SOFTlab recently completed Currents, an interactive wall installation for the IBM Watson headquarters in Atlanta. Using the Weather Channel’s air quality API, the interactive wall visualizes global air quality in real-time, allowing visitors to view representations of air quality in cities around the world.
Through a user interface integrated into the wall, visitors can see Air Quality Index (AQI) data of five randomly generated cities around the world. The user can then select to see the lowest, highest, and trending AQI across the cities. This data is analyzed to visualize a global air flow map, which is then manifested through colored light flow modulated across folded aluminum tiles integrated into the wall.
The physical form of the tiled wall is inspired by weather patterns: each aluminum tile is folded and rotated to represent the directionality of air flow vectors. These folded panels, or ‘vectors,’ are used to modulate the light of the LED grid behind it in order to create varying visualizations that represent the different cities.
Each folded panel is back-lit by a specific color generated by the average Air Quality Index, with colors assigned on a gradient from low to high AQI. Each LED in the grid is covered by a diffuser and a white powder-coated aluminum panel that both reflects and catches light. The folding of each panel is designed to give the diffused light a three-dimensional quality as it shields and bounces light off its neighbors.
The changing directionality of the panels reveals the back-lit LED visualization in different ways, depending on where a viewer is standing. This lenticular-like effect of the panels creates variable concentrations of light and color along the visualization, which can be fully experienced only by walking along the length of the wall. Through the composite of diffused LEDs and the folded aluminum panels, the wall gives light a tactile, almost material quality, surpassing the impact of a typical LED grid or screen.
By giving the light both material and three-dimensional qualities along with the visualization, the wall appears to breathe with light, even though the tiles themselves do not move, creating an anthropomorphic experience of the air quality data. The wall, far from a stagnant object, can be construed as a metaphor for the planet, in that it evokes a dynamic mix of material in many states that all influence one another.