When I was young, I used to hear stories about kingdoms, heroes, and mythical creatures that are long gone but can still be found within the night sky.
I wanted to be an astronaut or astronomer to fly to the sky and touch the stars with my hand. Nowadays, I mostly work in front of a screen, in a city where the lights have kidnapped the stars.
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced me to move all activities online. Most of my connections with other people for the last year have been digital. I long to meet people again in the physical space. Still, I wonder, are the digital connections I built last year less meaningful than the ones I used to make before?
This project is about the city as a means of (digital) connection in the post COVID-19 era.
Urban spaces kidnap the stars in the night sky with their own artificial light. In this project we bring them back by activating the architecture with a projection of a digital night sky. Sensor technology allows participants to influence the moon and the stars in the night sky with their heartbeat. The urban space reacts to them being alive.
Moreover, we use these digital technologies to transform the IJ river in Amsterdam from a mean of separation into a mean of connection. Using the cloud, the visitors on one side of the river will influence the night sky on the other side and vice versa. The system combines their heartbeats so that together they create the night sky. An urban theater for connection.
We create a relational architecture that allows us to use the night sky to connect to each other.
Here is a description of the project through the eyes of two (fictional) inhabitants of the city that meet the instllations.
North to South
Carmen moved to Amsterdam for a new job. Everything was exiting, she loved the new environment in the city and also her colleagues. However, the global pandemic of Covid-19 forced her employer to close the office and move all activities online. Carmen is not the kind of person who would go out on her own to meet people, so the pandemic meant that most of her connections for the last year have been digital. On the surface, she longs to meet people again in the physical space. Still, in the back of her mind, she wonders whether the digital connections she has built last year are less meaningful or less real that the ones she used to make before.
Carmen is taking a night walk on the north side of the IJ river. It is cold and cloudy as usual in Amsterdam. After the Eye museum she sees something on the other side of the river at the IJDock. It looks like the moon.
She walks to the square in front of the Eye. She sees lights close to the water. They are not the normal urban lights; they fade and brighten with an organic rhythm. She comes closer and sees two monoliths with a flat surface and a hand drawn on it. She places her own hand onto one of them and when she looks back to the other side, she sees that the moon is following her heartbeat, the life she saw before is now reacting to her being there alive.
The lights go out again. She sees another person has touched the other monolith now the moon reacts to both of them. They connect via the night sky.
South to North
Derk-Jan is a good representative of the knowledge economy. He works with his head and not much with his hands. When he was young, he loved to go on holidays with his family to the Alps where he would enjoy the clear night sky. His grandparents would tell him stories from ancient times. Stories about kingdoms, heroes, and mythical creatures that are now gone but still can be found within the night sky.
When he was young, he wanted to be an astronomer, astronaut or astronomer. He wanted to fly to the sky and touch the stars with his hand. Nowadays, he is mostly behind a screen in a city where the lights have kidnaped the stars. In his day-to-day work-life, he sometimes feels that he misses something that makes him feel alive.
Derk-Jan has just arrived with the Intercity Direct to Central Station. It is a dark night with a clear sky. As usual the lights of the city are hiding the stars. He see something on the Overhoeks tower, the train enters the station, the view is blocked by the roof.
He gets out of the train and walks to the ferries behind the station. By the pier in front of the bike parking he sees two monoliths with light fading and brightening in an organic rhythm. He comes closer and sees a surface with a hand drawn on it. He puts his hand on it and suddenly all the lights disappear. When he looks back to the other side a new celestial body has appeared on the face of the tower. It follows his heartbeat, and it changes the faces of the tower with it.
Is that his heartbeat? Is the building acknowledging that he is a live? And what is this digital night sky, is the city telling him that he should not forget to look at the stars?
When another person touches the other monolith, a new celestial body appears. Both celestial bodies connect on the other side of the river. But Derk-Jan and the other person connect in this side by creating a night sky.
Covid 19 has put many of us behind a screen. Although this may seem temporary, connecting via digital mediums will become more and more the norm. We must learn to see digital tools as a new medium to build meaningful connections with each other, nature and our urban environment.
We use sensor technology, IoT, Cloud and generative visuals to present digital tools as a more human and organic way of relating. We showcase this by transforming a natural physical division of the city, the IJ river in Amsterdam, as a natural space for connection with the urban landscape and with each other.
The diagram shows the technical conceptual set up.
Eventually this same architecture can be applied to other cities or urban spaces with natural physical divisions. Even more, in future versions of the project we will investigate different set ups. For example, a set up where sensor stations can not se eech other yet they create a common visual in shared urban space.
This project has been submitted to the Media Architecture Biennale Student Awards 2020/2021.
This project has been made possible by the Supervision of Marjolijn Ruyg.
Lena Kurzen and Floor Buschenhenke has been very helpful correcting all the text.
All visualisation and media are of my own creation.