Urban Prairie is an intuitive and interactive motion recognitive installation conceived and designed collaboratively by London architecture firm In Square Lab, post production and visual effects specialist MPC Digital and software developer Existential.

Inspired by the rapid reduction of green spaces due to urbanisation of cities, Urban Prairie seeks to recreate a 1000sqm sea of prairie from a 5m wide shop window. Green spaces are known to have positive effects on the image and vitality of spaces and provide valuable resources and focus for the communities. Green spaces provide a respite from the built environment and give an opportunity for recreation; promote health, well-being and quality of life.

In this project, the main challenge for the team was to create a system that allows for maintaining or even extending the notion of green spaces through intelligent use of design and technology via 4th dimension (time + space) design. Further to that, it is also hope that Urban Prairie can serve as a catalyst to inspire and provoke discussions and speculations about the concept of inside vs outside, here vs there and virtual vs realism.

Using an array of optical sensors and arduino boards, urban prairie captures and comprehends the movements of passersby in front of the installation. This digital data is then translated into kinetic responses via a series of servos; creating the phenomenon of a sea of grass swaying in the breeze. The motion of the 'real' grass is in turn measured by the specially designed software and translated to a field of virtual prairie on screens behind the 'real' grass. The combined result is an 'Urban Prairie' which passersby can engage and interact with through their movements in space. By varying their speed and location in front of the windows, passersby can generate wind disturbance that travels from the 'real' grass to the virtual prairie seamlessly and eventually fading off into the horizon.

This experimental installation illustrates the opportunity of merging the real world with the ever-increasing virtual environments we find ourselves living in. Through intelligent design and interventions, the team was able to synchronize physical materials with real-time graphics in a bid to create one experience; connecting spaces laterally, literally and virtually and in future expanding locally and globally. The interactivity between public and the installation underlines the notion of bringing the inside out; whilst blurring the boundaries between art, science, architecture, interactive design and shop window design.

Project Team

ın square lab:
Creative Director: Jackson Tan
Project Manager: Ernest Tsui, Ernie Lew
Hardware/Software: Mats Trovik, Damien Brown

MPC Digital:
Executive Producer: Jonny Dixon
Producer: Jason Plews
Graphics Software Consultant: Robin Carlisle
Production Coordinator: Samantha Rocca

Existential Ltd:
Software Developer: Adam Cubitt
Producer: Alenka Abraham

Special Thanks:
Marc Purser
Edwin Tsui
Jennifer Wong

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