Opening party at Arup Global Headquarters, London
Last night we celebrated the annual Arup Summer Party with our interactive sculptural installation entitled “Heart of Arup.” A floating array of leaves within the atrium reflects the digital consciousness of Arup’s 13,000 employees, showing their social media posts in real-time.
In case you missed our short speech the full text is below.
I would like to thank everyone at Arup for the chance to build our experimental installation here in the atrium. Thank you to the sponsors at WhiteLight and Christie for the projectors and image mapping, and the guys at Base Structures for construction. Special thanks to Aleksander and Monika and Paulina at our offices for their hard work helping to make this happen.
I first heard of Ove Arup’s Key Speech 10 years ago at a dinner in Dubai. I was 29 years old and a wet-behind-the-ears project architect at Zaha Hadid’s office. After several days of intensive coordination meetings on-site, we were having dinner with the team and a man named Neil Noble from Arup told me about this short document that every employee at his office was asked to read when they started work. That was before the first iPhone had launched, so I had to wait to get back to the hotel in the evening to print it out and read it.
I’ll never forget that encounter. What I saw in the key speech was not just a mission statement for an engineering firm, but a comprehensive world-view that saw design as an opportunity to improve our world and change the way we live and work. The seed planted that day has grown in my mind, and my motivation as a designer is very much driven by that simple idea that we can make a greater contribution to the world by not just improving the way we build, but by improving the way all of us live.
When I set up my office two years ago, this human-oriented focus was one of the main aims. I still have great passion for energy efficiency and sustainable design, but to me the real heart of the matter is human wellbeing. This has opened up intriguing possibilities in our work, from a building that tells the client how many flights of stairs he has climbed each week (it reduces your mortality rate), to an office where air-purifying plants grow directly out of the desks, to a lamp that tells you to open the window because the air is going a bit stale in the office.
We imagine a day when everyone in a building can feed back directly their comfort level or mood, and that we as designers can use this information to tailor for them a better quality of light, of air, of view. This has taken us into the territory of interactive design, and Heart of Arup that you see here has been one of our first efforts to try engage directly with employees through digital tech. The posts projected onto the leaves are scraped live from Arup’s internal social communications network. Any of Arup’s 13,000 global employees can post freely to share thoughts or sentiments.
We all know that the information collected and shared through our virtual interactions is powerful and valuable. Our goal is that by getting this interaction out of our little smartphone screens and into the built environment, we as designers take some of this territory as our own rather than leaving it to silicon valley programmers to define. Getting this far has been a pretty big adventure but we are already looking at our next baby steps forward. Jeremy Edwards from Arup had an idea that Heart of Arup here at Number 8 could have small satellites in branch offices around the world—we’ve been working on a first prototype and you can see me over there next to it at the café area.
Thank you all for your attention, and I hope we have a chance to meet a few of you tonight!