Past Present Future: a tense balance

Submitted by NOVABY

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Client: Seattle Design Festival

Location: Seattle, WA, United States

Completion date: 2019

Artwork budget: $35,000

Project Team

Artist

NOVABY

Client

Seattle Design Festival

Overview

This award-winning, block-scale, interactive art and augmented reality (AR) Placemaking activation at 3rd and Pine in Seattle’s downtown retail core, pulls on local history and culture to redefine this overlooked, under-appreciated space in the public’s imagination. Created for the 2019 Seattle Design Festival, it invites visitors into a thoughtful, playful conversation about how we balance our City’s past, present and future during times of rapid change and competing priorities.

Inspired by the various art styles that were popular over the course of the block’s construction, visitors can interact with “AR tattoos” on the building facades to learn more about local residents, history and culture. Key building features like an historic movie theater marquee and a 46-story skyscraper were created in virtual 3D allowing visitors to experience the block’s past glory and planned future in new ways. 94% of participants felt this was a great way to learn about a new neighborhood and the people that live there.

Past Present Future received the 2020 American Institute of Architects (AIA) Seattle Honors Award for Research and Innovation.

Goals

The Seattle Design Festival is the largest design event in the Pacific NW. The Festival brings together future-thinking designers, citizens, city leaders and business innovators to celebrate the ways design improves our lives. Building on the festival prompt of balance, NOVABY defined 3 project design goals.

MEANING: History is one of the most powerful ways people negotiate meaning and significance. Public awareness of the block’s history was extremely low. Using Collective Memory Theory, NOVABY constructed AR stories from residents’ lives and building histories that illuminated the block as a significant contributor to Seattle’s past, present and future.

COMMUNITY: The prevalence of negative and indifferent street behaviors indicated community members had become disconnected from each another and their environment. A launch party helped jump-start relationships while the AR experience elevated shared values and goals.

ENGAGEMENT: Frustration among residents and businesses was palpable as they struggled to keep their 100+ year-old block livable and commercially viable in the face of redevelopment. To empower stakeholders, the future 46-story skyscraper was visualized in AR and hands-on art activities provided an outlet for participants to express their ideas and opinions.

Process

Using evidence-based Placemaking principles and Collective Memory Theory, NOVABY created an AR experience based on input from local residents and organizations, historical research and current events. The block-scale experience combined proven, real-world interactive art techniques with cutting-edge AR technology.

Purposely designed to avoid the need for special equipment and maintaining personal safety as a top priority, visitors could use their own mobile phones to see digital objects overlaid onto the real-world. Interacting with these objects provided additional audio-visual content that illuminated the block’s past, present and future. The experience contained on-site, remote and non-AR modes to make it accessible to as many people as possible.

The experience created a safe space for a positive, constructive conversation about how the City's citizens could balance urgent, competing priorities and discuss ways to make this downtown block more sustainable, just and livable for all.

Additional Information

Past Present Future received the 2020 American Institute of Architects (AIA) Seattle Honors Award for Research and Innovation. The experience contained on-site, remote and non-AR modes to make it accessible to as many people as possible. The experience is live and available for on-site tours and demonstrations.