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A Building With Heart: A New AI-driven Art Installation at Melbourne Connect

The Heart, a new large-scale permanent art installation that responds to the pulse of the Melbourne Connect community, was recently launched at the precinct. The site-responsive and data-driven artwork in the foyer of Melbourne Connect combines custom hardware and artificial intelligence elements to represent the sensations of the building.

Conceptualised by artist Dr Robert Walton from The University of Melbourne, The Heart takes the form of a volume of brass droppers, reconstituted brick fragments, and LEDs in the shape of a giant human heart. Drawing inspiration from its past as the Royal Women's Hospital and the donated hearts in the University's collection used for medical research, this unique artwork is connected to the building’s multiple sensors that monitor humidity, temperature, movement, light, and more to stage the ebbs and flows of the building.

According to Dr Robert Walton, "Can a building have a heart?" was the question that inspired him to create The Heart. Working with a team of data scientists, builders, architects, and lighting designers, his vision for the permanent artwork was brought to life.

The Heart is a unique visual representation of the building's live data that combines art, architecture, and technology. As Dr Walton explained, "The Heart suggests we are part of a living superorganism that evolves with its surroundings. Each element was thoughtfully built from the ground up, and its AI algorithms will mature over time like a child becoming accustomed to their body and sensations over a lifetime."

"It prompts us to live and work with an awareness of the building’s life-supporting technology, to empathise with the nurturing aspiration of the environments it sustains for us, and to remember that every decision we make has repercussions beyond our intentions," said Dr Walton.

This work of art blends custom hardware and software elements seamlessly. The centrepiece is a vertical neon tube that pulsates in bright red, animating the building's pulse. The Heart Array, comprised of thousands of bespoke LED light fittings, forms a breathtaking 10-meter human heart, and a machine learning algorithm translates live building data into the pulse of the building.

The Heart is a fantastic and unique addition to the Melbourne Connect building and community. We are thrilled to have The Heart as a permanent installation," said Professor Eduard Hovy, Executive Director of Melbourne Connect. "It is an exceptional example of how art and technology can come together to create something truly special."

The Heart has been commissioned by The University of Melbourne and was developed in collaboration with Melbourne Connect, ADDITIVE and Melbourne Data Analytics Platform.

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About the Artist

Dr Robert Walton is a multi-award-winning artist and director whose works span theatre, choreography, installation, writing and interactive art. He is the Dean’s Research Fellow in The Faculty of Fine Arts and Music at The University of Melbourne where he leads the creation of performances and artworks that explore the expressive potential of ancient and emerging technologies including, artificial intelligence, theatre, virtual holograms, swarm robotics, standing stones, engineered bacterial bioluminescence, ritual, MR/XR, storytelling, building information model data, and ambient computing.