Proving Grounds: Machine Scenography and Staging the Future


Employed chiefly in the military and automotive industry, “proving grounds” are exclusionary testing spaces designed by and for government agencies and corporations. This paper presents a brief history of proving grounds and examines one such testing space designed by an architect—the author—a 1:8 scale model city for testing autonomous vehicles (AVs) that breaks from this problematic legacy. The project proposes opportunities for collective agency in creating sociotechnical narratives in inclusive testing environments that become sites of public imagination. Moreover, the project examines how emerging technologies like AVs and AI be integrated into cities in ways that improve public health and safety, encourage equitable transit, and support climate resilience. Key questions include: (1) What interfaces might designers use to facilitate interactions between humans and autonomous agents in ways that increase public safety? Research explores modulating urban accessways and apertures shared between humans and machines. (2) What opportunities does autonomous mobility offer designers to innovate in the built environment in ways that improve public health? The study examines how networked traffic might reduce roadways, increase green space, and promote healthier cities. (3) How can cities implement AVs in sustainable ways that support climate resilience? This project examines connecting AV ridesharing with transit hubs to encourage multi-modal travel, reducing energy consumption, congestion, emissions, and sprawl.(4) How can cities incorporate AVs in ways that encourage equitable access to public transit? This project assesses how AVs can connect public transit to those living outside existing transit routes, especially people with disabilities and lower-income citizens.


Constance Vale
Assistant Professor and Chair of Undergraduate Architecture, Architecture, Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, United States


Presentation Type

Paper Presentation in a Themed Session


2023 Special Focus—New Agendas for Design: Principles of Scale, Practices of Inclusion


Artificial Intelligence, Autonomous Vehicles, Scale, Models, Technology, Narrative, Performing, Testing

Digital Media


Proving Grounds (Embed)