Neighborhood Watch is a collection of animated landscapes exploring narratives from our everyday urban environments transformed by domestication of industrial and military technologies, particularly camera-­equipped aerial vehicles (UAVs). As these technologies propagate, their algorithmic and physical performance will gradually shape all aspects of the built environment.

This crossroads between inevitable scientific achievement and security, observation, and mobility exemplifies the very definition of intervention; it is change that is thrust upon us and is, by its very nature, unavoidable. Despite its intimidating and daunting outlook, this project explores the more poetic and creative notions of these technologies and embeds them within our lives in a way that removes them from those initial sinister motives and enhance our lives rather than distract from them.

The scenarios in Neighborhood Watch emerge from imagined­ (but not entirely unlikely)­ aspects of life when we share the city with intelligent objects; airborne devices, flying (and perching) arrays of projectors, flocking and herding of air and land-­bound autonomous vehicles, UAV debris, and watchful­ but nosy­ auto-piloted cameras.

Rather than consisting of authored stories or entirely top­-down-designed “worlds,” the project is a construction site where the team used simulation software to add new elements to existing environments creating unfamiliar scenarios and situations with a degree of unpredictability, danger, and humor. The resulting narratives and visual materials have more in common with diagrams or weather maps than cinematic or gaming versions of reality. The unexpected results obtained through simulation encourage discussion about the plausibility, desirability, and value of everyday life mediated by the proliferation of airborne cameras – an automated kinetic infrastructure – and screens of all kinds. Viewers will be subject to a diagrammatic experience that foregrounds new civic codes, rituals and rhythms, and the emergence of emotional space in the context of culture and technology.

Our perspective is neither dystopian nor “boosterish”. We are not interested in sci-­fi moralizing or video game nihilism. Rather, we view this project as optimistic: that the effects of so much intimidating change can nevertheless be explored and appreciated – perhaps co-opted ­ with curiosity and humor in a way that artists, architects and filmmakers have been occasionally adept at in the past.

Artists: Ben Hooker+Shona Kitchen (Hooker + Kitchen), Andrew Nagata, Tim Durfee


Ben Hooker & Shona Kitchen are artists and designers who, since graduating from the Royal College of Art in London in 1997, have collaborated extensively. Typically, their work deals with interactive technologies in urban contexts. Their projects explore new spatial experiences that are the result of intangible computer-generated “data landscapes” merging with real spaces. Using technology to enhance and enrich rather than distract from the culture and aesthetics of their surroundings, their projects are realized using a network of collaborators; they work with manufacturers on practical commissions such as interactive museum exhibits and public artworks, with research scientists on more investigational projects that culminate in user-studies with particular communities, and with each other on conceptual projects that create foundations for more applied projects to follow.

Ben Hooker is an Associate Professor, Media Design Program, Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, CA. Shona Kitchen Department Head of the Graduate Program Digital + Media at Rhode Island School of Design.

Andrew Nagata is radio controlled model enthusiast turned mad design scientist whose work explores data as experience and emerging forms of tangible mediation. Working at the intersection of design and technology he is actively engaged in the research of new interactive paradigms, investigating the cultural implications of unfettered technological adoption with a particular interest in amateur robotics.
Tim Durfee’s perspective on architecture as part of a social and cultural continuum, including and beyond built form, is rooted in his background in writing, interface design, media, architecture, and exhibitions. Much of his work is inspired by simple category hybrids, such as buildings-as-interfaces, cities-as-databases, exhibitions-as-magazines, crowds-as-output. More than semantic games, these types of confusions of classification are occurring increasingly at all scales and contexts in our world today, prompted by the unifying effects of digital technology, globalism, and other forces.