Tangible Earth

Exhibition: Cities | October 11, 2011 by

Tangible Earth is the first interactive digital globe that dynamically visualizes scientific data. By displaying Earth at a scale of ten million to one, Japanese anthropologist and professor Shinichi Takemura’s design aimas to give a real sense of our living planet and a better understanding of our environmental and cultural issues. The “public sensory platform” illustrates the unprecedented urbanization and vulnerability of world cities through a series of real-time and simulated climate-hazard visualizations, such as sea-level rise, flooding, hurricanes, and water scarcity. A recreation of Japan’s 2011 devastating earthquake and tsunami exposes cities’ vulnerability to seismological events. When Tangible Earth is connected to the Internet, one mode provides real-time natural-disaster warnings.

The model, 1.28 meters (50 in.) in diameter, combines digital technology and analog tactility. It can be spun in any direction, and users pushing on the surface activate sensors which translate the pressure into rotation speed and direction. A high-resolution projector with wide-angle lens mounted at the center projects vibrant 3D satellite images that detail every continent.

Inspired by Buckminster Fuller and Marshall McLuhan, Takemura created a museum of senses for the Internet age in 1995. One project, called Netsound, “listened” to Internet traffic; another, called Breathing Earth, visualized fluctuations and conveyed earthquake risks from compiled seismological data. Tangible Earth units have been installed at the 2008 G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit and at the United Nations Climate Change Conferences in 2009 (COP15) and 2010 (COP10).

Designer: Shinichi Takemura, with Ryuichi Iwamasa, Takahiro Shinkai, Kensuke Arakawa, Jun Nishimura, Hideo Shiba, and Shoko Takemura. Japan, 2001–present

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