I spent the summer collaborating with a fantastic team to produce the Data Wall for the newly opened IBM THINK exhibit at Lincoln Center. There’s a short video on YouTube that shows the wall in motion. The wall is explained by IBM as follows:
Visitors approaching the exhibit are drawn in by striking patterns displayed on a 123-foot digital wall. The wall visualizes, in real time, the live data streaming from the systems surrounding the exhibit, from traffic on Broadway, to solar energy, to air quality. Visitors discover how we can now see change, waste and opportunities in the world’s systems.
Writing in The New York Times, Edward Rothstein wrote:
Anyone walking past Lincoln Center during the last few days, and glancing downward at its new access road, Jaffe Drive, would have seen what seemed to be a slightly eccentric art installation. A long band of animated colored lights would snake across a 123-foot-long wall of LEDs as a digital clock counted backward. Then that band might suddenly twist and wind around itself, erupt into curves, contort into waves, and, just as unexpectedly, subside again into temporary linear calm.
Or else, if you watched long enough, the wall might go blank, and when lighted again, would resemble a kind of elongated container. Bluish lights would pour inside it, mounting and sloshing about like some kind of luminous liquid, until the entire wall’s array would be filled to overflowing. And then the “liquid” would seem to spill from the sides, dripping down in cascades as the container emptied.
I was invited by Mathew Cullen and Javier Jimenez of Mirada to put a team together to develop the software for the Data Wall. We were fortunate to hire a group of extremely talented and skilled artist/designer programmers including David Wicks, John Houck, Jonathan Cecil, and Rhazes Spell. David served as the technical lead and was the primary developer of the Air Quality module. Jonathan developed Solar, John developed Finance, and Rhazes developed Traffic. As a team, the five of us worked closely with Mirada creative directors Jesus de Francisco and Kaan Atila and our clients at SYPartners, Nicolas Maitret and Susana Rodriguez. In addition, we worked with excellent concept artists to visualize the project and partnered with New York City organizations and researchers within IBM to collect and process data.
I started work in April 2011 with meetings with IBM and their partners about the data and the narratives around it. The storyboards and scripts were refined during the entire project, but they were defined enough for the developers to start programming in late May.
The wall is massive; it’s 123-feet wide and 11 feet tall. The scale is magnified by its location. It’s at ground level and in a walkway that only allows the visitors to get about 20 feet away from it. The resolution of the wall, however, it very low for the size; it’s 3696 pixels wide and 320 pixels high. The visual quality of the data visualizations were optimized for this platform.
The Data Wall has a strong tie to the UCLA Department of Design Media Arts. I’m a professor in the department and John, David, and Jonathan are graduates of the department’s MFA program. Rhazes is in his second year of the MFA program.
There’s more to say, but that’s all the time I have for now. If you’re in New York from 23 September to 23 October 2011, I hope you’ll visit. The exhibit is free and open to the public.