The Playground


  • PluginHUMAN (Justin Dwyer and Betty Sargeant)


The Playground is a public installation that features a co-designed sculpture, interactive projection mapping and public participation. This novel, ephemeral urban design project provides personalised experiences, it fosters social connections, and it connects people to their architectural environment.

During installations in Australia and South Korea we invited audiences to collect hidden sculptural pieces and take photos of their city environment. They uploaded their photos to an online platform. Participants could connect their found sculptural pieces to a central sculpture and all uploaded photos were automatically projected onto the sculpture. Participants were socially and physically engaged through personalised design experiences.

Key Features


In 2017, the Ararat Regional Art Gallery closed for renovation. Their challenge: to build community and new audiences with no accessible venue. Our solution: to run the gallery’s public program from a transformed vacant shop on Ararat’s main street. The Playground sculpture was visible through the shop’s windows; its central location piqued local curiosity. Over ten-days, people used printed maps and social media to engage in a main street treasure hunt. They worked alongside one-another to explore their environment, find hidden sculptural pieces and create a collective sculpture.

Those with special-needs, children/teenagers/seniors and others engaged in this fun, simple-to-interact-with design.


One Ararat family engaged with The Playground every day. Their 7-year-old son said, “when I find a piece I feel like I’ve found myself. When our family puts pieces together we make our family. When we connect pieces to the sculpture we build our community.” The Playground involved a broad range of people in architectural exploration, community building and participatory design practices.

We attracted new audiences; some participants had never previously attended a gallery event. We more than doubled normal attendance rates. We also ran public workshops for schools and community. All activities were free.


We use participatory art and user-centred computer science methodologies to build an institution’s audience and deliver personalised design experiences. Through this project we deepen connections between audience members and their surrounding architectural environment, and we build social connections between participants. During our Australian and South Korean installations, we more than doubled normal gallery/museum attendances and audiences reported that they were more deeply invested in this installation than in any previous installation.

The Playground encourages everyday people to play with their built environment. We activate public spaces, transforming them into interactive playgrounds. We introduce organisations to new ways of engaging audiences and this has influenced future institutional public programming.


In addition to making a collective sculpture, when people entered the exhibition space they could connect their found sculptural piece to a custom-made handset. We tracked the handset and projected the individual’s ‘city environment’ photo onto their connected sculptural piece. As people walked around the exhibition area holding our custom handset, we could project their unique photo onto the sculptural piece that was in their hand. We tracked and projected onto small moving objects in 3D space. This design was a world-first; full details in this published peer-reviewed paper:

This design sets a new benchmark. It personalises people’s connection to design, to an environment and to each other.


The playground sculpture is constructed from sand blasted, transparent, laser cut acrylic. Each sculptural piece spells a word. It is a culturally integrated installation; the sculpture was designed in English (for Australian audiences) and Hangul (for Korean audience).

We custom programmed TouchDesigner (software) to receive movement tracking data from two VIVE lighthouses. We then projection mapped a 10x10cm square onto the 10x10cm sculptural piece that was slotted into our custom handset. This system can be calibrated in approximately 15 minutes. It has very low latency and is extremely stable.

Each small sculptural piece was engraved with a unique number. When uploading their photo, the public could also enter their piece’s unique number. In some installations, each small sculptural piece contained an RFID tag. When people entered the exhibition area their piece’s unique number was automatically identified and their city environment photo was immediately projected onto the sculpture.

We programmed TouchDesigner to animate (in real-time) the publics’ original ‘city environment’ photo and projection map the image onto the central sculpture. Using Kinect hardware, we tracked the changing shape of the sculpture over time and programmed the system to automatically alter the projection mapping accordingly.

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