The Heart

The Heart

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 in December 2022 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 Artwork

The Heart comprises three elements:

  1. The Heart Beats – A machine learning algorithm that translates the torrent of live building data into the pulse of the building. The algorithm also produces the shapes 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.
  2. The Heart Array – thousands of bespoke LED light fittings in the form of a 10m human heart in the foyer of Melbourne Connect. The Heart array is made of 1km of brass rods in 142 droppers supporting 1450 printed circuit boards, 10,000 white LEDs, and 284 cores in the outline of a human heart made with brick dust from the Royal Woman’s Hospital that previously occupied the site. The Heart Array is animated by The Heart Beats.
  3. The Heart Node – The primary node of the The Heart Array. Hand-blown in scientific glass, this brilliant red neon core expands from a permanently lit centre with each heartbeat.


When I first heard about Melbourne Connect’s ‘smart’ ‘building information modelling’ capabilities it sounded more like a body than a building: it brims with thousands of sensors, seems to breathe and generates it own geothermal and solar 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 appreciate how their behaviour makes an impact on our community’s shared environment.

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.


December 2019: Conception
February 2022: AI Training Begins
December 2022: Heartbeat Starts
March 2023: Birth


Melbourne Connect, Swanston Street, Melbourne

Project Team

Concept, Lead Artist

Robert Walton

Design – Heart Array and Heart Node Hardware

Paul Lim and Bosco Shaw, ADDITIVE

AI/ML Lead – The Heart Beats

Zaher Joukhadar Melbourne Data Analytic Program

Unity Development – The Heart Digital Twin

Brad Hammond EXP

Technical Consultant

Gendry Morales

Project Officers

Lindsay Bick, Loi Tai, Matthew Driver, Luke Sutton Melbourne Connect

Heart Array Fabrication

Casey Loraine Showtools International

Heart Node and Sensor Housing Fabrication

Callan Morgan Pelican Studios


Adrian Brown Jointly

Neon Wrangling

Karl Gordon Australian Neon Services

Scientific Glass Blowing

Mark Chandler Platinum Laboratory Services

Heart Monitors

Jeremiah Rose

Commission Competition Team

Dr Robert Walton, Resident Artist, Computing and Information Systems

Zaher Joukhadar, Research Data Specialist

Henrietta Lyons, Interaction Design Lab Graduate Researcher

Dr Eduardo Velloso, Senior Lecturer and Researcher, Computing and Information Systems

University of Melbourne Experts

Dr Rackel San Nicolas – Infrastructure Engineering – Advisor on recycling bricks from Royal Women’s Hospital

A/Prof Charles Sevigny – Anatomy and Physiology – Advisor on human heart anatomy and behaviour


Justin Green, consultant artist

Katie Sfetkedis, consultant artist

Brad Quirk, Data Scientist

Alaistair Flynn, Senior Assoicate, WoodsBaggot

Hazel Porter, Principal, WoodsBaggot

Alastair Cossart, Senior Structural Engineer, ARUP


Installation, Durational Performance, Emerging Technology, Artificial Intelligence, Lighting, Neon, Brass, Sensors, Concrete, Digital Twin, Building Data

Created for

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