Whispering clouds and the supernatural

By | Science & Technology
Why Sit When You Can Play reimagines the public bench with creative technology. Credit@The Urban Conga

Benches reimagined as light shows, musical plants and personal light orchestras might become a reality for Bristol. Watershed recently announced its shortlist for the third international Playable City Award. The interactive art competition launched earlier this year inviting artists, designers, technologists, architects and creative practitioners from across the globe to propose new and distinctive ideas to place people and play at the heart of a city.

The winner is to reportedly receive £30,000 as well as being invited into Watershed’s vibrant community of creatives at the Pervasive Media Studio. Last year, the Award gave Bristol ‘Shadowing’, which records the movements of shadows and replays them to passersby in the street. This year, 60 countries produced 197 entries for the competition; 7 have been shortlisted and shared online for the public to ask questions and share comments.

One innovative idea, “Take a Seat” by Happy City Lab from Switzerland, aims to breathe new life into the humble street bench through an interactive network of sensors and LEDs. The bench sparkles and flashes to attract attention, then springs to life when somebody sits down. The project aims to demonstrate the engagement and positivity that may be produced from simple creative interventions.

Urbanimals” – a notion by LAX Laboratory for Architectural Experiments in Poland – proposes that “curious creatures appear in the monotonous corners of a city, places where people are just passing through, with no time to contemplate their surroundings.” Urbanimals intends to help Bristol’s residents rediscover the city’s ‘hidden treasures’ by engaging in their surroundings in novel, imaginative ways.

Supernatural” by Kevin Walker & Yuri Suzuki from the UK looks to “re-wild and re-wire” the city. The idea aims to create musical instruments from the city’s natural infrastructure of plants, soil, wood and water to produce wondrous sounds of electronically generated tones and bespoke beats upon human interaction. An accompanying app may provide a map of locations as well as historical information and rhythm tracks to play alongside.

Playing music with nature - "Supernatural". Credit@Kevin Walker/Yuri Suzuki

Playing music with nature – “Supernatural”. Credit@Kevin Walker/Yuri Suzuki

Strange Thoughts Ltd from the UK created “Lighting Conductor” which may allow residents to conduct a personalised light orchestra using only body movement. A swish of an arm might command a pulse of light to shoot across a park, illuminating paths and wildlife in apparently spellbinding colours and intensities.

Puffin Jam” by Unsworn Industries, Sweden, ideates musical pedestrian crossings to inspire playfulness, conversation, unexpected smiles and pranksters. The regular traffic light push-button may be redesigned to play music while waiting for the lights to change.

The traditional street bench might also be redesigned to invite passersby to play and learn music through colour and creativity using innovative LED and sensor technology. This entry on the shortlist is called “Why Sit When You Can Play” and thought of by The Urban Congo in the US. Each note may also trigger LEDs in street lamps and surrounding buildings to light up the city.

Another idea, “Whispering Clouds” by Tine Bech in the UK proposes two colourful clouds that may hang over Bristol – one appearing to observe the city, the other whispering the secrets and messages it has gathered. The aim is to invite participation and play to explore Bristol’s culture of sharing and challenge the concepts of cloud computing.

"Two fluffy clouds hang over the city, lighting up and displaying people's messages." Credit@Tine Bech

“Two fluffy clouds hang over the city, lighting up and displaying people’s messages.” Credit@Tine Bech

“We are delighted with the huge international response to our call, the scope of the ideas presented and the breadth of talent it represents,” Clare Reddington, Executive Producer of the Playable City Award, Watershed says. “The Playable City theme connects across cultures, geography and creative disciplines. We are excited to share our shortlist with the public for their comment and review and look forward to launching the winner this summer at Watershed in Bristol.”

A panel of industry experts intend to judge the shortlisted entries, which includes Tom Uglow, Director of Google Creative Labs, Sydney; Jason Bruges, internationally celebrated artist and designer, and founder of the multi-award winning Jason Bruges Studio; Miguel Sicart, Copenhagen-based play researcher and author and Claire Doherty, Director of Situations.

The panel aim to announce their winner on Tuesday 9th June this year and unveil the successful artwork in Bristol for September. This year, the winner may also be flown to Japan during the autumn to showcase their project as part of Watershed and British Council’s new Playable City Tokyo programme.

What other ways might data systems be creatively linked to produce a benefit to a city, or even a company or building?

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