Climate Pulse: design and fabrication for a weather-responsive light sculpture
Summary: As catastrophic weather events increase in intensity and frequency, watching the weather has become a reminder of our changing climate. Climate Pulse reveals current weather conditions using real time localized data as a visual weather register in a public park. We aim to spark public discourse around everyday weather phenomena as it relates to our perception of the environment.
Recent technology has created new kinds of small, portable sensors that can collect and transmit real time, localized data about current weather conditions including temperature, barometric pressure, light conditions, humidity, and more. Climate Pulse combines new sensor technology with parametric design to communicate weather data to the public. Climate Pulse is an interdisciplinary research project in the way it draws from landscape architecture expertise, creative coding, color perception, and electrical engineering. Future research expands on how to continue the work as interdisciplinary landscape architects to create networks of climate warning systems for flood risk, drought conditions, or other environmental registers that promote ecological awareness related to climate.
Parametric modeling. Climate Pulse was modeled in Rhino, a 3D digital modeling program. This allowed for an output of printed drawings at full scale. The full scale drawings were used as patterns to cut 88 rib sections out of birch plywood. The ribs were combined into four modules for ease of transport. The result of parametric modeling allowed for precise calculations in how the lights were connected and assembled underneath the rib sections. Future work can expand or contract the overall form based on a specific site and context.
Site. Climate Pulse is sited in a publicly accessible, highly visible, and popular community park. Additionally, the site is managed by the city department of parks and recreation which provided a transparent and reliable permitting mechanism for siting Climate Pulse as a temporary work of public art. This enabled a community conversation with the volunteer groups who oversee the park’s management and expanded the public engagement for the project, resulting in multiple public talks about the work and an opening event for the community.
Technology. A combined temperature and humidity sensor takes accurate new data readings every second. A microcontroller drives 2400 individually addressable LED lights and gives “instructions” to each LED. The 2400 LEDs are programmed with HSV values to define color, brightness level, and speed based on an algorithm developed in response to specific night time temperature ranges. To simplify these parameters, the color algorithm is based on hex HSV codes that are responsive to temperature data with an overall slow pulsing of light. For example, 65 degrees Fahrenheit turns all of the lights deep blue in color with a slow pulsing of light. When the sensor reads 50 degrees, the lights turn from deep blue to cerulean blue with the same speed of light pulse. The humidity data results in a sparkling of light when only above a threshold of 80%. This custom algorithm creates a “rain warning” effect where all of the lights begin to sparkle when there’s impending rain.
Next: Future development of weather responsive public art can focus on weather warning systems that are integrated into parks and public spaces as aesthetic pieces of environmental data infrastructure. Moving forward, we are taking our lessons learned from the Climate Pulse prototype to engage with flooding of local bayous. Through that work, we aim to monitor flood stages of the bayou and express water levels in a parametrically designed form that's illuminated with programmed LED lights. This has large scale implications for how our city’s bayous are perceived as dynamic, fluctuating water bodies. Changing the public’s perception of the how ecological systems function within cities will shape the work of landscape architects to be more productive, expressive, and community-minded.
We are raising big picture questions as a result of this work: How can we work as interdisciplinary landscape architects to design and fabricate weather responsive work? How can we create an aesthetic infrastructure for environmental awareness?