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February 8, 2023

Six creative teams win £45k Watershed Playable City commission to build prototypes that connect people to their city

Ten years ago, Watershed launched the Playable City Award from its home in Bristol, inviting artists from across the globe to create playful, creative technology installations that put people and play at the heart of the future city.

Watershed recently unveiled six new Playable City commissions who are each awarded £45,000 to build an urban prototype that will be showcased in Bristol in July. The projects place play at the heart of the city, sparking imagination and conversation about inclusion, sustainability, surveillance and the future of cities.

The commissions will become part of Playable City Sandbox, a shared development programme produced by Watershed as part of MyWorld, which is funded by UK Research and Innovation’s Strength in Places Fund, to help support and grow the creative technology ecosystem of the West of England.

playable city
Squeeze Me. Air Giants. (Photo courtesy of Watershed)

The six Playful City prototypes

  • Squeeze Me
    Squeeze Me uses inflatable soft robotic technology to create a compelling and charming tactile and visual experience. Up to ten huge, inflatable and illuminated creatures, wrapped around trees, lamp posts or other street furniture, invite passers-by to hug, squeeze, lean on or poke them. Creatures will respond with shape-change, light and sound and will influence other creatures nearby.
    Creators: Emma Powell, Robert Nixdorf and Richard Sewell, Air Giants
  • The House of Weaving Songs
    Inspired by the Somali-style nomadic structure called the Aqal, this interactive installation will be co-created with Somali communities in Bristol and beyond, integrating Somali weaving songs and woven tapestries in an experiment to connect the city to cultural practices that can inspire us in our fight to tackle climate change. 
    Creators: Fozia Ismail and Ayan Cimli, Dhaqan Collective
  • How (not) to be hit by a self-driving car
    A game that challenges people to avoid being detected as human in the eye of an AI. With surveillance cameras becoming smarter and the cities we live in starting to see us back, it poses the question; how do they see us? Anyone can join the game, but can they get from start to finish without being detected?
    Creators: Tomo Kihara & Saki Coppen and Dan Coppen, Studio Playfool
  • Zoomscape Zoetrope
    A zoetropic light experience, designed to be viewed from moving train windows upon arrival and departure from Bristol Temple Meads station. The content changes with each passing train, creating a new experience for passengers on daily commutes.
    Creator: Jack Wates & Thomas Blackburn
  • Fireflies, a Glitch by Screaming Color and Arcane
    A transformative immersive experience using virtual content to turn the streets and landmarks of Bristol into a colourful, sci-fi-infused digital jungle, awash with mesmerising visuals and local music – no app required.
    Creator: Mike Salmon and Ossian Whiley, Glitch AR, Screaming Color & Arcane
  • Street Pixel
    Street Pixel is hardware graffiti designed to reinvigorate the relationship between people and their cities by transforming the street below into opportunities for connection and play using creative technology, game design and a sustainable approach to materials and electronic hardware.
    Creators: Tom deMajo and Malath Abbas, Biome Collective & Sarah Selby

Playable Cities across the globe

Furaha Asani, Watershed’s research lead, said: “We are thrilled to announce six new Playable City prototypes, funded via MyWorld. After spending the last few years reflecting and gaining feedback on a number of themes including the democratisation of play, who has the right to play and feels safe playing in Bristol city spaces, and what accessibility and inclusion in play mean, we’ve selected these six prototype teams who we believe fulfil the brief and will create free, fun, engaging experiences that we hope you all will enjoy this summer.”

Oscar De Mello, MyWorld Operations director, said: “The Playable City Sandbox that Watershed have created is now a globally recognised format for supporting creative talent and enabling collaborative creative experimentation, and as a region we are so proud of what they have achieved. The selected projects showcase the diversity of thought and influences in our region and demonstrate perfectly how creative technology can be an enabler to connect communities and places in new ways. It’s so exciting to have this opportunity available for West of England businesses and researchers as part of MyWorld, and I can’t wait to try out the resulting prototypes.”

Over the course of four years, the Playable City Award has provided an inclusive playground for many cities across the globe. Stop, Smile, Stroll, injected fun into ordinary pedestrian crossings; an interactive pack of origami-like light-projected Urbanimals revealed themselves in unexpected city spaces; Shadowing inspired people to come together beneath ‘enchanted’ lamp posts that recorded their movements and echoed them back as shadows, while Hello Lamp Post encouraged text-based conversations between people and everyday city objects like post boxes and lamp posts.

Following the last award in 2016, the model was adapted and developed to forge long-term partnerships with like-minded producers from different cities around the world culminating in the Creative Producers International programme.

Playable City Sandbox will conclude with a public week-long showcase in Bristol in July 2023.

[Read more: Bristol looks to be the UK’s e-scooter success story]

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