Morphogenesis Media Mesh Brings Collaborative and Interactive Art to Stanford’s Biology Building


A first-of-its-kind, interactive public art piece, users of Morphogenesis develop creative content streamed onto a media mesh screen over the entry to Stanford’s new Biology Building. Morphogenesis is a unique deployment of digital signage; a video synthesizer that tells an abstracted story of biology through play, interaction and creation. The generative, colorful artwork by Jonathan McCabe is based on a model developed by Alan Turing, which describes how spots and stripes are propagated through biological systems.

Nominating Company: TSItouch, Inc., Uniontown, Pennsylvania
Venue: Morphogenesis – Stanford Biology Building – Anderson Krygier, Portland, Oregon
Project: Morphogenesis – Stanford Biology Building – Anderson Krygier
Category: Educational Environments

Morphogenesis creates a new, interactive public art feature; a beacon for science that is seen from a primary pedestrian axis connecting Stanford’s campus that’s called Discovery Walk. Stanford empowered the design team to find new ways to make science compelling, exciting and interactive in a non-literal way.

Morphogenesis is the first installation that connects user interaction with the large-scale media mesh platform. Based on Alan Turing’s theory of Morphogenesis, which describes how spots and stripes manifest themselves in nature, users of Morphogenesis interact with a generative algorithm by manipulating parameters via a touchscreen integrated into the façade of the building’s main entrance.

Not only can users play with the interactive interface at the ground level, but by saving patterns they create, those settings populate the permanent art piece shown on the massive media mesh. The longer this generative artwork is running, the more diverse its content becomes.

Breaking new ground takes new ways of thinking and doing, and the creative team knew they were embarking on something that was unique. Science students and faculty are an ideal audience for this novel use of technology because an interest in exploration and discovery is central to the pursuit of science.

One unique requirement was determining how to engineer an interactive interface to control a 32-foot tall media mesh. Morphogenesis functions using custom-coded touch sensors that integrate hardware and software for user interaction with a kiosk that serves as a visual synthesizer to create an infinite variety of moving patterns and colors.

The team ran into seismic issues related to building codes that disallowed placing the media mesh onto the building’s exterior. Their creative response was to hang the media mesh between very large glass panels located just inside the front entry building envelope.

The team worked to develop solutions in both material and technological mediums, including custom software applications, powerful servers and complete integration with Stanford’s high-security computer network.

The team didn’t want works-in-progress to be shown in real time across the quarter-mile view extending to the main campus axis of Discovery Walk. Therefore, user settings are only shown on the media mesh after they are saved at the interface and become part of the ever-growing and infinitely creative queue.

The player application mediates visual transitions with a smooth, extended crossfade between all parameters in the pattern settings. The transitional phases become some of the most exciting moments as they are the result of an unexpected visual collaboration between users. When users aren’t saving content for display, the application pulls settings randomly from a database of the compiled user contributions. Once a setting is saved, it becomes a part of the permanent piece.

Morphogenesis has realized Stanford’s vision for abstracted storytelling at the new Biology Building. The university and the design team created and deployed a new typology of interactive, public art that leverages large-scale digital signage technology in new ways. The resulting impact of Morphogenesis extends beyond the building and adjacent plaza, providing a beacon that draws visitors from Stanford’s medical campus into the science quad.

Morphogenesis has generated immediate excitement … even prior to the building’s official opening. Visitors are engaging with the piece and bringing friends back to show them. It is exciting to see the many photos and videos of people interacting with the piece. The impact of Morphogenesis goes beyond its status as a new icon for Stanford’s science campus. It creates a new precedent for creative storytelling that is interactive, generative and fun.

Anderson Krygier

TSItouch, Inc. won a 2019 APEX Award in the Educational Environments category.

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