Ambient Display Panel Against Bark Peacefully Displays Information

10/01/2019 By Matt Wagner

SmartBark is a low-resolution ambient display panel made of a single flattened piece of tulip poplar bark. It is embedded with LEDs, or “pixels,” that display animations depicting live-stream current weather conditions.

While not widely specified, tulip poplar bark panels have been used for both exterior and interior wall cladding applications. SmartBark is the first panel of its kind to fully integrate and embed technology that aims to increase occupant performance and overall well-being in a peaceful, uninterrupting way.

SmartBark is seen at HKS Architects. Images courtesy of Matt Wagner
(Photo: SmartBark is seen at HKS Architects. Credit: Matt Wagner)

Based on the intersection between architecture, interior design and ubiquitous computing through interactive environments, SmartBark is a merger of nature and technology. It’s a responsive surface designed to provide experiential comfort by decreasing stress levels of workplace occupants.

Responsive Surface for Occupant Performance

Responsive surfaces that mitigate environmental distractions are designed to decrease stress in the workplace. Building control systems leverage the use of environmental data, informing new architectural approaches and outcomes. By responding to environmental factors, this form of autonomous architecture has established a new baseline for energy performance.

SmartBark is seen at Parabola Architecture. Credit: Matt Wagner
(Photo: SmartBark is seen at Parabola Architecture. Credit: Matt Wagner)

The aim of this product is to focus how to optimize buildings for occupant performance. The design approach looks to contextualize interior elements that can become autonomous systems. By responding to their immediate interior environment, self-regulating surfaces have the ability to increase occupant performance and overall well-being by decreasing mental fatigue and disruption.

My firm MWDC’s experience in environmental building analysis and design, as well as the integrated use of emerging technologies, help to inform new approaches to design and fabrication. SmartBark is an inventive new interior surface material that responds to comfort, interaction, technology and design in the built environment.

Ambient Data Visualization That’s Intuitive

Advances in technology continue to give us amazing new devices that assist in our daily lives. However, these devices are demanding more of our attention; we can spend much of the day looking down at our smartphones and smartwatches, blinded to the world around us.

Ambient displays convey information to their users without commanding attention from them. They fit quietly into their environment and display information intuitive to what the user is looking at.

Merging Nature and Technology

By responding to live weather data, SmartBark serves as a biophilic link between exterior site, building occupants and interior environment. It’s a new material that connects the occupant to the space, and the material to the building.

Rather than looking at the Weather Channel app on a smart phone, occupants look at a tree for live weather information.

SmartBark is a new type of low-resolution ambient display make of interactive SmartBark, milled bark panel and an illuminated LED array.
(Photo: SmartBark is a new type of low-resolution ambient display make of interactive SmartBark, milled bark panel and an illuminated LED array. Credit: Matt Wagner)

SmartBark uses an onboard computer to fetch live weather data from a specific weather station. Data visualization animations display rain, snow, sleet, thunderstorm, cloudy day, sunny day and starry night.

Evaluation of Effectiveness

SmartBark has been placed in multiple design offices for monthlong testing periods to determine its impact on each environment. Feedback from users suggests that SmartBark has provoked feelings of happiness and comfort, and it makes people want to go outside more. It has also resulted in ideas for future functions, such as snow reports for ski resorts and tide levels near the ocean.

SmartBark is seen at VMDO Architects. Credit: Matt Wagner
(Photo: SmartBark is seen at VMDO Architects. Credit: Matt Wagner)

Future versions of SmartBark will be integrating more APIs such as building automation systems, functions that include visualizations of building health and energy reports, opportunities for interaction such as responding to proximity and motion, and increasing scalability and testing.

The current SmartBark dimensions are a 96-by-42-inch panel embedded with over 1,150 LEDs. Future orders are custom designed to integrate with building surroundings based on client interests and requests.

About the Author:

Matt Wagner is the Principal at MWDC, an architectural design, research and consulting firm specializing in visualization and building technology research. In addition to MWDC, Wagner is an assistant professor in the School of Architecture + Design at Virginia Tech.

Read next: Metal Collective Inspired by Japanese Art of Kintsugi

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