor, MI until 2015.



Date: 2008
Location: The James and Anne Duderstadt Center, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
Client: Commissioned by Arts Engine

Design: Spring 2008
Completed: Fall 2008

Arts Engine

John Marshall (rootoftwo)
Karl Daubmann (PLY Architecture)
Werner Dahm (U.S. Air Force, Pentagon)
Sound Design: Alvin “Munk” Hill

Dimensions: 12’ (L) x 12’ (W) x 15’ (H)

Media: Aluminum, 24 Arduino microcontrollers, 660 super bright LEDs, 17 passive infrared sensors, 4 speakers, 2 subwoofers, custom audio, wiring, plywood, lumber.

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