This Basket Weaves Itself Based On How Many People Are Watching

If you walk away, the machine stops working. If you bring a friend, the design adjusts to acknowledge your presence.

It sounds like a character in a Ridley Scott film: A robot that’s so smart, so efficient, it only works when people are there to monitor its performance. A robot that’s so creative, so conniving, it actually preys upon human attention to make a more beautiful product. It’s not the Blade Runner sequel–and it’s not that frightening–it’s the concept behind Collective Works, a mesmerizing project commissioned by W Hotels for this year’s Design Miami/Basel.


Collective Works is the project of Vienna-based mischer’traxler, headed by Katharina Mischer and Thomas Traxler, who wanted to explore the idea of a truly “collaborative” design piece. Their piece consists of a simple basket-weaving machine–with a twist that turns innocent human bystanders into collaborators in the process, whether they know it or not.

In most aspects, the machine functions just like any basket-making device. A wooden strip of veneer is passed through glue and slowly wound around a base on a platform that gradually lowers itself, forming the walls of the basket. But due to sensors embedded in the frame of the basket-weaving machine, Collective Works can detect how many people are standing near the platform. When the area is empty, the machine pauses. When one person is watching, the machine starts back up. When a second person joins the first, a light color is added to the veneer. And depending on how many people are observing the process, the basket’s design becomes more and more complex, adding up to four colors in increasing gradients.

It’s an interesting exercise in something I’d call “passive interaction.” So many interactive projects require some kind of action, but here, you can be a part of a project’s outcome without really doing anything. Plus it’s a fascinating way to get more eyeballs on your piece, since the more people who participate in the basket-making, the more intricate and detailed the pattern. People will grab their friends and bring them over to see how it works. And using a basket as the format–rather than, say, a tapestry–is particularly clever, since the growing coils act as a kind of 3-D timeline. It’s data visualization that you’d be proud to put in your living room.

[H/T Icon Eye]


About the author

Alissa is a design writer for publications like Fast Company, GOOD and Dwell who can most often be found in Los Angeles. She likes to walk, ride the bus, and eat gelato.