February 28, 2013  |  Collection & Exhibitions
Watching the Wind: Viégas and Wattenberg’s Wind Map
Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg. Wind Map. 2012

Fernanda Viégas and Martin Wattenberg. Wind Map. 2012. Interactive software

What’s more poetic than the wind? The moon comes close I suppose, but I wonder if even the moon can hold a candle to the wind. Consider a gentle breeze. Imagine the thermals and the trades—surely dreams of sailing the seven seas would suffer if there was no promise of an encounter with the trade winds. And then there are the Westerlies and the Polar Easterlies, not to mention the winds of change. Fresh gale, gale force, and wind shear are maybe not quite so lovely or charming, but they’re certainly forces to be reckoned with and likely talked about.

You may not need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, but you’ll want to see the wind flow on Wind MapFernanda B. Viégas’s and Martin Wattenberg’s online application that illustrates the course of the winds moving across mainland America. It’s nearly as enchanting as catching the wind itself.

The designers use a succession of fine shaded lines—which the site aptly describes as a “delicate tracery of wind flowing over the US”—that bring to mind the fine lines of a Renaissance portrait. In this case, however, the landscape is in constant motion. Fernanda  B. Viégas, a computational designer, and Martin Wattenberg, a mathematician and journalist, are well known for their innovative work in the field of data visualization. Collaborators since 2003, they founded the visualization studio Flowing Media Inc. and are currently codirectors of Google’s “Big Picture” visualization research group. Wind Map is their personal creative design project.

The map updates hourly with wind surface data taken from the National Digital Forecast Database.  I just checked the map and though there’s not much wind over New York there’s a dancing paisley pattern running a corridor from Denver to Los Angeles and some seriously crazy funnel action moving from Chicago, down through Oklahoma City to Wichita Falls, over to Houston and winding up around Dallas at 35 m.p.h., of course that’s bound to change as only the wind knows how.

Wind Map will be on view at MoMA in the exhibition Applied Design, opening this weekend.