Person wearing a fun hat with magic glasses attached

 Jon Aiken

Putting people and play at the heart of future cities around the world

“More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities, and how our cities grow, adapt and thrive is becoming the key issue of our age. Yet the conversation on the future city is more focused on policy and technology than people and culture. And surely changing behaviours is as important as changing software platforms.” (Watershed, 2014)

Playable City® was launched in 2012 by Watershed, a leading film culture and digital media centre based in Bristol, UK. It is a global innovation platform that explores the universal language of “play” as a tool to transform cities into places of unexpected interaction. Playable City creates artistic interventions that reuse the fabric of the city to generate shared experiences in public spaces – experiences that become conversation starters between citizens and their cities.

Central to the programme is the annual Playable City International Award. It calls on creative people from around the world to submit ideas for innovative projects that use technology in creative ways to create playful, surprising and moving experiences in a city’s public spaces. The winning idea is awarded a residency at Watershed’s collaborative research space, the Pervasive Media Studio, and support to develop a prototype that is then publicly tested in Bristol.

Playable City is extending its international network to cities around the world, so far reaching Recife in Brazil, Lagos in Nigeria, and Tokyo in 2015.

About the Watershed

Watershed is a leading film culture and digital media centre based in Bristol, a city recognised as one of the most creative cities in the UK. The Watershed seeks to produce open collaborations and create opportunities which bridge expertise, imaginations and boundaries to promote new ideas and enjoyable experiences. Attached to the Watershed is the Pervasive Media Studio, a city-centre research space, which brings together a network of over 120 artists, technologists and academics to explore the future of mobile and wireless media.

Watershed official website

Playable City International Award Winners

Hello Lamp Post (2013)

The winner of the very first Playable City Award in 2013 was Hello Lamp Post. It is an interactive city-wide platform for play, developed as a collaboration between London based design and research studio PAN Studio, designer and technologist Tom Armitage and media artist Gyorgyi Galik.

Hello Lamp Post is a playful system that invites people to talk to familiar city objects such as post boxes, lamp posts and litter bins, using the messaging function of a mobile phone. It encourages people to look at the city with fresh eyes and to rediscover their local environment. It starts a conversation between citizens, giving them the opportunity to share their memories of the city through its physical infrastructure.

Hello Lamp Post made its debut in Bristol during the summer of 2013. More than 25,000 messages where sent over eight weeks, with 3,956 people striking up a conversation with 1,161 street objects. In the spring of 2015, Hello Lamp Post brought the street objects of Austin, Texas to life for ten weeks, triggering an interaction of more than 18,000 messages between 2,500 people and 1,826 street objects. 

Hello Lamp Post official website

Shadowing (2014)

Shadowing by UK design duo Chomko & Rosier won the Playable City Award in 2014. Shadowing gives memory to a city lights, enabling them to record and play back the shadows of those who passed underneath. As the sun sets over the city, Shadowing streetlights capture the movements of pedestrians and echo them back as shadows to the next passerby, inviting interaction between people who share a space.

Shadowing was first installed in eight locations across the city of Bristol over six weeks in the autumn of 2014. The lights drew in residents and visitors into some of the unexpected and lesser-travelled streets and pathways of Bristol, and some residents commented that the reanimation of the streets made them feel safer. 

Shadowing official website

Urbanimals (2015)

The 2015 Playable City Award went to Urbanimals by LAX (Laboratory for Architectural Experiments), an experimental design team based in Poland. Urbanimals are a playful pack of creatures, dolphin, rabbit, kangaroo and beetle, that appear in unexpected places across the city, waiting for people to play.

Triggered by people passing or stopping, the origami-like creatures interact with passers-by and cause them to look again at the spaces around them. By prompting people to look at the city from a new perspective, the creatures facilitate the forging of a more creative connection between citizen and city.

Urbanimals official website

*Playable City is a registered trade mark of Watershed.

External links