‘The heart of the building’: AI pumps life into architecture at Microsoft through interactive ‘Ada’

“Ada,” an art installation at Microsoft’s Building 99 in Redmond, Wash. (Microsoft Photo / John Brecher)

Art and architecture already speaks to us on a multitude of levels. A new installation on Microsoft’s campus in Redmond, Wash., communicates in a new way, using artificial intelligence to “read the room” and become an interactive element reacting to people in the space.

As part of the tech giant’s Artist in Residence program, “Ada” has been installed in Microsoft’s Building 99. It’s the creation of Ithaca, N.Y.-based architectural designer Jenny Sabin, in collaboration with Microsoft researchers and designers.

Ada — named for the 19th century mathematician Ada Lovelace — is a two-story, 1,800-pound web of hexagons forming an ellipsoid-shaped pavilion. The exoskeleton, which is reminiscent of The Spheres on Amazon’s campus in Seattle, contains 895 3D-printed nodes that connect 1,274 fiberglass rods, and a web of fabric digitally knit with photoluminescent yarn.

(Microsoft Photo / John Brecher)

Microphones and cameras placed at different locations in the building collect information such as noise, voice tones and facial expressions and translate that data into a “choreographed dance of color and light,” as described in a Microsoft story on Thursday.

The glowing creation is meant to inspire those who witness and interact with it — namely Microsoft employees — to consider new ways of thinking about how AI can respond in a variety of architectural spaces.

Jenny Sabin installs “Ada” on the Microsoft campus. (Microsoft Photo / John Brecher)

“To my knowledge, this installation is the first architectural structure to be driven by artificial intelligence in real time,” Sabin told Microsoft’s AI Blog. A Seattle native, Sabin graduated from the University of Washington and she connected with Microsoft reps in 2017 to begin a conversation about a shared project.

With Ada now officially in place in Building 99, the conversation is sure to continue.

“It is a living, breathing thing, and it is at the heart of the building,” said Asta Roseway, a principal research designer in the urban innovation initiative at Microsoft’s research lab in Redmond who runs the Artist in Residence program. “How does that change people’s psychology about the space they dwell in and how they impact that space, and vice versa?”

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