Lightswarm - CODAworx


Client: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts

Location: San Francisco, CA, United States

Completion date: 2014

Project Team


Nataly Gattegno


Public Art Agent

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts


How can our buildings respond to data and become informative and dynamic urban interfaces? Lightswarm is a 70-foot wide, three-story high interactive facade light installation in a state of perpetual flux, constantly responding and adapting to stimuli from the city. It is a proposition for an ecology of autonomous yet intelligent buildings that can begin to converse and exchange information. Rather than buildings acting like islands, isolated from each other yet occupying the same urban territory, Lightswarm explores the possibility of activating our buildings to respond to the city, and ultimately to each other, in re-shaping our urban experiences.


Our cities are overflowing with an abundance of sonic data, generated by infrastructure, people, wildlife, and more. How could our buildings sense and respond to this stream of data? How can building facades be activated by this data to engage their surroundings? Responding to sounds harvested from the YBCA grand lobby and the surrounding city, the site-specific artwork activates the south facing façade with playful swarms of light. During the day filtered sunlight produces ever-changing patterns of shadow, while in the evening the façade is transformed in a dynamic electro-luminescent composition visible from the interior lobby, the garden and the city beyond. Sound sensing spiders, attached directly to individual glass panels in the lobby, transform the facade into an urban sensor—an instrument to sense the city, visualize its auditory pulse and amplify its latent energies into cascades of light. Real-time data collected from these sensors is used to inform a swarming algorithm which guides patterns of streaming light. The result is a new form artificially intelligent façade: a smart surface that can sense, compute, respond and interact with its surroundings.


Lightswarm was designed with a high degree of digital and physical craft, relying on effects of geometry, sunlight and shadow, artificial light, and digital media to shape a public space of citizen engagement. It was entirely modeled, fabricated, programmed, wired, and installed in-house by FUTUREFORMS and MACHINIC, our sister fabrication company. The work consists of 430 unique suspended light modules that can individually change their intensity and color. Each module is created from 3D printed components, custom electronic elements, addressable LED strips, and laser-cut skins made out of recyclable PET plastic and synthetic paper.

Additional Information

Lightswarm was completed with generous support from the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and the Yerba Buena Community Benefit District.