Future Garden
Electronic garden of artificial life.
© 1998-2001 Jon McCormack.



Future Garden is a public art proposal for a 'garden' grown from computation, in place of traditional botanical materials. Future Garden was developed as a permanent outdoor installation as part of the Federation Square precinct in Melbourne, Australia.

The future garden is an interactive digital organism: an electronic garden of artificial life reminiscent of nature in its behavior and interaction, but distinctly electronic in its form and appearance. The project was developed by Jon McCormack, in collaboration with Federation Square project architects, Lab + Bates Smart.

  The work physically, consists of three elements embedded in, and rising out of the floor. Underneath glass is a lattice of thousands of Light Emitting Diodes or LEDs. Each LED emits a pure colour of light, but by mixing different colours, many different hues are possible. The LEDs are controlled by a complex computer program developed for the project. The program is based on biologically inspired techniques that simulate growth and diffusion. In some sense, the garden is a strange reflection of the sea creatures that inhabited the site some 20,000 years ago – not in terms of their shape or form – but in terms of process. The work goes beyond simple mimicry, however. Over time, it will evolve and change. Visitors returning will notice seasonal changes that coincide with ambient environmental conditions, both short and long term.


Future Garden is a garden, but its not what we would traditionally understand a garden to be. It replaces plants, soil, rocks and so on with computation, information and light.

Historically, gardens have served many different functions, from being a health care resource to places of contemplation and wonder. But in some way, gardens have always been about our arrangement, control and understanding of nature.

"In developing this project I asked the question 'what would a garden that takes into account new ideas about nature and life be like?'. This project is the result. I wanted to create a garden that reflects a new, more process oriented vision of nature, and also one that connects us with the technology that is increasingly being incorporated into our lives and our own nature." – Jon McCormack.



The patterns displayed by future garden are generated using a technique called cellular automata. In a cellular automata simulation, a surface area is represented as a lattice of cells. Each cell on the lattice has an individual state. The state of a cell is visualised by the colour and brightness of the LED. (one LED is equivalent to one cell). At discrete time intervals, each cell looks at the state of its immediate eight neighbours. The cell takes on a new state based on the state of its neighbours. This process is repeated for all the cells on the lattice. Over time, complex patterns and behaviors emerge. In a way analogous to, for example, biological cells forming complex organs, simple rules form complex patterns and interactive behaviors.



Future Garden is an interactive artwork. You can touch the glass surfaces and the states of cells will be effected by this act of touching. Only local cell states are stimulated, but due to the complex emergent properties of the system, over time the reaction and interaction will effect the entire surface. In addition to this proximity reaction, the artwork also responds to local environmental conditions such as temperature and light. All adding to the visceral experience of the artwork as a lifeform.



Future Garden is currently 'on-hold' pending external sponsorship. If you are interested in sponsoring the project please contact the artist.



More information on Future Garden can be found in the book Impossible Nature: the art of Jon McCormack. The book includes a DVD with video documentation.


The Future Garden proposal was developed under commission from the Federation Square Public Arts Program.