I was recently passing through the San Jose International Airport when I noticed a large liquid crystal art installation hanging from the ceiling of the concourse. At first, I checked my eyes, thinking the hundreds of small clear tiles were reflecting the sun. I quickly realized that each of the clear polycarbonate tiles was independently changing opacity based on real-time weather conditions around the world. While standing beneath this 108 ft. digital sculpture, the transparent tiles flashed on and off in a frenzy, simulating a thunderstorm in Austin. Twenty seconds later, the sculpture transformed into a tranquil fade mimicking the partly cloudy skies over Boise. This installation was entitled ‘eCLOUD.’ I was intrigued.
Aaron Koblin, Nik Hafermaas, and Dan Goods are responsible for the concept of the eCLOUD. The City of San Jose Public Art Program wanted to create an art centerpiece for the airport. Out of over 100 applicants, the team of Dan, Nik, and Aaron was selected. The eCLOUD concept was presented several months later and approved. This piece is part of the Art & Technology program at the airport which was developed by Gorbet+Banerjee, in partnership with Adobe, and managed by Mary Rubin of the City of San Jose Office of Cultural Affairs.
After reading more about polycarbonate tiles, I learned that liquid crystals are normally opaque but when electricity is added they become transparent. While liquid crystal technology isn’t anything new, it’s interesting to see innovative ways people can use it. IDEO, an award-winning global design firm, used liquid crystals for the doors of changing rooms. It’s an interesting idea, but I’m not sure I like the thought of being in a changing room where at the flip of a switch I could be exposed. Seems to me it would be pretty amazing if you could get your house outfitted with polycarbonate walls. You could conserve energy by changing the walls from transparent to opaque, or just randomly make walls clear for the fun of it.
Barring any budget, and with a staff of the world’s best engineers on hand, what would you do with liquid crystal technology?