Breaking Wave

A story of the search for patterns, and the surprising results that come by changing our point of view.




Project Management
Small Design Firm

Lighting Design
David Weiner Design

Material Development
Lightfast D+B

Concept Rendering
Carl Albrecht

Order from Chaos Video
Alberta Chu at ASKLabs


The Creators Project
Fast Company

Breaking Wave is an anamorphic kinetic sculpture created in collaboration with Hypersonic for Biogen-Idec's new headquarters in Cambridge, MA.

804 suspended spheres move in a wave-like formation. When the wave crests and breaks, the balls hover momentarily in a cloud. From almost anywhere in the room, this cloud is purely chaotic, but step into one of two hidden spots, and this apparent chaos shows a hidden pattern. From the first, a labyrinth hints at the search for knowledge, and from the second, a Fibonacci spiral inspired flower reminds us of the natural order and patterns found in nature.

Scientists search through billions of experimental data points in order to find patterns to develop new drugs, to treat multiple sclerosis, cancer, and other diseases. Without a particular framework or perspective, these are just 0’s and 1’s, with no form or information. But with the perspective of an understanding of molecular dynamics, these data points create a clear picture about the hidden dynamics within the body, and allow scientists to craft drugs to successfully treat these diseases.

Above the sculpture lies the mechanism that drives its motion. A motor drives a large rotating stainless steel cam. 36 rollers follow the contour of the cam, which traces out the overall waveform. Each roller slides on a linear track, pulling a cable that spins one of the 36 output shafts. Distributed along each shaft are different sized drums from which the wooden sphere (coated in zinc and steel, and then rusted chemically) are hung. As the shafts rotate, the drums pull the balls up and down – larger drums pull balls higher. In this way, the size of the 804 drums mechanically programs the images hidden in the cloud of balls.

This concept was designed with pencil, paper, and Processing. The structure was designed in Solidworks. The piece was built with many hands, and several miles of wire rope.

Once they're in motion it's mesmerizing, but also a little: "Hey. Wait, what… How? Huh?"

If you’d like to visit in person, Breaking Wave runs Monday through Friday, 8am to 8pm at 255 Binney St. in Cambridge, MA. The sculpture is viewable from the street, or from inside the lobby. Feel free to ask the guards where the hidden spots are, if you don’t find them.

Want to make something like this yourself? You can download the processing scripts right HERE and HERE. Dive in, they're open source. Show us what you've made!

Special thanks to:
Ed Dondero, Melissa Kendis, Dan McIntyre,   Jenna Fizel, Nathan Lachenmyer, David Small, Heather Blind, Alberta Chu, Kasumi Hinouchi, Neal Mayer, Lauren McCarthy, Kyle McDonald, JB Michel, Dan Paluska, Chris Parlato, Plus Fabrication, Scott Taylor, Sosolimited, Chris Danemayer