Technology is drastically influencing creative processes by equipping the human brain with tools to materialize previously unthinkable concepts in art and design. Artificial intelligence in particular is constantly challenging creative processes and is efficiently changing human perceptions of art and design, so much that it makes us wonder if the machine has its mind that is capable of innovating and producing creative outcomes on its own! 

This concept of machines being individual entities themselves, capable of thinking and dreaming on their own to produce art, and not just exist as mere tools to support human ideas is what Refik Anadol’s TED Talk titled – Art in the age of machine intelligence is structured around. 

TedTalks for Architects: Art in the age of machine intelligence by Refik Anadol - Sheet1
Melting memories-Public art installation, Istanbul_©

Refik Anadol is a new media artist and director of the Refik Anadol Studio, based out of Los Angeles, California. His works primarily focus on creating public art in the form of data sculptures, live audio/visual, and immersive installations by creatively blending media arts with the world of machine intelligence. 

His recent TED talk is a window into his world of media arts to get glimpses of how he creates these installations, right from how concepts are conceived, how data collection occurs, and what processes are followed to execute and present the data sculptures.

TedTalks for Architects: Art in the age of machine intelligence by Refik Anadol - Sheet2
Refik Anadol_©DesignWanted

Much like many of us who are fans of Sci-Fi movies and concepts alike, Refik talks about how his childhood memory of watching and being inspired by the visuals of a futuristic LA city, as depicted in the movie Blade runner, stuck with him and truly shaped his interest towards data science its possible connection with the world of art. 

He talks about how a background in architectural photography led him on a journey to question the real essence and meaning behind architectural forms. He was inspired to explore alternate meanings for architectural spaces and forms-beyond simple and static shapes and colors.

TedTalks for Architects: Art in the age of machine intelligence by Refik Anadol - Sheet3
Treating architectural facades as canvases for data art_©

Very early on in the talk, he establishes his firm belief that the capability of artificial intelligence and/or machine intelligence provides a multitude of opportunities to simulate reality in ways that could earlier only be imagined of. This, he explains, comes from the ability of machines to “…construct things that human intelligence tends to produce but does not have the capacity to do so…”. 

He briefly talks about how he sees architectural spaces as canvases to immersive artworks that are accessible to a larger public audience by using data as a pigment that is the primary element of his artworks.

TedTalks for Architects: Art in the age of machine intelligence by Refik Anadol - Sheet4
The process of using memories to create sculptural art_©

As the talk unfolds into a presentation of the array of the diverse artworks designed and executed by Refik, it makes the listener question the potential of machines and machine intelligence. The speaker while explaining his idea of turning intangible memories into tangible and perceivable forms of expression, poses two questions “What can a machine do with someone else’s memories?” and “What does it mean to be an AI in the 21st century?” which make the listeners ponder how far one can go with AI in art and architecture.

TedTalks for Architects: Art in the age of machine intelligence by Refik Anadol - Sheet5
Virtual Depictions, San Francisco_©

To demonstrate his findings, he talks about some of his works that have successfully blended-media arts, machine intelligence, and architecture in inviting audiences to witness “…spectacular aesthetic experience (s)…”. He explains various instances of using architectural facades as canvases to present 3-dimensional live audio-visual sculptures. 

An example of one of his works “Virtual Depictions”- a public data sculpture that translated the data of the network of connections of the city of San Francisco explains clearly how the speaker achieved his goal of creating engaging aesthetic experiences for large audiences to witness.

TedTalks for Architects: Art in the age of machine intelligence by Refik Anadol - Sheet6
Refik’s data art sculpture in the interiors of the LA Philharmnic_©The New York Times

Can you imagine being able to materialize intangible social media content into a fluid sculpture that changes with change in real-time data! The talk ends all doubts on how far one can go with using data and the kind of data that can be used to create art! It is a testimonial to how we can, in the near future, possibly preserve memories in our mind that are intangible, and make a physical more tangible piece of art that constantly reminds us of those very memories and ensures permanent preservation of those very memories. 

This preservation and re-presentation of memories are also demonstrated in Refik’s work of creating digital art pieces for the LA Philharmonic where 100 years of data of important days and moments from their performances were captured and used to create a sculptural work that played as a backdrop for the LA Philharmonic’s 100th-year celebration and graced the interiors of the world-renowned Walt Disney Concert Hall.

TedTalks for Architects: Art in the age of machine intelligence by Refik Anadol - Sheet7
Refik’s data art sculpture adorning the facade of the Walt Disney Concert hall_©Medium

The talk throws light on how far technology has come in shaping human perceptions and representations of massive quantities of intangible data. It leaves the listener wondering how they can materialize intangible data into aesthetic experiences and who better to learn it than Refik Anadol!


Priyamvada Gannavarapu is an architecture student who believes in the ability of architecture to influence and inspire human behaviour in fostering positive, efficient and sustainable built environments. As an avid reader ,a trained Bharatanatyam dancer and Carnatic vocalist she likes to explore the various aspects of experiential design in creating meaningful habitable spaces for users alike.

Write A Comment