The Playground: Participatory Media Architecture
The Playground features a co-designed sculpture, interactive projection mapping and public participation. This novel, ephemeral urban design project provides personalised experiences, it fosters social connections, and it connects people to their architectural environment. During installations in Australia and South Korea we invited audiences to collect hidden sculptural pieces and take photos of their architectural environment. Participants connected their found sculptural pieces to a central sculpture and uploaded their photos to an online platform; all uploaded photos were automatically projection mapped onto the central sculpture. Participants were socially and physically engaged through personalised design experiences.
Project artist/ concept/ design/ planning : PluginHUMAN
Project co-ordination : PluginHUMAN
Interaction design/ programming : PluginHUMAN
Project sponsor/ support : Asia Culture Centre (South Korea); Regional Arts Victoria (Australia); Ararat Regional Art Gallery (
Urban situation : In 2016 PluginHUMAN began designing The Playground. This work operated as a playful way-finding tool and an activation that helped people to connect with The Asia Cultural Centre's multilayered architectural environment. The project expanded, running in two venues in Australia and in South Korea over 2017.
Community or communities involved : The Playground encourages everyday people to play with art and design. When running the project in a regional town in Australia, we found that one family engaged with The Playground every day. Their 7-year-old son said, “when I find a [sculptural] piece I feel like I’ve found myself. When our family puts pieces together we are making our family. When we connect pieces to the sculpture we are building our community.” The Playground involved broad audiences in community building and social design practices. We attracted new audiences; some participants had never previously attended a gallery/art centre event. We doubled normal attendance rates. We also ran public workshops for schools with a focus on STEM learning through design processes. All activities were free. Through this project we introduced organisations to new ways to engage audiences and this has influenced organisations' future public programming strategies. We used participatory art and user-centred computer science methodologies to build an institution’s audience and deliver personalised design experiences. We deepened connections between audience members and an organisation’s physical architectural environment and we built social connections between participants. During some installations, when the public entered the exhibition space they could place their found sculptural piece into a custom-made handset. We could then track the handset and project the individual's architectural photo onto the sculptural piece that was slotted into the top of the handset. As people walked around the exhibition area holding our custom handset, we could project their unique photo onto their sculptural piece. We tracked and projected onto small moving objects in 3D space. This design was a world-first; full details in this published peer-reviewed paper: https://doi.org/10.1145/3130859.3131427. This design sets a new benchmark. It personalises people’s connection to art, to a built environment and to each other. THE SCULPTURE The playground sculpture is constructed from sand blasted, transparent, laser cut acrylic. Each sculptural piece spells a word. It is a culturally integrated installation; the sculpture was designed in English (for Australian audiences) and Hangul (for Korean audience). TRACKING SYSTEM We custom programmed TouchDesigner (software) to receive movement tracking data sent from two VIVE lighthouses. We then projection mapped a 10x10cm square onto the 10x10cm sculptural piece that was slotted into our custom handset. This system can be calibrated in under 15 minutes. It has very low latency and is extremely stable. PROJECTIONS Each small sculptural piece was engraved with a unique number. When uploading their photo, the public could also enter their piece’s unique number. In some installations, each small sculptural piece contained an RFID tag. When people entered the exhibition area their piece’s unique number was automatically identified and their city environment photo was immediately projected onto the sculpture. We programmed TouchDesigner to animate (in real-time) the publics’ original architectural photo and projection map the image onto the main sculpture. Using Kinect hardware, we tracked the changing shape of the sculpture over time and we programmed the system to automatically alter the projection mapping accordingly.
Issues addressed : We used participatory art and user-centred computer science methodologies to build an institution’s audience and deliver personalised design experiences. We deepened connections between audience members and an organisation’s physical architectural environment and we built social connections between participants.
Impact : During Australian and South Korean installations we more than doubled normal gallery attendances. Audiences reported that they were deeply invested in this installation and in their surrounding environment. The Playground encourages everyday people to play with art and architecture. We also introduced organisations to new ways to engage audiences, influencing future public engagement strategies.