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Giant Kinetic Sculpture Mimics Swarm of Flocking Birds

Every hour, on the hour, Sosolimited's 'Diffusion Choir' performs the movement of a soothing swarm.

A mechanical array of origami-like structures hang in the atrium of a biopharmaceutical building. Simulating the movement of a flock of birds, Sosolimited’s new larg-scale computational kinetic sculpture, Diffusion Choir, was designed and fabricated in collaboration with Hypersonic and Plebian Design. Though this particular work is the result of an independent commission by BioMed Realty, the designers previously collaborated on computational sculptures including Patterned by Nature at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Global Data Chandelier at the CSIS, and the Baccarat Harcourt Wall at the Baccarat Hotel New York.

The sculpture uses 400 folding elements made of Tyvek. The team programmed a software that tells each component when to open and close, and the movements are constantly evolving. At the top of each hour, groups of birds come together to form a single entity, then break apart into smaller groups over the course of the next hour. The result is a random but controlled choreography of birds.

The Creators Project had the opportunity to hop on a Skype call with Sosolimited co-founder Eric Gunther, Plebian Design founder Jeff Lieberman, and Hypersonic founder, Bill Washabaugh, about the technology, engineering, and installation of Diffusion Choir.

The Creators Project: So, in short, what went into the creation of this work? 

Eric Gunther (EG): The technology is a flocking algorithm. We were thinking about different approaches to moving the elements, so they could appear and disappear naturally. We decided that flocking was beautiful not only from the visual perspective but also because it captures the idea of collaboration of nature which is a great metaphor for the work happening in the building.

The cool thing about the flock that you never know what it is going to do. It is always changing its behaviors. You have to balance that with some of the choreography control.

Jeff Lieberman (JL): We all collaborated on how the folding mechanism would work and went through a lot of prototypes. We were exploring a lot of folding designs for many months before we settled on this one, because it can collapse that small and open that large at the same time.

How does the series of movements work?

EG: Every hour it repeats a series of moves, so that makes the installation kind of like a clock. On the top of the hour all the birds come together and as an hour goes on, the birds break apart into smaller groups. It is an hour-long cycle.

What kind of experience are you trying to achieve in this installation?

We didn't want this sculpture to become Hitchcock’s birds, flying around and scaring everybody. We wanted them to be graceful, to calm people down, like a fountain. When you sit by it and observe the water flow, your heart rate lowers.

How do the experiences of watching Patterned By Nature and Diffusion Choir differ? 

JL: I think the spaces are a big difference. In a museum, you expect someone coming once or twice in their life to look at the sculpture for a short amount of time and then leave. Whereas when you are building a piece for employees who will see this installation for many years every single day, you want to pull back and make an experience being subtle and ambient enough.

What would like to explore next with your computational kinetic sculptures?

EG: I would love to bring more calmness to public places where everyone is running around with their heads down. They are just stressed out. It would be amazing to relieve this stress with the spirit of our work.

Diffusion Choir from Sosolimited on Vimeo.

To learn more about Sosolimited, click here

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