The work of a biotechnology company like Biogen Idec—a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company that specializes in medicines for people with neurodegenerative diseases, hematologic conditions and autoimmune disorders—is hard to explain. At the very least, it's hard to explain with words. Perhaps that's why the company commissioned an artistic collaboration between design firm Hypersonic and technological sculptors Plebian Design to capture the essence of how to make a scientific breakthrough.
The sculpture they created is called "Breaking Wave," which is a massive piece featuring 804 metallic balls, suspended from a motorized mechanism that puts them in motion in a wave-like formation. When the wave reaches its crest, and then breaks, the balls hover in a cloudlike mess—and from most perspectives in the room, it's pure chaos. From two hidden spots in the room, though, the patterns become clear: a labyrinth within the circle, or a spiral pattern (inspired by the Fibonacci sequence, naturally).
"We had discussions with Biogen and other biotech firms about how the science of what they do happens, and what their exploration process is—and a lot of it comes down to the way they synthesize drugs is by trying these different parts of drugs on different protein sequences and different genetic markers, and seeing what kind of data comes back so they can take these puzzle pieces and put them together in the right way to synthesize a full drug," explains Hypersonic founder Bill Washabaugh. "So what that really says is that these people are looking at these vast amounts of data, and they really have to find the right point of view to create what they want. That's how we came up with the concept."
The collaborations at the heart of "Breaking Wave" were multifold—Hypersonic and Plebian Designs were brought in by David Small and Small Design Firm out of New York, which had been contracted by Biogen Idec to design the lobby experience in the company's Cambridge headquarters. And Washabaugh says that as the conversation between Small and Biogen grew, they found that they needed to convey something important through art. "That's when David Small's team called Jeff [Lieberman, of Plebian Designs] and I and said, 'Hey, we're looking for an art piece, can you guys pitch a few ideas?'" Washabaugh recalls. "They really latched onto this concept of how perspective changes everything, and how your point of view can help define the right pattern."
Visitors in the Cambridge area can see that concept in person at Biogen Idec's headquarters—either inside the lobby, or from the street (it's not clear if you can catch the right angle from the street—but if you go inside, the guards can tip you off as to where to stand). Otherwise, check out the video to see exactly how the sculpture needs to be seen in order to capture the hidden perspectives.