IBM and New-York-based design studio SOFTlab have teamed up to create the first thinking sculpture, inspired by Gaudí and developed with IBM’s Watson cognitive technology for the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain.
In order to help design the sculpture, Watson was taught about the history and style of Gaudí and the architecture of Barcelona through volumes of images, literary works, articles, and even music. From these references, Watson helped to uncover critical insights on patterns in Gaudí's work—like crabs, spiders, and color palettes—that the design team didn't initially associate with Gaudí. The resulting four-meter-tall sculpture features a structural surface made of over 1200 unique aluminum parts, and is unmistakably reminiscent of Gaudí’s work both in look and feel, yet entirely distinct.
The sculpture was on display from February 27 to March 2 at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, where it interacted with visitors by changing shape in real-time, in response to sentiments from Twitter. To learn more about the sculpture, ArchDaily was given to opportunity to speak with IBM Watson Manager Jonas Nwuke.
Sabrina Santos: Why was Gaudi’s work in particular chosen to inspire the project?
Jonas Nwuke: Architects at SOFTlab knew Mobile World Congress 2017 would be hosted in Barcelona, which sparked them to create something they had never done before. The SOFTlab team worked with Watson through the inspiration of legendary Barcelona architect Antoni Gaudi to create a sculpture alive with data. Antoni Gaudi was an iconic architect that shaped the city of Barcelona with his avant-garde architecture that was light years ahead of its time. In turn, the city of Barcelona heavily shaped the work he created. SOFTlab wanted to work with Watson to bring this approach from the past to the present.
JN: Watson acted as a guide throughout the design process, uncovering insights from Gaudi’s work to inspire the architects, rather than making decisions on its own. Watson’s ability to process volumes of information from images and documents sparked new ideas and helped the architects to reimagine their construction. Our vision for Watson has always been to use cognitive computing to augment, rather than replace, human intelligence.
SS: Besides the crab and spider references, were there any other particularly interesting ideas or connections that Watson created?
JN: Watson’s analysis of thousands of Gaudi-inspired works helped the team pick unique, transformative colors—ultramarine blue, jade green, yellow and orange—which in turn helped SOFTlab select the iridescent dichroic film that brings the sculpture to life. Gaudi’s work brings about clear themes like waves, undulations and arches. With Watson, the designers were able to see themes that weren’t as obvious previously, such as candy and shells, in addition to crabs and spiders. These elements helped inspire the hanging chains and funnels of the sculpture’s design.
SS: How long did it take for Watson to review the images, documents, colors, and so forth?
JN: The entire project took a little over one month to complete.
SS: Were any of these tools (images, documents, colors, etc.) more influential than others, or do the various mediums integrate evenly as inspiration?
JN: Watson reviewed thousands of images, literary works, articles and even music surrounding Gaudi and Barcelona. With this, Watson was able to integrate these mediums evenly to become a Gaudi expert that could help the team understand a century of inspiration to re-inspire the design process.
SS: Who is creating the sculpture this week in Barcelona? How long will this take?
JN: Over a dozen SOFTlab designers worked over one week to install the sculpture at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.
SS: What are the measurements and materials of the sculpture?
The height on the sculpture is 4 meters. The structural surface is made of over 1200 unique aluminum parts. This surface was clad in 3M Dichroic film which has an iridescent quality and was chosen based on suggestions from Watson and inspired by Gaudi's interest in similar colors. This material in combination with data controlled lighting produces a range of coloration and cast light. The Dichroic film was then clad in petal like laser cut aluminum panels that are inspired by some of the tiled forms used by Gaudi. The gravity driven cables underneath are made of 100 meters of ball chain.
SS: How will Tweet tones influence the height of the sculpture (for example, do positive Tweets make the sculpture extend lower?)?
JN: The sculpture is responsive to social sentiment and uses the IBM Watson Tone Analyzer API to identify and react to sentiment from Twitter. The tone and sentiment extracted from the tweets will be reflected in the sculpture, which is comprised of 3 funnels representing distinct topics. Each funnel is comprised of rings that will shift in height based on a given 'big 5' personality trait. One funnel contains one ring that addresses how open people are to Artificial Intelligence at Mobile World Congress. The Openness score for each tweet related to AI will drive the ring height. As the confidence Watson determines in people’s openness changes, the height of the ring changes as well. The second funnel contains three rings that react to Watson’s confidence level in how open people are to the top 3 trending topics of the moment. The third funnel has 5 rings addresses the collective buzz of the event. Each ring represents a 'big 5' personality trait (Passion, Joy, Excitement, Curiosity & Encouragement) and confidence scores will drive ring height.
SS: How do you envision Artificial Intelligence—like Watson—being influential to the architectural world in the future?
JN: We envision Watson will serve as an assistant to other architects, acting as an extension of the creative process in the future. Cognitive technologies have the ability to uncover facts and answer questions, and can be applied to invent and explore new frontiers, such as architecture. For example, beyond architecture, Watson is helping professionals in many creative industries. At the 2016 Met Gala, IBM and Marchesa unveiled a cognitive dress worn by model Karolina Kurkova that served as an innovative collaboration with cognitive woven into every step of the creative process – from concept, to R&D, from design and alteration to the finished product. In music, Grammy award-winning music producer Alex Da Kid collaborated with IBM Watson to inspire his breakout song as an artist, “Not Easy.” For this partnership, Watson analyzed the last five years of culture and music data to uncover new emotional insights to augment Alex’s creative process. We believe Watson will continue to serve as a resource for creative professionals looking for inspiration.
Learn more about the project here.
News via IBM.