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‘Cumulus’ Makes Lightning With 3D Printing, Programming and Sound

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SOFTlab is a New York City design studio created by Michael Szivos, and it’s been involved in the design and production of projects across mediums such as digital fabrication.

Michael Szivos of SOFTlab

Michael Szivos of SOFTlab

Szivos says the studio is particularly concerned with projects which mix research and ideas, and they learn from those projects to undertake designs for their client-based work. In 2012, SOFTlab was awarded the Architectural League Prize for Young Architects & Designers and in 2010, they were selected for the New Practices New York award by the AIA.

SOFTlab has produced design projects and collaborated with various artists, designers and institutions such as MoMA, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The New Museum, Columbia University and Pratt Institute as well as exhibiting work in galleries throughout New York City.

Now with a project they call Cumulus, an interactive installation which reacts to sound with light, via 3D printed cell-like forms meant to mimic the erratic behavior of clouds and lightning, they’ve continued their work in pressing against the limits of digital design and fabrication.

According to Szivos, the “sponge-like structure relies on redundancies and connections that cannot be achieved from a grid to give it a soft, cloud like shape.”

A network of irregular shapes “imbues the piece with a playful personality as it reacts in unpredictable ways to environmental sound.”

rab_32The designers programmed various behaviors – a trail that cycles through the structure, waves, and pulses – and each of them respond to the amplitude and ranges of sound surrounding the sculpture.

As the sound in the space reaches a certain volume, Cumulus is activated and the light within the pieces follows a path through one of the connecting segments. Szivos says the duration of the time a path is lit is dictated by the volume of the sound that activates it, and a simple algorithm creates a wide range of effects from long, lightning-like exposures triggered by sporadic, low frequency sounds to a “chatter” reminiscent of static electrical discharge as people’s voices activate the piece from below.

A series of physical and digital systems working together, and the construction of the piece involved connecting 200 acrylic segments with more than 100 unique, 3D printed joints.

Hidden within Cumulus, a network of “addressable” LED strands create the lighting effects, and more than 70 meters of LEDs were used to finish off the overall product.

According to Szivos, the behaviors and reactions to sound were programmed using Processing, and a UI was built to analysis them and then to communicate with a set of three Arduino microcontrollers which disperse signals to activate individual LEDs.

Cumulus is now installed at the RAB gallery in New York’s Chelsea arts district at 535 W 24th Street. The exhibit runs through July 3rd, and it’s open to the public on weekdays from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm.
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What do you think of the way Cumulus uses 3D printing to create its lighting-like effects? Do you know of any other art projects which use 3D printing to make them possible? Let us know in the Lightning With 3D Printing and Sound forum thread on 3DPB.com.

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