Playable Cities Award: Urbanimals by LAX

Continuing in the theme of “playful” augmentation (e.g., earlier posts here, here), I note the Urbanimals installation in Bristol (UK), which won the Playable City Award this year.. I wish I could try this one in person! (Please contact me with personal experiences or pointers.)

The general idea isn’t new, it’s been around since the early 70’s (! See Myron Krueger’s stuff [1]), and has been done many times since.  Of course, it’s way, way easier to do these days than back when Krueger did it. (He must have been using steam-powered computers :-))

In Urbananimals LAX studions (from Wrocław Poland) does a nice job of creating opportunities for playful interactions.

I note that the digital world is carefully designed to be cuddly, with nice, non-threatening animals (bunny, porpoise, kangaroo). This would be a totally different experience if the projections were scary or dangerous animals, or, indeed, if they were people.

The designers had to deal with the question of how to create a story that invites participation by casual passersby. It can’t be too complex, and it can’t demand too much from the person.

Their solution is a set of competitions, either with the projected animal or with a human friend. Can you jump like a porpoise? This is a pretty simplistic and, to me, not especially attractive storyline. But it probably works, especially for kids and boys in particular. I do like the “play together” idea, though I don’t really know how well it works without trying it.

A lot will hinge on where the installation is deployed. From the web documentation, it is difficult to assess the locations selected. They appear to be set up in an underground walkway, in one case on a stairway.

I have to wonder about the possible disruption and even safety hazard this particular setup may represent. Play is great, but running and jumping in a crowd is not necessarily well received.

Other good points: this experience does not need a soundtrack or voices or signage, and I hope LAX was content with the silent movie approach. It’s so much cooler to have to figure it out without all that “information” to help you.

And, of course, no touch screens! Yay!

(The next time someone tells you that touch screens will be an important technology going forward, think about this installation. Screens? We don’t need now steeking screens!)


  1.  Krueger, Myron W., Artificial Reality II, Reading, Mass., Addison Wesley, 1991.


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