The Heart of 664 Collins Street
A data visualization made for the lobby of 664 Collins Street in Melbourne. The piece of data art is generated live from the building management system, from solar power generated, rain water reservoir levels and power usage. I did this project by myself, and taught myself to use the programming language Max MSP from scratch while doing it.
Tools and techniques
- Desktop research
- Max MSP
Brief and preliminary research
The brief for this project, was to create a living media installation for the company Mirvac, to be placed on a big media wall in the building at 664 Collins Street. The theme of the media installation was “making the invisible visible”.
I started out by investigating who Mirvac were, and who the tenants in the building were going to be. I quickly found out that Mirvac as a company are prioritizing environmentally friendly building by a great deal, and that 664 Collins Street was to be no exception (Beasley, Davy & Molony, 2017). Built to achieve a 5 star Green Star Rating and a 5 Star NABERS rating, the building is a truly green one. We were informed that part of the reason for these ratings, were that they were going to install solar power panels on the roof, along with rain water reservoirs to use for toilet flushing and the like. These and more are going to be controlled by the buildings sophisticated building management system, able to handle live data collected from the building (“Mirvac Office & Industrial”, 2017). I then looked further into what stakeholders the building contained.
Artistic impression of 664 Collins Street Lobby. (Beasley, Davy & Molony, 2017)
I immediately felt attracted to the idea of tapping into the data of the building itself and use it to tell a story, but decided to continue to explore other options. I was mainly interested in real time data, and not static data collections. To me this made a big difference between making a screensaver, and a live data painting. I wanted to create something, where I set the rules, but wouldn’t know the visual outcome of it.
The first data source I spent a lot of time looking into, was live meteor detection such as the one shown on www.meteorscan.com (2008). It was quite easy to find both visual and audible representations of this kind of data online. The reason I moved away from it, was because I didn’t see a clear story to tell with it, other than the rather bleak message of us almost getting hit by meteors all the time. Since space data was so readily available online, I looked into other options such as solar winds data (“SWS – Solar Conditions – Solar Wind Speed”, 2017).
This site would give graphic representations of the current solar wind conditions every 10 minutes. While this seemed interesting, it was still not as real time as I would like it to be, and there was also the possibility that the data wouldn’t be all that interesting to visualize.
This helped me get an overview over the abundance of data I could use, and got me thinking how I could visualize it. I then started looking into what other people had done with data visualization, with or without using Max. Two pieces of work that that inspired me greatly, were Can Buyukberber (2016) and his work with live visuals for the band Tool, and the project “Sound Matters” by the group Super Symmetry (2017). What really struck me with the latter project, was that they had made the basis in Max and that the shapes were different, and reminded me of some sort of organ. While their gorgeous visuals were not moving images, or live generated, they still inspired me to try to achieve some of the beauty that they had created with data (from sound), Max and 3D software. What ended up connecting the dots for me, was the following quote:
Buildings are in a way like ourselves […] Buildings have their gestures: they are generous or sterile or imposing or pompous or witty. They do have qualities. Their presence can be paralleled with people. […] I do agree that buildings have a soul.
Ideation and sketching
During my sketching process it occurred to me that a soul might be to abstract or religious for demographic that makes up inhabitants of the building, so instead I decided on focusing on creating the heart of the building, instead of the soul.
Still being a novice with Max programming and especially the openGL part of it, I started exploring other peoples work for inspiration in both the aesthetic and technical aspects of the project. One of my earliest and most important inspirations and learning sources, became the work of Amazing Max Stuff (2017). Especially his video on OpenGL in Max and shaders (Amazing Max Stuff, 2016), served as an important inspiration to me for the first iteration of my project, that I presented on our pitch day.
The idea was to visualize or anthropomorphize the building 664 Collins Street, and show the heart of the building on the media wall. The project was then dubbed The Heart of 664 Collins Street. I thus returned to using data collected from within the building itself. Because of the green profile of Mirvac and the building, I found the idea of the heart changing in response to the constant stream of data collected from their solar power, water reservoir levels and power usage to be a strong idea, that I hoped would resonate well with all the stakeholders in the building. I wanted it to be a nice story for them to tell their visitors and other interested parties. The initial idea also allowed for onlookers to interact with the heart via social media or web application. At this point I imagined the heart to show both long term and short term data, though I wasn’t sure how, at the time.
Iterative development and testing
What followed was a thorough back and forth. I was trying to understand a new programming language, while driving a creative process and trying to reach the end goal, of a visually appealing piece of data art. A long the way, I did a few proofs of concept. To make the concept more engaging to the residents of the building, I decided to implement a website, where you could interact with the heart and maybe take part in it's shaping.
The project was well received by Mirvac and Grimshaw Architects. If all goes well, the data painting should go live in April 2018. Should you happen to be in Melbourne, drop into the lobby area and give it a look.