November 1, 2011
Artisanship, digital design, and visualization come together in a pulsing, interactive wall at The Leonardo.
Brian Brush and Yong Ju Lee
Dynamic Performance of Nature
209 East 500 South
Salt Lake City
One hallmark of parametric design is the lightning-fast, almost organic flexibility it lends architecture—which was formerly, perhaps, the least adaptable of the arts. What happens when someone builds a design as changeable as the weather? Visitors to Salt Lake City’s art, science, and technology museum, The Leonardo, will find out with Dynamic Performance of Nature, an interactive wall that displays weather data from around the world.
Designed by Brian Brush and Yong Ju Lee, the installation pulls updates on weather—temperature, basic conditions, and wind speed and direction—from Google, as well as information on seismic activity from the U.S. Geological Survey’s earthquake database, creating a constantly changing, interactive image of the global environment. The wall opened to the public on October 8.
Brush and Lee met as students at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation. As studio desk partners in 2006, they found they shared an interest in digital fabrication. They call themselves “digital craftsmen,” and for Lee the term implies a focus on fundamentals: “Fabrication and construction are as important to us as digital design in our overall process. Construction is too easy to ignore in favor of fascinating visualization techniques.”
The Leonardo project was far too complex to be implemented by any one artisan’s hand: it incorporates 176 fins, each a different size and shape, with 1,888 LEDs positioned inside them. Installation required approximately 8,000 screws. The final design relied heavily on parametric software. According to Brush, “It allowed us to output all the fabrication files at once, without having to custom design the location of each LED or each set screw.”
The end result is a wall that visualizes vast data sets of Earth’s weather patterns using arrays of lights that change according to an intricate system of colors and speeds. Visitors can interact with the wall by tweeting a zip code or the name of a city to @LeoArtwall, which causes the wall to prioritize information from that area.
Sound confusing? It’s not meant to replace the Weather Channel. “We don’t see it simply as a screen or an interface to display information. We want visitors to feel something like ‘Wow, this is a wall that is pulsing with live information flowing through it,’ ” Brush explains.
“We imagine architecture that is alive—that observes, thinks, processes, and communicates. And that’s what the wall is doing. To us, information is the next material in architecture, and we are crafting a way to begin building with it.”