The Social Pipework

A response to the harmful effects on mental health caused by increased social media usage during COVID-19, this thesis combines networked technologies with communal bathing to explore sensorial stimulation and togetherness in a post-pandemic context.

Communal bathing is woven into the present-day social fabrics of Japanese, Turkish, and Icelandic cultures, among many others, but the activity can be traced back to ancient times. In the Roman Empire, for example, thermae were not only restorative spaces but crucial sites for social intercourse. Bathhouses gathered many different people—rich and poor, free and enslaved, young and old—in close quarters to cleanse and converse. Water (like media) was an extension of the body and (like architecture) a medium for public life. If technologists often draw a comparison between data moving through fiber-optic cables and liquid flowing through pipes, one could say that the Roman baths were the Roman internet.

Set in 2030, The Social Pipework builds on this legacy by proposing a digitally enhanced, multi-story bathhouse inside Chicago’s former Facebook offices, which remain vacant after employees started working from home. In the future, the City of Chicago will oversee the redevelopment of Class-A office space as part of ongoing public works initiatives. As people seek vitalizing alternatives to social media, this project interweaves plumbing and data infrastructure to create immersive environments for collective healing. Manufactured springs reuse the excess heat generated by servers to produce differences in water temperature and humidity. Tubs equipped with Aquatop Displays use depth cameras and projections to turn water into interactive screens. Bathers are supplied with wetsuits designed to meet higher standards of public health; to absorb and redistribute liquid; and to transmit data across bodies. This thesis aims to revive urban space through carefully coordinated systems and protocols that sponsor new social exchanges and information flows.
Faculty Advisor:
Cyrus Peñarroyo