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.

Find out more: |

See atoms in a new way with danceroom Spectroscopy

Atoms are made up of a little spherical nucleus with orbiting electrons, right? Well not quite. Dr David Glowacki, a Royal Society research fellow and one of the first Pervasive Media Studio residents, has led a collaborative project called danceroom Spectroscopy, that captures the energy fields surrounding our nanoworld and visualises them in surprising and beautiful ways on a 360 degree screen.

As an additional stroke of genius, a dance performance called Hidden Fields is integrated with the showcase to shift and shape the atomic energy in the room.

The award interactive visualisation of the nano-world will be presented by University of Bristol and Watershed at Brunel’s Old Station in Bristol 24 – 26 October. Find out more at

Over 25000 texts exchanged with street furniture in Bristol

This summer, Bristol residents and visitors were able to spark up conversations with the city, using nothing else but the humble text function on any mobile phone. As the first winner of Bristol’s Playable City Award produced by Watershed, Hello Lamp Post provided city dwellers with a new way of communicating through lamp posts, post boxes and other familiar street furniture, by texting the unique codes found on each object.


Over the past eight weeks, the project has received wide recognition in national and international press and led to 25,674 texts messages being sent by participants to everyday street furniture. 3,956 individual players have taken part, with 70 new people joining the conversation every day on average. 1161 objects have been woken up by a text around the city, including over 200 lamp posts and 32 of the 80 Gromit Unleashed dogs, also introduced to Bristol this summer. People of all ages have taken part, from children to the elderly, in groups, and alone.

Some of the more unusual objects that have been texted were hot air balloons, graffiti, chewing gum, and on occasion, even living pigeons outside the Crown pub near St Nicholas Market. Examples of conversations ranged from the humorous and charming to the political to completely abstract:

Bridge: “How many strides does it take for you to walk across me?”
Player: “It took one tall human 80 strides and one small human 87-ish! Thank you for helping us cross the water.”

Parking meter: I think something suspicious is going on here. Can you see any clues?
Player: There are two ice cream vans and no customers. They’re probably secret agents.

City Hall: “If you were mayor of Bristol, what would you change?”
Player: “I’d try and change the divide I think there is between the central areas of the city and less affluent areas further out.”

Drain: “What do you think is under your feet right now?”
Player: “Naked hairless humans with massive eyes.”

Ben Barker, co-creator of Hello Lamp Post and co-founder of PAN Studio, said that “The project has been all that we had hoped for and so much more. We wanted to give people of all ages and backgrounds in Bristol a chance to interact with the city, to play with the ordinary and sometimes extraordinary objects they came across every day and spark a conversation. We’ve been overwhelmed with the response and the number of people who took part. We’ve followed the conversations with great interest and it’s been so exciting to see how imaginative people of Bristol are and the conversations that Hello Lamp Post has inspired. We are aiming to present the project at SXSW in Texas next year and hope we can introduce it to other cities around the world.”

Clare Reddington, Executive Producer of the Playable City Award, added, “The Playable City is a new term, imagined as a counterpoint to ‘A Smart City’, where openness and permission to play is key, enabling residents and visitors to rewrite the city’s narrative by being playful in public. This is exactly what’s happened in Bristol this summer and is a sign of things to come in the future. Here’s to many more Playable Cities around the world, and more fun and games for Bristol next year. We can’t wait to kick off year two of the Playable City award later this autumn.”

The details of the second Playable City Award will be announced by Watershed later this year.

Check out and for more info.

A sea of lights makes its UK premiere

Fri 13 Sept - Sat 12 Oct, The Eye, Bristol Temple Quarter, Bristol

This September sees the UK premiere of Submergence, an uplifting new artwork near Temple Meads Station in Bristol. Visitors to the large-scale light installation, which will be free to explore, can immerse themselves in a continuously shifting ocean of thousands of differently coloured lights, created through a combination of digital pixels, light lanterns and the physical movement of the visitors themselves.

Created by award-winning digital artists Squidsoup, Submergence was researched and designed in the UK and Norway. With two acclaimed international showings at the Geneva Mapping Festival and a solo show in Oslo, the remarkable creation makes its first and only appearance in the UK before it continues its tour in St Petersburg.

Anthony Rowe, Creative Lead at Squidsoup explains about the artwork:

“Submergence is the latest work to emerge from Ocean of Light, a research project looking into the immersive possibilities of visual systems that occupy physical 3D space. Over 8000 individually addressable points of light are suspended in a space that people can walk within, to create an experience that is abstract yet immersive, and also responsive - the lights, and therefore the space, respond to your presence. It’s wonderful to have the UK premiere right here in Bristol, as we are resident in the Pervasive Media Studio and have been working with Watershed for over 10 years.”

Clare Reddington, Director of Pervasive Media Studios at Watershed adds:

"I am thrilled that Bristol will be the first place in the UK to show this stunning piece of work by Squidsoup, a brilliant group of artists that Watershed first worked with in 2002. The project combines cutting-edge technology with imagination and creativity, so is a perfect fit for our Bristol Temple Quarter commissions – designed to bring people into the city’s new Enterprise Zone and celebrate the rich cultural life of our city."

The breathtaking installation is designed to be explored from inside a large black cube (8 metres x 4 metres), where visitors can move freely, experiencing the effect of their physical presence on the lights and sounds around them. The installation is divided into four five-minute sections taking 20 minutes to unfold, and the lights gradually increase in intensity building to a final climax.

It is free and open to the public from Fri 13 Sept until Sat 12 Oct six days per week (apart from Mondays) in Bristol.

Check it out at

Dancing lampshades, singing memory boxes and paying with hugs…

Welcome to the world of Craft + Tech Residencies supported by the Crafts Council and developed at the Pervasive Media Studios at Watershed, in Bristol.

The Flying Skirt Lampshade, created by Patrick Laing, is responsive to movement and touch, a first in what will no doubt emerge as a future trend in tactitle and malleable furniture accessories, in particular for public spaces.

The Music Memory Box, developed by Chloe Meineck, enables dementia patients to access cherished memories using sound association and the very simple Raspberry Pi computers attached to small objects fitted with RFID tags.

And Money No Object is a project conceived by Heidi Hinder, who envisions a future where physical currency is reclaimed with Hug & Pay or Tap(dance) & Pay mechanism, once again using objects like broches and gloves fitted with RFID tags that signal an exchange when in contact with one another.

To find out more, visit

Film + Music = Filmic Festival 2013

We all know that music can be at its most powerful when it’s cinematic - think Bristol stalwarts Massive Attack and Portishead - and that cinema soundtracks produce some of the most poignant pieces of music known to man.


Imagine our excitement then, when we heard about some of the line-up for this year’s Filmic Festival at Watershed and St George’s in Bristol. Starting the proceedings is a film and a talk with John Parish, long time collaborator of PJ Harvey and the man behind the musical partnership that brought us Let England Shake and To Bring You My Love. Soon to release his own film-inspired album ‘Screenplay’ this April, Parish will discuss his music and film work.

The rich programme spanning March, April and May will also feature Douglas Hart, from The Jesus and Mary Chain and a prolific film maker in his own right, behind cult music videos for My Bloody Valentine, The Pet Shop Boys, and The Horrors, and making a rare appearance at Bristol’s Watershed to screen his latest short film Long Distance Information and to play an exclusive DJ set later in the bar.

Will Gregory from Goldfrapp and Geoff Barrow from Portishead will also make an appearance with a rare live set, and the festival will close with an unmissable double bill featuring the film music icon that is Philip Glass. The man behind The Truman Show and The Hours film scores, Glass is a peerlessly versatile composer also known for his Opera Satyagraha that tells the story of Gandhi’s life and his evolving series Etudes, which he will perfom solo at St Georges in May, following a conversation with British conductor Charles Hazlewood.

Keep up to date with latest announcements at:

A robot that draws and a choir that sings for a hundred years

Step into the current Studio Residencies at Bristol’s Watershed and you may be greeted by a robot that draws or stumble upon part of an instrument that dates back to the nineteenth century but promises to play for another one hundred years. Here, anything goes and the artists are busy getting their projects ready to be showcased on 31 January.

The Pervasive Media Studio is Watershed’s city centre research lab and it’s here that artists can research projects at the intersection of art, technology and culture by taking risks freely and without limits.

Artists Ben Sadler and Phil Duckworth of Juneau Projects are investigating the artistic possibilities of thinking machines. They’re asking how technology can inform what these machines make, rather than just being a tool in the process. With the help of fellow studio resident and Robotic Engineer Adam Spiers, the group’s research focussed on the development of a bespoke robotic arm which can create its own artworks. 

In the other corner we have writer, performer and composer Timothy X Atack and musician, sound artist and instrument designer MrUnderwood who are collectively known as Geiger-Muller Sound System (or GMSS001 for short). They’re exploring how fiction, narrative and even a bit of story-telling might come about from some reeds of an old harmonium close to collapse. The ancient church harmonium which is dying a slow rotten death in Timothy’s back garden may end up living forever though, as the pair aim to diassemble it and scatter the parts around the world.  They can be pumped to make a single sound or can be played together to make a chord, creating a legacy that will live on long after even they have gone. 

All artists will be at the extraordinary showcase to talk about their unique developments and if that’s not enough, you may even get the chance to see the robotic arm in action.

Find out more at:

Has the time come for Smart Cities to evolve? Say Hello to The Playable City.

After sifting through 93 applications from around the world and much anticipation, the judges for the Playable City Award produced by Watershed, have finally announced the winner. The successful project to receive £30,000 to create a playful urban environment is “Hello Lamp Post!” submitted by London-based PAN Studio in association wth Gyorgyi Galik and Tom Armitage.

Bristol residents will soon have the chance to communicate with their street furniture in an attempt to wake up the city and get its residents talking to the objects around them as well as each other.  The Hello Lamp Post! team took the idea of a ”smart city” one step further by bringing a sense of hospitality and warmth to Bristol’s existing infrastructure. 

Residents will be able to text a unique serial number which can be found on lampposts, post boxes and benches usualy used by council staff for maintenance, to wake the object up.  The street furniture will then ask questions back, building an on-going conversation between groups of people that may never have met, even though they share the same post box, bus stop or lamp posts, with a promise of opening up the hidden life of the city and bring its populations closer together.

The work will be unveiled in July when the once invisible objects of the city will come to life, eager to talk. What will you say…?

To find out more, visit

Contemporary craft makers to explore the Internet of Things

Press note - A Music Memory Box for people with dementia, a flying lampshade that communicates feeling, and coins that trigger invaluable experiences: these are all part of Watershed’s new Craft + Technology Residencies January - March 2013.

Funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and supported by the Crafts Council, the Craft + Technology Residencies bring together makers Heidi Hinder, Chloe Meineck and Patrick Laing, with technologists at Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol, i-DAT in Plymouth and Autonomatic in Falmouth, to explore how new technologies embedded in objects (the Internet of Things), can enable remarkable interactions.

Imagine a music box that invites dementia sufferers to hold familiar objects, which activate songs, and magically stir inaccessible memories. Chloe Meineck’s Music Memory Box does just that, but what if it could do even more? Setting out to develop this extraordinary project, Chloe will investigate the potential of communal experiences for care homes, which could even break out of the box to pervade the everyday.

At first Patrick Laing’s Flying Skirt Light Shade hangs in a limp felt form from the ceiling, until is switched on, where upon it begins to rotate and the skirt opens out, silently spinning like a dancer’s. Whilst spinning its shape can be manipulated by touch, just like a thrown clay pot on a wheel, but does it have potential to become a playful public experience? Could smart, networked Skirts in transient spaces like airports or hotels, enable new forms of interaction?

Alongside sex and war, money is a constant in human history. But the object of money is fast becoming immaterial. Coins, cash and credit cards are arguably obsolete as digital representations of currency replace the physical objects. Yet trading relies on trust. So how do we trust what we cannot tangibly experience, what we can no longer touch, see, smell or hear? Beyond the financial, Heidi Hinder will playfully question ideas of value and re-imagine the designed object of money, exploring what could happen if beautifully crafted ‘coins’ could trigger truly invaluable and enriching points of exchange.

Clare Reddington, Director of Pervasive Media Studio at Watershed, says “ Watershed’s Craft + Technology Residencies enable contemporary makers to rethink the potential of the Internet of Things, create remarkable new products and new business opportunities. We’re delighted to support Heidi, Chloe and Patrick, and look forward to experiencing the work they develop.”

Beatrice Mayfield, Maker Development Manager at the Crafts Council, says “The Craft + Technology Residencies provide an opportunity for makers to collaborate with other industries. We look forward to how the makers and technologists will bring their unique skills to the production of a physical prototype and the impact this can have on each others’ practices for maximum effect.”

Networked technologies embedded in real things are beginning to make new kinds of service and experience possible. The UK Government is currently investing heavily in this area of work, often referred to as the Internet of Things - supporting technology driven research that investigates how ‘physical things’ such as buildings, vehicles, objects and clothing with built in sensors and computer networks can communicate with users and with each other. However little opportunity has been given to makers to influence and invent the objects and interactions that will animate this arena. This development programme embeds UK makers at the forefront of this research, supporting the creation of radical new products, and the injection of new thinking into science and technology industries.

Craft + Technology Residencies will last for three months January - March 2013. Makers will receive research, development and production support for their projects. Residencies will culminate in a showcase event at Watershed on 28 March 2013.

For the latest information please visit:

Is the future of Books & Print here?

If you’re wondering what the future holds for books, look no further than the Books & Print REACT Sandbox programme. REACT, a recently formed Bristol based hub of creative knowledge, are funding unique partnerships between academics and economy partners to create ground-breaking to write, read and love books. Eight ideas are announced today, and include a bi-hacked book, a book specific to a train journey from Bristol to London, a wholly interactive library and a project exploring a more community based take on local journalism.

The collaborations will focus on novel prototypes that will merge literature with technology we use today.  The projects’ potential business accountability will also be explored and with the advent of digital printing, these collaborations will be swapping pages for images and book marks for URLs and apps.

Turning the page on the way we used to view books, the support will offer £50 000 for the academic partner including up to £10 000 to the creative economy partner.  


To find out more, visit