Can a building have a heart?
I am working with a team of data scientists, builders, architects and lighting designers to create an artwork that reveals a building’s heart. The artwork is integrated into the building and connects directly to its nervous system of sensors and its respiratory system of heating, ventilation and air conditioning. The Heart will begin beating when the building first opens and will continue for at least 42 years, or longer, for the life of the building.
This commission is the digital feature installation for Melbourne Connect, a permanent artwork that is built into the physical infrastructure of the University’s flagship development.
The Heart comprises three elements:
- The Heart Beats – An algorithm that translates the torrent of live building data into a pulse. The algorithm produces the veins and arteries visible in The Heart Array. The algorithm compares the building’s sensation in the present moment with its previous experiences at similar times of day over its whole ‘lifetime’. During nighttime hours The Heart dreams: it replays events of the day and processes what to remember and what to forget. The Heart will ‘live’ for the whole lifetime of the artwork, initially planned as 42 years.
- The Heart Array – 16540 custom light fittings occupying 500 cubic meters of the Melbourne Connect foyer. The array is animated by The Heart Beats.
- The Heart Node – The primary node of the The Heart Array. A hand-blown glass heart with a flickering neon core. The Heart Node is fabricated from glass and steel reclaimed from the operating theatre lights of Royal Women’s Hospital which previously occupied the site of Melbourne Connect.
When I first heard about Melbourne Connect’s ‘smarts’ it sounded more like a body than a building: it brims with thousands of sensors, seems to breathe and generates it own geothermal energy. For each of the building’s system, there is an analogy to the human body.
The ‘smart’ building sensors provide a torrent of live data about the building and the community it supports the life of. Most of this data exists ‘offstage’ which means the work of the building often goes overlooked and is taken for granted. I wanted to create an artwork that allows visitors to feel the pulse of the building and understand how their behaviour makes an impact on our shared environment and our community.
I was aware that as part of the University, Melbourne Connect would not be short of exceptional brains. So I focused on the heart. We often associate sensors with thinking, but it is more accurate to imagine them as ways of feeling, of being alive to the sensations of the world.
This artwork acknowledges Melbourne Connect as a breathing, sensing synthetic being striving to support the life of its community. Though not alive, it is by the admission of its creators, ‘smart’, amongst the ‘smartest yet made’. Buildings such as these are on the cusp of becoming new kinds of superorganisms. Let’s make them benevolent beings. Like the non-human life that teams through our bodies, we are part of the zoology that exceeds the sum of its parts to create semi-autonomous built environments.
Robert Walton – Concept and Lead Artist
Read more about Robert here.
Gendry Morales – Technical Director
Gendry Morales is a designer, developer, founder, product manager, software architect and creative technologist with over 20 years experience at the intersection of technology, business and arts. Experienced with data science, blockchain, AI/ML, AR/VR, Gendry leads design processes with technologists and artists through concept, prototyping and launch. She is cofounder of Flight Plan (No Code platform for Blockchain), leads Ventures at Elabor8 and is part of the creative tech team for Child of Now and The Heart.
Zaher Joukhadar – AI/ML Lead – Melbourne Data Analytic Program
Zaher is a research data specialist, currently working at the Chancellery of The University of Melbourne. He is a part of the Melbourne Data Analytics Platform (MDAP), an interdisciplinary team working to uplift digital research capabilities at the university. Over the last decade Zaher has worked across research and industry in the fields of visual computing, mixed reality, image processing and machine learning. In 2010 he graduated as the highest-ranking student in computer science at The University of Aleppo, and subsequently completed a master’s degree from The University of Melbourne. He has received four awards for outstanding scholarship and three postgraduate travel awards.