This ribbon of pixels looks like an 8-bit waterfall or maybe a Game Boy for Godzilla. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, other than maybe a TI-83 calculator or an old Tiger handheld video game: 3600 tiles of LCD glass stream through a 90’x10’ ribbon, alternating between clear and opaque in the blink of an eye–along 256 shades in between.
Designed for the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences’ Nature Research Center by Hypersonic, Plebian Design, SoSo Ltd, and Andy Merriell & Associates, Patterned by Nature is a new electronic sculpture of epic proportions. And, amazingly, the entire installation sips on just 75 watts, or “less than the power of a laptop.”
“We were inspired by the form of this atrium which is really grand entrance the museum, surrounded by glass. We knew we could play creatively with all the natural light filling the space,” Hypersonic’s Bill Washabaugh tells Co.Design. “Using the natural sunlight as the backlight, we are simply blocking that light with a very low power Liquid Crystal Display pixel.”
The effect is a swooping, 3600-pixel screen that’s backlit by the sun rather than the sorts of light elements we have in our TVs, computer monitors, and video projectors. And LCDs without this light element are ridiculously power-efficient. But more than that, there is something that’s, for lack of a better term, organic about manipulating ambient light rather than deploying LEDs and other glowrific technologies. Whereas some screens are so bright that they supersede their environment, Patterned by Natured is a light sculpture that’s never, ever brighter than the room where it resides. It’s more than a comfortable fit; it’s a technological understatement that only makes the installation more mind-bending.
“The intended effect is to inspire visitors to the museum with a moment of wonder about what it is they are seeing. We hope that a moment of wonder leads to the desire to discover more about the science behind the patterns, and a discovery of the natural systems and forces at work in nature that leads to such beautiful patterns,” writes Washabaugh. “As a kid, I know that moments of inspiration like these led me to a course of study and a career in science.”
And with that, suddenly I’m at a complete loss. I can barely conceptualize what’s going here, let alone what some child looking at it today could end up building tomorrow.