Wind Data Becomes Smart Wall Art

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Perhaps we're so used to seeing wind turbines turning in one direction or weather vanes slowly pivoting that we forget how complex wind can be. A new wind-driven kinetic facade in San Francisco serves as a mesmerizing reminder.

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The Randall Museum in San Francisco commissioned the art installation from local designer Charles Sowers, whose public art and science exhibits bring attention to natural phenomena such as ice forming on a puddle, often with special instrumentation. His piece for the museum's exterior, called "Windswept," took more than a year and a half to develop.

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As the salty California breeze hits the façade, which is 20 feet tall and 35 feet wide, it moves 612 freely rotating directional arrows. Sowers originally started with a four-foot square panel prototype covered in different arrow types that he mounted on his apartment window at Baker Beach, according to ArchDaily.

Ultimately he settled on a design for arrows made from anodized aluminum that were mounted on a metal architectural panel using stainless steel axles and rivet nuts. "Windswept" also serves to mask the air intake on the museum's concrete exterior.

"The whole piece sits off the wall to allow an equal volume of air to enter a ventilation intake mounted in the middle of the existing wall," Sowers explained in a statement about the work.

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The arrows don't all move in unison. Instead, they reveal the ripples and swirls we'd usually just call a nice breeze. Co.Design's Mark Wilson compared the effect to watching "the Plinko of air currents." To me, however, a video of "Windswept" was more like seeing dust in a beam of sunlight. Sowers has made the invisible visible in a big way.

Photo: The art installation "Windswept" in San Francisco by Charles Sowers. Credit: Charles Sowers (video)

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