5 Main Principles of Universal Composition

The concept of Universal Composition - the multi-sensorial design of our urban environment in space and time - is based on 5 main principles, as described below.

1. Universal composition

Behind the term ‘universal composition’ is the idea that it promotes inclusivity and is accessible to everyone. The term ‘universal design’ has been used by architects and designers to mean "the design of products and environments to be usable to the greatest extent possible by people of all ages and abilities" [3]. However, rather than viewing the urban environment as a static built object, we view it as a dynamic one of urban systems connected in time and space.

Through the term ‘universal composition’, we hope to emphasise the fact that, even when implemented, a design continues to evolve with time. Composition, used most commonly in relation to music, highlights this temporal dependency, which is critical to composing our urban movements and interactions. Thus rather than designing, we propose the ‘composition’ of urban interactions – from detailed urban design experiences to transport flows - in space and time. Like a piece of music, we anticipate that such a compositional approach will lead to an urban environment greater than the sum of its design parts.

2. Products-and-processes

In the composition of dynamic interactions and evolving environments, we aim to shift the perspective of the urban environment, not as an object, but rather as a process. Each urban intervention, whether a piece of street furniture or a new tramway, is both a product and a process. For example, a bus stop is traditionally conceived as a static design element, i.e. product, while functionally it is a part of a dynamic process i.e. the bus system itself. Thus we hope to shift the focus of urban design elements as an end in themselves, to elements within a dynamic and evolving process, i.e. they are simultaneously a product and process.

3. Multisensorial

Integral to our compositional approach is the realization that our reality, current or future, is defined by our perception of it. We can only understand the world that we are able to perceive, and each of us has our own version of ‘reality’ according to the power of our individual senses. Many of us are disabled in one or more of our main senses of sight, hearing, taste, touch and smell. Thus addressing more of these senses would help contribute towards creating more accessible environments. In composing multisensorial environments, synesthesia – the simultaneous linking of multiple senses [4] - can also assist us in composing a multisensorial world.

However, there are many other senses that inform our perception, such as the sense of right and wrong. At the Universal Composition Laboratory, we question what is a sense and ask how we can design environments which ‘feel’ good rather than simply ‘look’ good. In order to do so, we propose a multisensorial approach informed by neuro and cognitive science while utilising creative HCI technologies. The goal of universal composition is to create a future city which is perceivable and understandable to everyone.

4. Transdisciplinarity

The composition of such multisensorial interactions must be informed by a wide range of expertise – from architecture, urban design, and engineering, to music, art, neuroscience and human computer interaction design. UCL-squared hopes to compose future urban interactions by transcending disciplines.

As an academic institution, we are currently in the process of developing a transdisciplinary post-graduate Masters degree (envisioned for September 2015) aimed at connecting graduates and professionals of any discipline(s), informing a more comprehensive view of the world. We hope that exposure to a broad range of disciplines will help promote learning between them, leading to the development of a common language. Graduates would implement interactive and transdisciplinary design interventions in society,which will inform both design research and application.

5. Collaborative

Finally, we are convinced that we cannot compose equitable and meaningful environments without community involvement. In order to make a positive contribution rather than unwanted imposition, we aim to work collaboratively with society. With communication being the key to understanding, we employ a diverse range of representation techniques, including music, drawing, dance and film, in order to effectively engage with as many people as possible. By doing so, we hope to better understand society’s aspirations and thus design for them.​​​​