About Plantenna

Plantenna is a collection of hybrid wearable devices that listen to the sounds in their environment. These devices capture not only electromagnetic frequencies, but also whispers between plants, gusts of wind, rays of sunlight, stepping on the ground... When the collection is worn together, it creates a symphony of sound to enliven the wearer’s experience while wandering in urban space.
The project was inspired by observation of the patio gardens, rare sightings of trees along the streets and the concrete architecture of Merida. It seeks to subvert the order that urban spaces impose on their inhabitants by questioning efficiency-driven high-tech navigation system like GoogleMap and
proposing alternative ways of engaging with an urban space through the lens of the Situationist.


field design research

When & Where?

February 2020
Merida, Mexico


ghost detector, soldering, 
shoemaking, beading


The project was developed during a five-week field studio in Mérida, Yucatan. This format placed an emphasis on using locally sourced materials to produce a work that would hopefully reflect the context in which it was made. The brief was open ended: to create a sound map that explored the definitions of both “sound” and “map.”

Challenge: (re-)Defining Map

The design and production of maps is a craft that has developed over thousands of years, from clay tablets to Geographic information systems. A map is a medium on which we learn about a place and navigate ourselves through it. maps may represent any space, real or fictional, two-dimension or three-dimension, physically or digitally. People used to use physical maps in the past, but now we don’t seem to be able to step out of the house without navigation apps on our smartphones anymore. The principle of contemporary navigation system design is its efficiency: less time, more accurate. On those maps, we turn into small blue dots moving on a tiny expensive screen. With our eyes stuck on the tiny screen that represents the space we are in, our senses and experience flattens down into simply following an isensible robotic voice. We gradually lost our experiences in the space and potential interactions with it. It is a bit ironic to ask “where am I (SERIOUSLY, I)?” So I started to wonder How can we get a more immersive experience in the space and more chances for interaction within it when using a map navigating through space? How do we retrieve, or even enhance, those spatial experiences and interactions that have been flattened out by efficiency?

Field Research in Merida, Mexico

Different from studio projects, this design research and subsequent implementations were done in the field. In the process, I tried to explore the uniqueness of Merida in its urban planning, architecture and cultural life, and later utilize them as inspiration and resource for my map design practices.

01. Dérive & Map

GoogleMap’s bird’s-eye view is the view of power and controls. Urban plan can be described as lego bricks that authorities plays carefully (or not) from a god view. then each street, architecture, infrastructure become disciplines of human behaviors, which again guide people under control. How can individuals walk out of this urban grids? these are the questions about survive and thrive.

The theory of dérive may offer us answer to these questions. Situationist defines the dérive as "a mode of experimental behavior linked to the conditions of urban society: a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances." It is an unplanned journey through a landscape, usually urban, in which participants drop their everyday relations and "let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there".

It suggests deconstructing the existing spatial cognition and ideology in a game-like way, and then realize the rebellion and possible transformation of the now functionally differentiated / solidified urban space, that is, the transition from personal art and physical practice to urban space. Then to achieve the liberation of social space and daily life. It doesn’t mean a pedestrian should walk in the city brainlessly, but on the contrary, it encourages passenger’s developement of agency to explore, to engage with, to experience the space, altering the persipective of control to the perspective of play, discovery and rebel.

A psychogeograpy map of Paris suggesting an urban space that matters to the pedestrian.

02. Sound & Mapping

Situationists offer us a chance to bring us form God’s view to a first-person perspective, thus creates a more immersive sensory experience. Although our experience heavily relies on vision, I also think about using other senses like sound, smell and taste to enhance our experience in the space. As the second part of my field research, I tired to focus on relying on multiple senses to navigate/explore a space other than my vision. We went to Parque de Las Américas located in the center of the city, then covered our eyes and started to explore the space led by other senses: suddenly, the sound became clearer; the touch of the ground felt more subtle; the smell of grass and food vender became more intense. It was surprised to me how often we were used to neglect other senses. Among them, I found sound also a good resource for navigation. Multiple sound inputs from the city composed into alive symphony: an acoustic system of noise and rhythms, thus creating a map to be heard.


03. Plants & Merida

Local people refer Merida as a city of cement, which results in very few exposed soil for plants to live. Roads, architectures in Merida remain unchanged for more than 100 years. The government bans citizens from making unauthorized alterations of the city. But plants are everywhere in the city: in the pots at front doors; on bar tables; on the wall of cafes and restaurants; on the tiles and garments, etc. If you get inside someone’s house, you will probably be surprised by a secret garden behind the buildings. Plants in Merida, no matter physical or virtual, gave me a sense of rebellion of this solidified urban space, of control. It was a strong recall of my previous questions about survive and thrive. The celebration of plants is a collaboration of human and nature against control of any forms.

the Ghost Detector

I participated in a circuit DIY workshop conducted by Chilean electronic musician and artist Constanza Piña during my stay in Mexico. We went to the local electronic component store to get materials we need for the workshop and later learned how to build up a Ghost Detector, an antenna designed by Constanza. Inspired by her poetic thinking around the purpose and function of an antenna, The Ghost Detector will make sound under the action of electromagnetic frequencies: metaphorically, the Ghost Detector is both an excavator of invisible urban “treasures” and a communicator. With such features, I decided to utilize the Ghost Detector as a "navigation" tool for space exploration, to reveal the neglected even invisible details, and enrich our sensory experience in this space more immersively.

Sketching & Prototyping

mood board
As media being the extension of human body, I aimed to design something so immersive that almost feel like a part of human body. Therefore, I collected some fashion design references with technology and plants as design elements. This unique aesthetics of hybridization of machinery, plants and human bodies is very appealing to me: it potentially turns the wearer into  a moving plant, a half-human, half-plant/half Mechanical creature, or even a part of a moving urban space. I think that the hybrid aesthetics really fits the concept of immersive experience very well and that was how I wanted to execute my design.

I went to a local craft shop and bought some materials (including tiny straw hats, fake flowers, ribbons, etc.) that I thought I could utilize to create a piece of  wearable technology. Since I didn’t have much time or tools to create a garment, I chose to start with something small: a piece of plant-antenna hybrid headgear . Then I did a series of sketches to visualize my ideas.

Design & Craft

As a part of the field design research, I think the design should also reflect its context materially, aesthetically and culturally. During my stay in Merida, I was impressed by the beauty and delicacy of Yucatan craftsmanship and artworks. Therefore I want to make my design reflecting on these aspects of local culture without simply appropriating their culture heritage.

the Plantenna Headgear

The design of Plantenna headgear was inspired by Constanza’s poetic thinking about the  function of Antenna which captures the neglected subtlety of urban electronic sound. Biologists suggest that plants also communicate to each other in a way human can’t capture nor understand. So I designed and crafted this head piece as a hybridization of real plant and antenna and named it Plantenna. It not only capture urban electronic sound but also metaphorically/actually capture conversations between plants. Therefore it seeks to curate a middle space for subtle interaction with the urban environment. 

the Plantenna Shoe

This is another piece that I decided to make after I finished the headgear. It utilized another circuit model including a light-dependent resistor. Two conducting wires were tied under the shoe sole. The circuit will be connected when someone stepping on the ground with certain humidity, resulting the light-dependent resistor responding to the sunlight and making unique sound through the speaker. It seeks to simulate a real plant calling for sunlight and water in a human understandable sense.

The aesthetics also responded to the concept of hybridity. I manually beaded sequined flowers and applied them on the electronic components to create another imagery of technology embedded in Yucatan culture. It opened up another dialogues around the relationship between craft and technology, masculinity and femininity.


These items were exhibited as part of an open studio in B&G Atelier in Merida. I invited local citizens as well as my classmates to try them on and explore the insensible part of the city. One of their feedback suggested on possiblility of interaction between two people wearing them which turned the experience into a collective one. What I really appreciated about this proposal was how it turned our body-plant-space into a collective space with mobility, which eventually turned the solidified urban space into a fluid garden.

 Poster design credited to Maya Friedman