August, 1999 | The Architecture of Cyberspace: Internet Studio Network |  Home
By Alfredo Andia and Claudia Busch
School of Architecture at Florida International University, Miami, Florida.

Alfredo Andia & Claudia Busch: email: ANDIA <at> POST.HARVARD.EDU

Much has been theorized about the role of architecture in Cyberspace. However, there has been little evidence that architects can engage professionally in such projects.  Today, architects may have the first example of these new types of commissions.  The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) began five years ago to integrate its myriad of computer data into one easy to use system.  In the process of developing the "design" of the new virtual stock exchange system the NYSE contracted the New York based architectural firm, Asymptote.  Asymptote was founded in 1989 and is well recognized in architectural circles for competitions and installations that explore the relationship between the digital and physical worlds.  This commission was for Asymptote a unique opportunity to build what they have been experimenting for almost a decade.
The new NYSE virtual stock exchange  depicts real time ticker bands and video feeds in its walls.

Images of the interactive 3DTF.
The project turned out to be more than just an exercise on interface.  "We approached it as if it was a traditional architectural project," said Hani Rashid and Lise Anne Couture founders of Asymptote in a
recent talk at MOMA. The NYSE is full of intensity, jargons, and actions, which must be represented in the virtual exchange in order to be easily understood by the users.  The design of the virtual space "had to be a reflection of the intensity and the architectural language of today's NYSE", said Rashid.  The fully interactive 3-D Trading Floor (3DTF) consolidates several data streams.  In the walls of the virtual world there are stock prices, news, indexes, and live video from major television networks, which are constantly flowing in real time. In the floor of the 3DTF the trade booths are arranged as they are in the real layout so it is easy for users to understand.  A fully interactive 3D graph sits in the virtual floor, the graph allows for instant replay of graph-events that occur in the stock market. The 3-DTF is depicted on nine 25-inch PixelVision flat-panel which allows users to access many
type of information on the fly, something impossible to do in real space or with current databases.

Interactive graphs and virtual booths inside the 3D Trading Floor.

"The idea was to create a visual environment through which traders can navigate, analyze, and act upon at-a-glance. Trade actions are very dynamic" said Rashid and Couture. What happens on the trade floor, gets immediately broadcast through the media, information on which the market reacts, and then quickly translated into orders on the floor."  In the real trade floor, it is impossible to see and analyze the complex dynamic of these interrelated events. However, in the 3D virtual representation it is possible to manipulate, even to do instant replays for quick analysis of the activities that occur on the exchange.   "It is incredible to see how engaged operators get in the 3DTF when the market has drastic changes during they day," expressed the architects.

Experimental work and installations of Asymptote Architects has been exhibited in architectural circles around the world.

The NYSE initially had contracted a group of engineers from Silicon Valley to design the whole project. But they had difficulties in the design of the data navigation. This led the client to Asymptote.
Rashid said, "When the clients saw that all their data could be assembled in a navigable world, they said: "Why didn't we hire an architect before?" The 3DTF project led to a second commission. The NYSE needed a place where to locate this virtual environment.  They named the space "Advanced Trading Floor Operation Center." It is a high-tech workplace or a "theater of operations" for virtual trading.   Asymptote also designed the physical space.  Today the "theater of operations" that
houses 3DTF has became so popular that it is also used to broadcast live updates from the NYSE by several major TV channels in the US. The Operations Center is powered by 6 Silicon Graphics Onyx2 graphics visualization supercomputers, 43 PixelVision high-resolution, a number of flat-panel monitors and highly innovative applications.

The "Advanced Trading Floor Operation Center."

But the story does not seem to end there. Asymptote was just contracted for another high-profile cyber-real project: The" Guggenheim Virtual Museum" for the prestigious Guggenheim Foundation in New York.  The Guggenheim is spending $ 1 million dollar in the first phase of the virtual project, and is the most ambitious endevour of this kind by an American museum.  The “Virtual Museum,” similar to the NYSE project, is expected to have both a digital and real presence.  The GVM will have initially a physical presence on a 43-by-24-foot video wall at the entrance of the Guggenheim SoHo’s branch.  The site is expected to also be part of the trans-continental expansion of the Guggenheim to locations in Venice and Berlin. 

In the end the Asymtote principals have high hopes for the future role of architecture in cyberspace. They think that current trends in Internet commerce are dull, and current technology does not interact as humans interact with real buildings.  "For example the website of Barnes & Noble is just a glorified magazine page," Rashid said.  But that site could be re-designed to contain many of the features and richness of the real bookstore, the lounging around, the browsing through book
sections, the chances of socializing.  "This can only be achieved with architecture," points out Rashid.


Client: New York Stock Exchange.
Architect: Asymptote Architecture, New York, NY.  Hani Rashid, Lise Anne Couture (principals-in-charge)
Animation Code: RT-SET
Operating System and Hardware: Silicon Graphics
Information Display Solution: PixelVision

Client: New York Stock Exchange.
Architect: Asymptote Architecture, New York, NY.  Hani Rashid, Lise Anne Couture (principals-in-charge)
Lighting Consultants: LObservatoire International
Structural Engineer: HLW International
Mechanical Engineer: Jaros Baum & Bolles Consulting Engineers
Consultants: Milgo/Bufkin (fabricator)
Construction Manager: Morse Diesel International, Inc.