An artificial intelligence-infused installation.
Art

Fusing art, science, and tech to turn “what if?” into reality

What if humans and computers could work together to make us more aware of the world around us—and help us tackle critical issues from climate change to emotional health? Meet the innovators exploring this question, and a range of new possibilities, with tech-infused art.

What if architecture was like a living, breathing thing that could change to reflect the expressions and interactions of the people inside? The question might sound fantastical, but Jenny Sabin—principal designer at Jenny Sabin Studio and professor of architecture at Cornell University—set out to answer it with an artificial intelligence-infused installation she created as part of Microsoft’s Artist in Residence program.

A man and woman stand under the art installation ADA as they point to different architectural features and discuss.
Eric Horvitz, left, director of Microsoft’s research labs, and Jenny Sabin, right, principal designer at Jenny Sabin Studio, an Ithaca, New York-based architectural design firm, and Microsoft’s artist in residence, discuss the installation of her project Ada. Photo by John Brecher for Microsoft.

“How do we personalize our spaces? How do we start to think about architecture as more fundamentally human and personal as well as sustainable, functional and performative?”

- Jenny Sabin
Jenny Sabin, principal designer at Jenny Sabin Studio, an Ithaca, New York-based architectural design firm, and Microsoft artist in residence, installs her project, Ada, in the atrium of Microsoft’s building 99 in Redmond, Washington. Photo by John Brecher for Microsoft.

Jenny teamed up with Microsoft Research’s Artist in Residence to create Ada—a two-story exoskeleton made from over 850 3D printed nylon nodes, 1286 fiberglass rods and photoluminescent digitally knitted nylon cones that uses artificial intelligence to translate data from visitors’ facial expressions, their voices, and surrounding noises into an immersive and interactive experience of light and color.

Ada stems from Jenny’s extensive work around reimagining walls, informed by her collaborations with biologists and engineers. Her lab is filled with prototypes and tools from her unique interdisciplinary approach that rethinks the very model of architectural design—an approach she encourages her students to take, too.

“We often think of the architect as drawing the napkin sketch, what we call the parti diagram, and that becomes the big idea for the project,” she says. “I’m saying let’s flip that upside down and think about how that final form emerges from a set of relationships.”

Jenny Sabin’s Ada is the latest project in an illustrious Arist in Residence program at Microsoft that was created in 2012. The program invites artists to explore ideas “at the intersection of humanity, culture, and technology” alongside Microsoft engineers and researchers. The goal is to fuse the possibilities of art and technology into projects that reimagine everyday experiences and challenges.

Asta Roseway, a principal research designer in the urban innovation initiative who runs the Artist in Residence program, is particularly interested in how art can weave technology into our lives seamlessly—in a way that actually fosters deeper connection with the world around us.

Asta Roseway, right, a principal research designer who runs the Artist in Residence Program at Microsoft’s research lab in Redmond, Washington, and Vaishnavi Ranganathan, a senior researcher, prepare LED lights to embed in Ada’s fabric. Photo by John Brecher for Microsoft

"Our goal isn’t to get more screens into people’s hands—it’s to find fresh ways to expand and amplify how we experience real life. And the rich intersection of creativity and tech innovation is where we’re discovering some amazing ways to make us all more aware of ourselves and each other."

- Asta Roseway

Photos by Jake Knapp

Ada, for example, examines how artificial intelligence has the power to make us more connected to our built environment. But Asta’s team of artists and engineers is also delving into how similar technology can impact our relationship with the natural world.

What’s next on the horizon for Asta and the Artist in Residence program? The answer lies in a mission that guides all of of her projects: “to use technology to create experiences that inspire people to cross boundaries, work together, transcend their traditional roles, and explore new possibilities” … and ultimately, “to create something wholly new and profoundly meaningful to all our lives.”

Decorative image depicting the Ada installation designed by Jenny Sabin.

Exploring the intersection of culture and technology

The Microsoft Research Artist in Residence program brings together artists, scientists, and engineers to create works that merge disciplines, powerfully showcasing cutting-edge research and new possibilities for how technology impacts humanity.

Read more about architecture meeting AI at Microsoft and visit our imagination studio to learn more Ada and other immersive experiences.