The Heart

The Heart

Can a building have a heart?

The Heart is a site-responsive, slow Artificial Intelligence artwork to be lived with over decades. It reveals the pulse of a superorganism: the community visiting, living, and working in Melbourne Connect, a city-block size building, home of businesses, university departments, a kindergarten, accommodation, and a science museum. The Heart beats indefinitely for and with the life of the building and its community.

The Heart is connected to 4800 ‘Building Information Modelling’ (BIM) sensors. These monitor CO2, humidity, room occupancy, temperature, movement, light, and more. The building adjusts the environment to create the optimum conditions for human comfort and safety. Normally, the automated work of building sensors and systems is dispersed and imperceptible. The Heart stages the building’s ‘sensations’ in a way people can perceive and begin to empathise with. It does this by taking form in the foyer of Melbourne Connect as a 10-metre-tall volume of brass droppers, reconstituted brick fragments, and LEDs in the shape of a giant human heart.

The Heart

Live at Melbourne Connect now

The Heart is a site-responsive, slow Artificial Intelligence artwork to be lived with over decades.

Monument and Memory

The Heart was inspired by the former use of the site as the Royal Women’s Hospital where hundreds of thousands of hearts began to beat independently of their mothers. Reconstituted bricks from the hospital are incorporated into the outline of the human heart in the artwork.

The Heart is a monument to the many thousands of people who gave their hearts to the University of Melbourne for medical research. The creative team spent time learning about heart anatomy with the collection of plasticised hearts in the University’s anatomy museum. The giant heart in the artwork is dedicated to anonymous donors and their families. It was developed through a ‘ghost-heart’ concept that projects a virtual heart into the void and samples its surface at the points where vertical droppers intersect with it. Two pieces of reconstituted brick from the Royal Women’s Hospital mark the top and bottom of each dropper. Collectively these form the outline of the anonymous heart in the work.

A sketch of the outline of a giant heart in the foyer of a building
Sketch of 'Ghost Heart' concept

3-Minute Case Study


The Heart is a ‘full stack’ work that incorporates custom hardware and software elements built from the ground up.

Neon Heart Node

The central node of the artwork is a custom tapered, vertical neon tube that functions dynamically to animate the pulse of the building in bright red light. In contrast to the LED lights in the work, this ephemeral gaseous light is The Heart’s equivalent of an ‘eternal flame’ that will pulse indefinitely. This brass, glass, and neon centrepiece includes a 2.5-metre section of self-suspended glass that bears the weight of more brass and a brick element below it.

Heart Array

The Heart Array consists of thousands of bespoke LED light fittings within the volume of the ‘ghost-heart’ outline. It is made of 1.5 km of brass rods in 142 droppers supporting 1450 printed circuit boards (PCBs), 10,000 white LEDs, and 284 cores in the outline of a human heart made with bricks from the Royal Woman’s Hospital. The Heart Array is effectively a ‘volumetric screen’ that can display moving 3D forms. Each PCB is laser inscribed with song lines that inspired the project.

Heart Sensor

The installation includes a brass heart rate monitor that visitors can touch to interface with The Heart directly. The sensor emits a red light the same colour as the neon which illuminates the finger that touches it. When a heart rate is detected, it melds with the pulse of the building in The Heart’s animation.

Lighting Control, Computers, Network, Sensors and Cloud Computing

The artwork connects to 4800 sensors distributed around the building and appropriates their data. This is processed by cloud computing resources that funnels information to a local computer that in turn directs the lighting control hardware. As The Heart is sensitive to the people living in the building (their movement, location, respiration etc.) it might be thought of as temporarily appropriating them within the artwork.

The Heart artwork seen from the stairs with the neon core glowing
Photographer: Michael McAtomney

Artificial Intelligence

Manifold Learning

The Heart uses Manifold Learning to become accustomed to the live ‘sensations’ it receives from its ‘body’ (the building) over the course of each day. At night when The Heart sleeps, it creates a new manifold merged with previous days’ manifolds. When awake, it compares what it ‘feels’ in the present against its habituated experience of the past. If current ‘sensations’ fall outside of the manifold it experiences surprise and increases its pulse.

Generative Adversarial Network

The Heart also uses a Generative Adversarial Network (GAN) to develop a capacity to anticipate what it is about to ‘feel’ based on its ‘lifetime’ of habituated experiences. This ability increases slowly as The Heart ages and the GAN is trained over years. In this way, The Heart matures as a longform ambient artwork and experiment that grows with the community over decades. It is a provocation to work with heart and attune to the non-verbal, sensate environment our lives are bound up within and not separate from.


December 2019: Conception
February 2022: AI Training Begins
December 2022: Heartbeat Starts
4 April 2023: Launched


Melbourne Connect, 700 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 Analytics 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

Videography and Photography

Michael McAtomney

Melbourne Data Analytics Platform

Dr. Aleks Michalewicz – Research Data Specialist

Aidan McLoughney – PhD Candidate and MDAP intern.

Bobbie Shaban- Senior Research Data Specialist

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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