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Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

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Edge of Chaos

Edge of Chaos

Between order and chaos, a mathematical space originally studied to understand the behaviour of avalanches and crystallisation of liquids, scientists are uncovering the rules for the existence of life itself. A small region called the “Edge of Chaos” displays complex behaviours that have both organisation and instability creating the continuous flux that scientist hypothesise [1] drives the engine of life — evolution — and produces the boundless novelty of the natural world.

Inspired by the science of complexity, the Edge of Chaos installation is a collaboration between artists Vasilija Abramovic & Ruairi Glynn (Interactive Architecture Lab, Bartlett UCL) and scientist Bas Overvelde (AMOLF / Studio Overvelde). Bringing together the scientific work on transformable geometries previously published by Overvelde et al. in Nature and Interactive Architecture Lab’s expertise in immersive spatial design and interaction, the team collaborated on developing their competition winning entry for the international touring exhibition Capitaine Futur which opened in Paris at La Gaîté Lyrique  in April 2018.

The interactive installation invites visitors to experience the balancing point between highly ordered and turbulent systems, composed of three features. At its centre, a robotic tree representing “Life”, surrounded by an inert “Cloud” representing the vast unorganised matter of an entropic universe, and an interactive surface that represents the “Edge of Chaos”. The robotic tree and concept formation behind the installation was developed by the Interactive Architecture Lab designers, harnessing passive and active geometries that incorporate over 25 000 building block units designed and developed by Studio Overvelde. The interactive surface and its emergent behaviours were developed between the labs at AMOLF, Amsterdam, and Bartlett UCL, London celebrating creative possibilities of collaborating across science, art and design.

The narrative installation makes tangible the science of complexity to children and adults alike, demonstrating its behaviours [2] through sound, light and robotic motion, encouraging playful exploration and contemplation on perhaps the biggest questions of how life could emerge from the disorder of the universe?


Approaching the installation, visitors will encounter a white cloud of disordered geometry wrapping around a central robotic tree. Between these representations of the entropic universe and life, an interactive surface of 100 motion sensitive kinetic geometries networked together form the “Edge of Chaos”. The activity of people, around the tree activates the “Edge of Chaos” triggering the surface triggered to lighting up and physically transforming. Local interactions by individual members of the public, trigger chain reactions throughout the entire surface, that depending on the level of interaction and current state of the surface will produce ordered patterns, or rather chaotic sequences. When the “Edge of Chaos” surface becomes fully activated the tree comes to life blossoming into full colour and more dramatic robotic movements.


Passive and interactive structure that surrounds the installation is made of 500 geometries, of which 400 static and 100 active ones representing basic unit block of our chaotic universe and is driven by custom made Cellular Automata (CA) system. Equipped with ultrasonic proximity sensors, the surface gets triggered and actuated by visitor presence through compelling physical transformation and light. Increased people movements stimulate the chaotic patterns on the surface until triggering the tree of life.

The Robotic Tree was developed at the Interactive Architecture Lab, at the Bartlett’s new state of the art robotics and fabrication facility in Hackney Wick, East London. It is made of over 52 meters of blue powder coated aluminium box section, incorporating 36 kinetic structures, 656 RGB LED lights and is driven by servo motors integrated inside of the tree branches.

Kinetic structures represent tessellations of basic geometrical units creating more complex organisations, combining for example modified truncated octahedral with hexagonal prisms. Unlike the wall, the tree movements and lighting sequences are choreographed, blossoming to life only when the Edge of Chaos reaches its highest point of actuation, run by CA algorithm. Custom made sound, integrated inside of the tree, follows the phases of chaos and order throughout the installation and enhances the atmosphere of the supernatural.

Edge of Chaos installation will be exhibited at La Gaîté Lyrique [Paris, FR], Cinekid Festival [Amsterdam, NL], KiKK Festival [Namur, BE] and WoeLab [Lomé, TG] in an international tour starting April 2018 and ending beginning 2019.

IALab team involved in the build @ La Gaîté Lyrique


4 April — 15 July 2018 La Gaîté Lyrique in Paris, FR
2 October – 21 October 2018 Cinekid Festival in Amsterdam, NL
1 November – 10 November 2018 KIKK Festival in Namur, BE
Febuary 2019 WOELAB in Lomé, TG


Artists: Vasilija Abramovic, Ruairi Glynn & Bas Overvelde
Interactive Architecture Lab, UCL [UK], AMOLF / Studio Overvelde [NL]

Sound design: Emmett Glynn

Coproduced by: La Gaîté Lyrique, KIKK Festival, Cinekid Festival and Woelab

IALab Paris: Team Naomi Li, Parker Heyl, Marguerite Tricaud, Ronan Glynn

Studio Overvelde Paris team: Sanne Overvelde-Slagman

AMOLF Paris team: Dennis Kistemaker

Special Thanks to Enrico Cacciapuoti, Hui sim Chan, Marianna Chrapana, Parvin Farahzadeh, Buse Gurbuz, Dhruv Kumar, Alexandra Niaka, Isabella Ong, Pawimol Samsen, Oliver Townsend, Michael Wagner, Sana Yamaguchi, Min Zhang, Dirk-Jan Spaandernan, Soft Robotic Matter Group

Photography: Interactive Architecture Lab, UCL

[1] Discovered by computer scientist Christopher Langton, and coined by mathematician Doyne Farmer

[2] Inspired by John Conway’s cellular automata algorithm, The “Game of Life”