Meet the World’s Most Social Media-Synced Architecture

From hyper-sensitive security systems and time sensitive lighting to smart phone-ready kitchen appliances, design is certainly becoming ever more attuned to human activities — but what about an architectural project that actually manifests sociability?

Steven Thomson Steven Thomson

ARCHITIZER IS PLEASED TO PARTNER WITH MICROSOFT SURFACE AS WE PRESENT THE WINNERS OF THE 2014 A+ AWARDS. THIS SERIES CELEBRATES THE A+ AWARDS FINALISTS THAT ARE CHANGING THE ARCHITECTURAL LANDSCAPE BY TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THE OPPORTUNITIES THAT NEW TECHNOLOGIES AFFORD. AS THE MICROSOFT SURFACE PRO REPRESENTS A NEW OPPORTUNITY FOR ARCHITECTS, BUILDING MANAGEMENT, AND CONSTRUCTION WORKFLOWS TO BECOME MORE EFFICIENT, SO DO THE FOLLOWING EXPLORATIONS IN BUILDING DESIGN REPRESENT AMAZING EXAMPLES OF WHAT HAS BECOME POSSIBLE TODAY. READ ON FOR A BEHIND-THE-SCENES LOOK INTO ARCHITECTURE + TECHNOLOGY.

Can architecture be social? From hyper-sensitive security systems and time sensitive lighting to smart phone-ready kitchen appliances, design is certainly becoming ever more attuned to human activities — but what about an architectural project that actually manifests sociability? The architects of Future Cities Lab answered that question with a definitive “yes” with the Datagrove. In this project, the allure of a temporary art installation and high-tech gadgetry merge to create an eye-opening architectural project that physically and audibly represents the invisible social data of a particular locality that we broadcast second-by-second on social media.

“The idea was to make social media actually “social” and to give Datagrove a home in the city,” explains Jason Kelly Johnson, co-founder and design partner at Future Cities Lab.

Here’s how this A+ Architecture + Technology finalist works: Datagrove sources trending Twitter feeds and reroutes them into whispering sonic undulations and LED displays woven into the spindly structure. To aggregate the tweets, Future Cities Lab wrote a script that accesses the Twitter API and organizes the top five trending hashtags within a one mile radius of Datagrove. “A lot of folks don’t realize that tweets are geo-tagged, which gives you a latitude and longitude as a built-in feature,” explains Kelly Johnson.

Infrared sensors perceive when a visitor approaches the installation, at which point the hardware uses text-to-speech technology to broadcast the trending phrases into into conversational questions like, “Have you heard about . . . “ or “Did you hear the rumor about . . . “ Suddenly, architecture is made into a dual local news reporter and gossip monger. But the genius behind the project is that it gives physical form to the nebulous cloud of data we use to express our thoughts and circulate information.

Datagrove was originally installed in the courtyard of the San Jose Opera’s lionized California Theater for three months as part of the ZERO1 Seeking Silicon Valley biennial. Kelly Johnson describes the project as “a public space where people could discuss, laugh, and debate openly.”

“When we visited the installation in San Jose, we were really surprised by the level of interaction and discussion,” the architect recalls. “People who had never met were conversing about a topic that was trending, and others were just kind of hanging back watching the data stream by like it was a fountain in a Roman piazza.”

In the highly-wired but geographically stratified landscape of Silicon Valley, Datagrove provided an essential tool for making visible the invisible social interactions that mainly live on smart phones and desktops, while also presenting a small shelter for contemplating and exchanging big data.

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