The nature of Twitter is ephemeral: a shout into the digital void that quickly fades away. This summer in Minneapolis, however, your tweets may have physical impact on the environment — or, a very small microclimate, at least. Meet MIMMI:
MIMMI is a large, air-pressurized sculpture suspended from a slender structure located at the Minneapolis Convention Center Plaza. Cloud-like in concept, the sculpture hovers 30 feet above the ground, gathering emotive information online from Minneapolis residents and visitors to the plaza. MIMMI analyzes this information in real-time, creating abstracted light displays and triggering misting in response to this input, creating light shows at nighttime and cooling microclimates during the daytime. Whether the city is elated following a Minnesota Twins win or frustrated from the afternoon commute, MIMMI responds, changing behavior throughout the day and night.
In other words, MIMMI displays Minneapolis emotional temperature in light — in real time.
Last week Paul and I took a walk across Loring Park and found our way to the convention center’s sunny plaza to catch a glimpse of the installation just hours before the official launch. We were lucky enough to chat briefly with Allen Sayegh, the founder of the global design research and user experience consultancy behind the project.
“I call these types of projects Highly Evolved Useless Things that are beautiful to look at and have an evocative power,” wrote Sayegh in a followup email. “Because it is a large structure in the city that has to withstand all the elements and engage the public on many levels, the team at INVIVIA (which is an interdisciplinary team composed of architects, engineers, programmers, landscape architects, robotics experts, psychologists) had to do many rapid iterations and prototypes with custom written software to come up with the installation that at the end we hope everyone agrees is beautiful to look at and experience.”
Sayegh described the work in terms very familiar and dear to the Walker’s New Media Initiatives department: “At the end of the day this is a research project for us. We had to use many open source tools/ technologies such as Arduino, actuators, special lighting, and different sensors along with complex physical manufacturing in a very tight schedule to achieve a level of design that works for this city.”
On the software side I was curious how they were extracting the mood from Twitter. “In this project we are reading social media feeds and do basic language analysis to detect what people are feeling. Although by no means is this supposed to be scientifically accurate, we did base our software on a recent scientific paper that was published on this topic.” Here’s a screenshot of the mood-informing keywords from the live site:
I have yet to see MIMMI properly lit at night, but I’ve been following the live webcam feeds. Sayegh included a final picture along with this note:
Formally speaking MIMMI is a cloud or an abstraction of a cloud. The aesthetic choices of form, color, and lighting were driven by a general interest of the hybrid perceptual state of digital and physical.
There was a very conscious decision to make MIMMI look as if it was digitally rendered in its built form.
This project appeals to me personally on a number of levels: art, interactivity, technology, space-making, and also because the city was able to get it installed in such a public place. More like this, please.