Microsoft Kinects with Nature

Digital installations bring the outdoors in. Microsoft’s sprawling headquarters campus in Redmond, Wash., is a place where technical innovation happens every day. Like the tech campuses we’ve all heard and read about, it’s a place where creativity is celebrated and encouraged. Ping-pong tables and pinball machines abound, along with beach volleyball courts, soccer fields, and free snacks. But still, like the rest of us, Microsoft employees go to work inside fairly generic-looking corporate buildings and stay there for long hours at a time.

Microsoft enlisted the help of Gensler and Digital Kitchen to change that a little bit in two buildings on campus. The central question was: “How can we better connect humans with the physical and natural environments around them?”

The answer: digital installations that integrate architecture, space, and the natural world. Working in collaboration with Gensler architects, Digital Kitchen created portals that provide “moments in nature” for the employees and visitors passing through them.

The idea was to inspire discoveries in the spaces between the natural and digital worlds, while nodding to Microsoft’s rich history of technical innovation. Gensler’s architectural solution introduced lit cube elements that can be seen from outside the buildings, but are also functionally integrated into stairways. Employees and visitors walk under and through the "cubes" to travel between floors. The displays are slim-profile, 5mm LED screens by NanoLumens.

Digital Kitchen conceived four layers of natural environments or “strata” to bring to life inside the cubes. Each strata—water, forest, flocking birds, and clouds—reflects the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest and has a unique formal quality such as color, shape, motion, and sound.

Last, a critical layer of reactivity was added to truly connect employees to the environment. Leveraging Microsoft’s own Kinect technology, each strata reacts to human movement through the space. Various human behaviors and activities produce different visual experiences. For example, moving through the water strata generates bubbles.

Original sound design from DK deepens the experience. A dynamic, generative audio system creates a unique soundscape based on each theme, producing a different experience each time someone walks through. The resulting installation continually shifts throughout the day to reflect the constant motion and life of the natural world, and to keep the experience fresh for the employees who come and go regularly.

See the video. 

Microsoft digital installation


Client: Microsoft
Location: Redmond, Wash.
Architect: Gensler
Digital Installation Design: Digital Kitchen
Design Team: Matthew Mulder (executive creative director), Demetre Arges (creative director), Sarah Shipley (executive producer), Jessica Katona (associate creative director), Corey Paganucci (creative technologist), Ben Chaykin (creative/sound engineer), Andrew Swanson (sound design), Lauren Grassick (producer)
Consultants: Creative Technology (audio visual engineering/installation

Photos: Gensler

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