Playable City Award Shortlist Announced

The second international £30,000 Playable City Award was launched by Watershed ( in February this year to invite artists, designers, architects, technologists and creative practitioners from all over the world to propose new ideas that will challenge the screen-based clichés of a smart city, and respond instead to cities as playable, open, and configurable spaces. From 78 entries from 29 countries around the world, the following eight projects have been shortlisted:

Beneath our feet, the stars | Ben Gwalchmai | Powys, UK

As you cross a bridge, the energy of your feet is captured by pressure pads and translated into beautiful poetry. The quietly emerging lines of poetry are generated in response to contextual data such as the time of day, the weather and how many people are crossing the bridge with you now. Beneath our feet, the stars enables you to play with the city simply by being in it. This is a subtle, human approach to technology unlocking and the creative power of the citizen amidst the architecture of our future cities.

CitySelfie | Design Informatics | Edinburgh, UK

Imagine if the last time you looked in the mirror was two years ago. That’s what it’s like for Bristol, or any city in fact, after all, it’s a bit of a challenge to find a mirror big enough or to get it just at the right angle. But the city does want to know what it looks like. A CitySelfie handcart will travel around the city, inviting citizens to take a snapshot of Bristol using different technologies to slice through different layers of the city, from conventional mobile device cameras, to throwing a camera-packed ball into the air, to directing friendly drones, launching balloon cameras, crowd-sourcing aerial photos from jet-setting arrivals, and live satellite imagery.

Light Memory | Jonathan Chomko | Treviso, Italy

As you walk home, passing under a streetlight you see a shadow, walking beside you. You jump back, then approach cautiously  - the shadow stops, waves. You wave back incredulously. The shadow cocks its head to the side, jumps to the left, then walks on. In Light Memory you are recorded through an infrared camera, your movements played back as a shadow after you have left, offering the next passer by a trace of the person who walked this path before them. The project encourages a sense of connectedness as well as offering a subtle reminder of the surveillance culture that pervades our city spaces. Interactions could be as simple as walking together, or perhaps you might recognize a neighbour from their gait. Chomko is interested in seeing how pockets of memory captured by streetlights, might become playable spaces.

Pipe Dream | George Zisiadis | San Francisco, US

Something has possessed our city infrastructure. Across the city tangles of pipes have burst from the ground, their dozens of colourful valves and levers stick out like flowers. Adjusting them releases not water, but light and music. The pipes have transformed themselves into collaborative musical instruments. And they’re waiting for us to play with them. Pipe Dream is an interactive musical sculpture built from actual piping. It reimagines cities’ most utilitarian and intimidating elements as exuberant and inviting opportunities for interaction. It gives pedestrians permission to tamper and play with parts of the city that are normally off limits.

Press Play / Toca Aí | Laura Kreifman (Guerilla Dance Project) with Natasha Chubbuck, Filipe Caligario & Thaís Vidal | Bristol & Brazil

Press Play or ‘Toca Aí’ – is a project that creates musical interventions that animate public spaces. Based around impromptu and transitory moments of collaborative musical play, Press Play links strangers to each other, individuals to urban space and creates moments of surprise, delight and connection. Press Play works by installing simple, touch sensitive panels in any public space. Each sensor is programmed with a musical track, which will play when touched. Multiple sensors can be touched to play more layers of sound, but to play a whole piece, to remix music, or improvise with sounds, it is essential for several people to play together.

Shark in the Puddle | Ludic Rooms | Coventry, UK

Weather is universal and us Brits are obsessed with it. Our climate affects us and makes us play; we hug the shadows to stay cool in the summer sun, we jump in puddles and count the gaps between thunder and lightning. Ludic Rooms want people to feast in this chaotic explosion and participate in the production of their city. Shark in the Puddle is a collection of freely-distributed interventions in the city. Ludic Rooms will collaborate with the people of Bristol to create an arsenal of open ‘disposable’ artworks that gradually inhabit the city, changing daily based upon the ecosystem: sun, rain, wind, day, night. This might include sonic challenges powered by 3D-printed mechanical turbines, a giant stencilled shark game that appears on the ground only when puddles form or a photo challenge that appears in shadows from streetlights. This is all about open play in open spaces.

Transportals | Fred Deakin | London, UK

This project will transform a series of locations across Bristol into pockets of interactive audio-visual art that will invite Bristolians to re-experience their daily environment as one of joy and play. These Transportals are carefully placed in corners, junctions and edges of otherwise mundane architectural sites across the city: they are located in areas that are well populated, making them easily discoverable during everyday life. Each site will display a projection-mapped graphic animation designed to gracefully transform the architectural feature into a playful object, and will also have accompanying music created for each location. Once discovered by a passersby in their basic “sleep” state, the installations will come to life and respond to proximity and body movements.

VVTC | Dan Dixon | Auckland, New Zealand

Subverting surveillance technology, VTCC puts the public in control of playful security cameras across the city. The cameras react to the public in interesting and unpredictable ways. Using IR sensitive cameras and simple image recognition algorithms they will move, flash lights or play sound to attract attention to themselves and act atypically like CCTV cameras. The cameras have a distinctive look and personality created in collaboration with a street artist. Working with the VTCC team, the artists define how the cameras behave, how they look and the ways they interact with people. Some may have painted vegetables dangling from servos, others may have laser pointers and disco balls. As if existing cameras have been transformed by a splodge of exuberant art.  Importantly the cameras watch, but never transmit. They eat their own video feeds.

The winner of the Playable City Award will be selected by a panel of judges, which includes Google Labs’ Tom Uglow, Hide&Seek founder Alex Fleetwood and last year’s winners PAN Studio’s Ben Barker and Sam Hill. The winner will be announced on 9 June 2014, followed by three months of development with the Pervasive Media Studio based at the Watershed in Bristol. The final projects will be unveiled at the inaugural ‘Making the City Playable’ Conference in Bristol in the autumn of 2014.

The Playable City Award and ‘Making the City Playable’ conference is produced by Watershed and co-funded by an expert network of organisations interested in exploring the future of creativity, technology and citizenship in urban spaces. The partners are: Future Cities Catapult, University of BristolUniversity of the West of England and Bristol City Councilwith support from Arts Council England.

The conference is co-produced by Watershed and Bristol Festival of Ideas in association with the Digital Cultures Research Centre from the University of the West of England.

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