Living Atlas

  • Arts & Culture
  • Installation

Living Atlas is a digitally augmented sculpture that reveals hidden beauty in live and historic global data. The piece was developed for Liberty Syndicates, who wanted a high impact architectural-scale data visualisation for their new offices in the iconic 20 Fenchurch Street.

Liberty Syndicates insure everything from household property to fine art, airlines and even offer protection from terrorism. It’s an incredibly complex business where day-to-day decision making is based upon live and historic event data. Brokers monitor ship movement, weather systems and international politics, to name just a few.

We were asked to take the essence of what Liberty do and translate it into a sculptural installation - something that had the depth and integrity to appeal to brokers, but was simple and beautiful enough to be appreciated by anyone who visits their offices.

We worked closely with the team at Liberty to gain an in-depth understanding of how their business works. It became clear that we needed an approach that would be flexible and dynamic, to keep pace with their constantly changing focus. Through early experiments with physical models and digital projections, we developed the concept of a faceted world map that would blur the boundaries between the physical and digital. Irregular 3D facets allowed us to pixelate complex geographical data in an aesthetic way that had its own identity. This approach allowed patterns and trends to be easily inferred without getting into the fine detail of the dataset.

The use of parametric 3D software tools allowed us to develop a system to quickly explore many iterations of the complex topography of the map. These would otherwise have taken many hundreds of hours to model.

Our custom digital pipeline then assembled these polygons into distortable coordinates for our 3D projection mapping software and a machinable CNC surface.

The 3D surface was then CNC-machined out of Corian to provide a crisp white surface to project onto. We partnered with Cutting Technologies, who developed a bespoke five-axis machining approach that ensured super sharp transitions between facets. The resulting physical surface looked eerily like a computer render, with a strong digital aesthetic. The slightly translucent character of Corian meant that it appeared to be illuminated when projected on, an effect further enhanced with careful wall lighting to create contrast between even the most subtle facets.

The final animations were built using a combination of Liberty’s data sets and publicly available data. We developed algorithms to sort and process these vast data sets into something that could be easily understood in an animation. The animations alternated between live and historic data to provide context for what was going on in the world today.

This project took complex data sets and brought them to life in a way that inspired analysts and visitors alike. It successfully walked the line between a sculptural installation and a data visualisation, blurring the boundary between physical and digital.