top of page

Biophilic Experiences

Week 4: Final Project Presentation

For my final project, I plan to have a complete prototype of my thesis project which I will be presenting at the end of the semester. I think this class will be able to provide me with some invaluable feedback within the context of the course goals, which I can then use to make my thesis project even better.

Here is a link to my slide deck presentation about my project proposal:

Week 3: Empathy Exercise

Below are a few ideas we came up with for our empathy exercise:

  • A game - how fast can you clean your legs?? When the legs are dirty it muffles their senses

  • Send a phone vibration - people blindfolded – communicate with each other via vibrations - give people a task to do - trying to catch prey -

  • Smell maze - deterred by the smell of tea tree oil, peppermint oil, don’t like lavender, or rosemary, don’t like vinegar - love moisture. Scent trail with a prize - looking for smells with tags on them - instructions(poem or limerick) - getting warmer getting colder - prey have smells? Hot smells, cold smells - sniff hole

  • Two enclosures - crawl into the room you feel safest??? CRAWLING!!!!

  • Choose your own adventure smell book - pass it around - smell journey?? Scratch n sniff

  • Four corners of the room - pick the corner of the room that is most favorable to a centipede - different parts of a house - we are the humans/predators… they are the centipede

  • Courtship - instructions, how to pick up your centipede partner - valentines day

  • Class moves like a centipede with - using web sockets?

We finally ended up wanting to create a short game using the centipede's sense of smell which helps guide their navigation and is an important part of the way they sense the world around them. In this game, players would pretend to be a centipede and use their noses to determine which direction they should move based on what they were smelling. The scents were chosen based on our research of a variety of chemicals that both attract and deter house centipedes. It was difficult to find scents that attract them as most documentation we found was about creating scents to repel them away from your home. However in trying to recreate smells that are most common in their ideal environment I believe we came up with a successful solution that people were able to logically understand. We didn't want to give too much away as to allow people to react naturally after smelling the scent.

Experience Design Blueprint: 5 minutes

Onboarding: 2 minute

  • Lined up horizontally in the middle of the room

  • Move left or right towards safety, prey or towards (death?)

  • “Your goal is to avoid predators and find your prey. When you smell something, take a step to the left if you think it’s safe. Take a step to the right if you think you’re in danger.”


  • Lavender

  • Tea tree oil

  • Vinegar

  • Cockroach bait

  • Citrus

  • Moldy/damp smell

  • Least pungent to most pungent

    • Create varying levels of scent

Smell your way to safety as a centipede:

Gather everyone in a largeish space. The elevator banks should work fine.

“To start, everyone stand in a line, front to back. This game is called “smell your way to safety… as a centipede”. The aim of the game is to use your sense of smell to determine whether you think as a centipede that smells like somewhere SAFE or somewhere NOT SAFE. You want to decide as a centipede whether what you smell is somewhere safe- where you can find PREY - or somewhere with a PREDATOR. In a moment we will ask you to place blindfolds over your eyes. We will then show you different smells. When we show you a smell we will tap your shoulder once. After that a step to the LEFT means that you feel SAFE AND THAT YOU ARE MOVING TOWARDS your PREY. A step to the RIGHT means that you feel unsafe and you are moving towards danger.”

“If at any point you feel uncomfortable being blindfolded, or exposed to smells, please feel free to step aside and remove yourself from the situation. This is not mandatory. Neither us nor the centipedes will judge you.”

“For those who participate the whole time, we’ll tell you when to remove your blindfold.”

Close eyes and run meditation

Show (decide order tomorrow):

  1. Moldy/Damp

  2. Tea tree oil

  3. Mildew

  4. Damp

  5. Lavender

  6. Cockroach bait

  7. Citrus

PRIZE?? - gummy worms

Below are some documentation video and images of the experience:

Week 2: House Centipedes

A house centipede's face, kind of cute don't you think?

This week Sarah, Olive and I decided to do our empathy exercise on the house centipede! We were initially drawn to bugs and crawlies for their often misunderstood ways, and centipedes are a perfect example of that. First and foremost, they’re actually great for the home and are known to eat bed bugs, cockroaches, termites, silverfish, and more, so we really shouldn’t be too upset to see them around. Here are some of our other favorite facts:

  • newly hatched larvae are only born with four pairs of legs, and during subsequent molts is when they get all of their famous legs (though not 100 (somewhere between 15 and 60?)).

  • they’re crazy fast, pushed forward mostly by really strong back legs

  • their antennae mimic the look of their legs (automimicry) and both contain sensors on them

  • the ends of their legs function almost like ropes that lasso their prey

  • they don’t create nests or webs, rather are always on the hut for their next prey

  • they love a good groom and will literally groom each leg from the front to the back

  • they have very long life spans - 5-7 years

  • They have very poor eyesight, can only differentiate between light and dark, but are very sensitive to ultraviolet light. However, they primarily use their antennae and legs to sense the world around them (smell and touch).

  • Some of the plates covering the body segments fused and became smaller during the evolution, which explains it’s rigid body structure

  • Centipedes cannot shut the mechanism which allows air into their body (spiracles), therefore they need to live in cool and damp places to prevent dehydration.

  • They eat many pest organisms such as cockroaches and silverfish, therefore they are useful animals to have in your home

  • It’s scientific name Scutigera is Latin for 'shield bearing', because of the shape of the plates on the last several segments

  • Centipedes do not copulate for reproduction. The female centipede collects the spermatophore deposited by the male, often after he performs a courtship dance

We found a really great video which gives you a close-up look at the house centipede

We haven’t settled on a specific idea for the experience we want to create, but some thoughts/narratives so far are:

  • play with the perspective of their speed vs ours

  • a self care story about grooming their many legs

  • show more detail the rope-like mechanism for catching their prey - have people try to “catch” prey?

  • show how they’re misunderstood to humans (they’re never trying to hurt us!)

  • Some type of visual representation of the undulating movement of it's legs

Week 1: 2 Lizards

For our experience this week, I decided to check out 2 Lizards by Meriem Bennani and Orian Barki installed in the Whitney museum's theater located in the lobby.

2 dancing lizards, our central protagonists

2 Lizards is a film comprising a series of short vignettes detailing small moments and interactions of characters living in New York City during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The installation is particularly poignant because we are entering a point in the pandemic where it feels as though it happened ages ago, but is still ever-present in our lives. Likewise, the stories we tell about our lives during the peak of the pandemic are still clear and visceral, yet at the same time feel as though they are being washed away with the passage of time. This film serves to reignite those recent memories using animated anthropomorphized non-human animals as our storytellers.

Due to the film's subject matter and storytelling method, it's hard to talk about 2 lizards as an expression of a singular idea in the context of this class. To better organize my thoughts and my experience, I decided to break it down into several categories.

A nice way to guide us to the theater, to walk in the footsteps of these two lizards and set the tone for the film

2 Lizards As a Documentary

Adopting a format similar to that of stories told via social media platforms, 2 Lizards does a great job of sharing a multitude of experiences during the pandemic that are both specific to these two artists, and very universal for anyone living in NYC during the worst of the pandemic. From having friends who have to leave the country/state due to unemployment issues, to the severe mysophobia felt while interacting with others. We all have similar stories to tell - which is why for me the experience of watching 2 Lizards brought back memories I had already forgotten, like a PTSD flashback. What made these flashbacks tolerable was the use of humor in these vignettes. The 8 or so people I saw the film with were laughing almost the entire time, which makes the uncomfortableness of the subject matter much more tolerable and enjoyable. Several of the scenes consisted of news reports that I remember watching with an unfiltered lens, meaning that they didn't feature a pi-pedal talking gazelle and ostrich. Which brings me to my next talking point.

2 Lizards As a Biophilic Experience

I was trying to analyze the reasoning behind using non-human animals to tell these very personal human stories in 2 Lizards while I was watching it. I came up with a few ideas but I'm interested in hearing more about the artists' relationship with these non-human characters. Using Anthropomorphized animals to tell stories that are inextricably human is a technique that's far older than Mickey Mouse. But I think Disney has been the most successful in recent history. In these kinds of animated stories, we use animals forms to relay non-verbal information about the characters being portrayed.

One easy analogy from my childhood is the Tom and Jerry cartoon. Tom is a cat who's always trying to catch Jerry who is a mouse. Tom is an ineffective predator, a trait that subverts our understanding of the cat species. Meanwhile Jerry is an extremely intelligent and cunning mouse, oftentimes devising methods of retaliation at Tom that are particularly brutal, a trait seemingly more befitting of a predator. The irony in their personalities in comparison to our associations with these species is what makes the stories engaging. I kept trying to project my understanding of why the specific non-human animals were chosen in 2 Lizards as a method of character building. Many times we connect with specific animals on a spiritual level, I wonder if that was the idea behind selecting which animals were chosen to portray each character. Or if it had something to do with the various geographical history of the humans who created them.

The irony was not lost on me

Using non-human animals to tell these kinds of stories does serve a more obvious purpose in 2 Lizards, and that is it helps further the absurdist humor that is central to most of the vignettes. Watching a lizard and a snow leopard stand 6 feet apart staring at a brown paper bag on the concrete while waiting for a family of rodents to pass on the street makes you realize how absurd our reactions to this pandemic were now that we have a better scientific understanding of how the virus is spread. It makes me uncomfortable, but at least I'm laughing.

A lot of our initial fear surrounding the coronavirus felt like a very primal reaction. I was trying to use my scientific brain, but fear of the unknown and the misunderstood took over for a while, as it did for all of us. So much so that we were washing our money, and harshly judging others for not wearing a thin piece of fabric over their face. The use of these animated creatures forces us to remove the context and humanity of these actions and allows us to look at it from an outside perspective, reminding us that we humans make some really weird, thickheaded and destructive decisions. We're all animals after all.

2 Lizards As a Cartoon

regardless of your political beliefs, this is a very funny scene

2 Lizards is reminiscent of a Saturday morning cartoon format. Each story was short, complete but was also highlighting some serious political issues going on at the height of the pandemic, particularly around racial injustice. I was immediately reminded of recent animated films/tv shows which deal with complex racial/sex/gender issues such as Zootopia and Beastars. Using anthropomorphized animals in these stories allows us to talk about real world issues that wouldn't otherwise receive Walt's seal of approval. Another film I was reminded of, which I think is lesser known is Mr. Stain on Junk Alley which I highly recommend if you haven't spent time with it. It has similar absurdist humor while touching on the subject matter of homelessness. Mr. Stain, who is a human, makes friends with several anthropomorphized non-human animals in short vignettes surrounding found objects in the alley where they all live. There's a lot of slap-stick humor in the show itself which is reminiscent of cartoons in the late 1930s, though Mr. Stain highlights darker themes throughout the show such as food insecurity, starvation and death.


bottom of page