Pinwheels: Visualizing Information Flow in an Architectural Space

We envision that the architectural spaces we inhabit will become an interface between humans and online digital information. We have been designing ambient information displays to explore the use of kinetic physical objects to present information at the periphery of human perception.

This paper reports the design of a large-scale Pinwheels installation made of 40 computer-controlled pinwheel units in a museum context. The Pinwheels spin in a “wind of bits” that blows from cyberspace. The array of spinning pinwheels presents information within an architectural space through subtle changes in movement and sound.

To explore an alternative approach, we are moving information off the screen into the physical environment, where it is manifested as subtle changes in form, movement, sound, color, smell, temperature, or light. We call such displays “ambient displays.” We feel that ambient displays are well suited as a means of keeping users aware of people, weather, or general states of large systems.