‘We Believe’ is a large-scale 3D interactive project that connects people and places. The project is an exploration of how art, technology and audience participation can intersect to shape cities. It was originally developed for the European Capital of Culture Aarhus 2017– connecting Aarhus City Hall Tower in Denmark and the Embassy of Denmark in London via a game control room placed on a rooftop.
From the control room, members of the public were able to illuminate the architecture of two iconic Arne Jacobsen buildings, transforming them into a playable, interactive communication system.
Both buildings are power structures and the aesthetics of the control room, as well as access to it, was essential to the project. The conceptual creation of the control room exemplified the project’s theme of democracy and creative participation, and the audience’s participation was, therefore, at the heart of the project.
We Believe: Aarhus and London celebrated European collaboration and cultural exchange. It highlighted the importance of cultural exchanges between countries, cities and places.
We placed the control room on a rooftop where members of the public were able to physically see Aarhus City tower – thereby becoming the ‘master of the city’, experiencing controlling and connecting two building in two countries. Audiences could see the Embassy in London via a live webcam, while they controlled individual light sections– turning dials, using joysticks, pressing buttons – playing live on a city-scale rather than on screen.
As people participated in Aarhus, the Royal Danish Embassy in London mirrored the interaction, in a dance of light and colour, becoming a beacon to visualise European dialogue and culture.
Impact and audience participation
The technical interactive system behind the project was a creative innovative system between three sites, which allowed participants to control outdoor LED lights placed on the Aarhus City Hall Tower and the Royal Danish Embassy in London simultaneously. The two buildings were involved in a symbolic conversation as the audiences interacted in the control room. The more people interacted, the more alive and vivid the buildings became.
Participants and audiences were astonished that they technically could play with two buildings live, seeing with the naked eye one building and the other via a live web camera. The project initiated dialogue about digital art, power structures, architecture and smart cities and it sparked precious moments, for example, when a staff member at the embassy went outside, to wave at the web camera to a relative visiting the control room in Aarhus.
The We Believe project was one of the most popular projects during the European Capital of Culture, Aarhus 2017 – it was seen from afar by over 150,000 people. The visitors were amazed when they realised they could control the colour and design on two iconic Arne Jacobsen buildings.
Innovating art and technology
A control room elicits thoughts of power – they are often unnoticed places, or places to which few have access. The We Believe project used the playfulness of interactive art and pressing ‘the button’ to comment on the history of push buttons – from the rich calling their servants to the growing automation of the work force – asking who is in command?
The control room, a painted container with three retro looking arcade machines each equipped with several game control devices. These control panels generate commands sending them via a to abespoke encrypted, messaging service running on a central server. Each building’s lighting is controlled by a DMX controller connected to a Linux system listening to a message service to receive lighting commands. The software is mostly written in node.js. The control panel is implemented with a set of Arduinos to read the buttons, levers and wheels and set the panel lights. They connect to a local Linux system which generalises the actions into a set of commands to be broadcast to all the lighting systems. This allows for different building architectures and lighting to respond in a way which is appropriate for the building. For example, the tower can animate rotational movement whereas the embassy can respond to the same commands with light permutations.
The commands are sent over a notify and subscribe messaging network. This gives resilience to the system – if a part of the network drops out then the remaining system continues to function. It also allows for multiple control panels. For example, each building has a limited local, automated, control panel which turns the lights on and off at the required times and continues to function regardless of whether the rest of the network is connected. Each link over the network is encrypted and the connections secured with a public/private key pair.
The We Believe system allows for a lot of future expansion. The network topology can be reconfigured to allow for more or less complex hierarchies of control. It can handle multiple buildings and light systems with different architectures and protocols (it could, for example, add publicly visible web pages which respond to the controls). It also allows for multiple control panels – which can be either local or wide area to control different installations on the network.
The technical design enabled visitors to design countless colour variations. Technically we wanted to create a digital system which made people and cities talk with each other – thereby animating debates about our future cities and asking who has control of the ‘smart city’?
Get in touch to hear more about the We Believe project and its many possibilities.
The We Believe project can be shown in different locations locally or internationally. The design will be unique to the site and city, consisting of a series of interactive lights and a unique control room, from where audiences of all ages are able to illuminate the architecture of buildings and structures in different locations.
Artwork by Tine Bech (Denmark and England)
Curator and producer Annette Damgaard (Denmark)
Software by Tarim (United Kingdom)
Engineering by Martin King (United Kingdom)
Photos and Video by Jakob Lerche (Denmark)
Funded and Supported by:
Aarhus 2017, European Capital of Culture.
We Believe was a breathtakingly beautiful experience and a profound artistic exploration of our attitudes to the city’s public spaces.
– Jacob Bundsgaard, Mayor of Aarhus Municipality
Thanks to the people of Aarhus and Tine Bech for their ‘online illumination control’ of our beautiful Embassy building. You showed amazing creativity and caught the attention of the Londoners
– Ambassador of Denmark Mr Lars Thuesen
We Believe was an amazing visual experience that lit up two beautiful and iconic Arne Jacobsen buildings in Aarhus and London. One of the most important aspects of the Capital of Culture year was collaborating across European borders, and We Believe was a beautiful symbol of these collaborations.
– Rebecca Matthews, CEO of the European Capital of Culture, Aarhus 2017
The We Believe project was one of the most popular projects during the European Capital of Culture, Aarhus 2017 – it was seen from afar by over 150,000 people (Aarhus) and lots of people talked about it. The visitors were amazed and proud when they realised they could control the colour & design on Aarhus City Hall Tower in Denmark and The Embassy of Denmark in London – two iconic Arne Jacobsen buildings.
– Annette Damgaard curator and director, The Association Hidden Places, Aarhus Denmark
The project was extremely sharable and was posted in high numbers on Instagram and Facebook – people wanted to show that they had been part of We Believe. Visitors really enjoyed the interactive and playful elements and couples and friends clearly had fun collaborating together in the We Believe control room. In addition, the project opened up a dialogue about the development and history of the city -both between audiences and with the wonderful volunteers who greeted visitors.
– Kristian Thrane, Community Manager, Aarhus 2017 Foundation
“It was fantastic and very very beautiful – We Loved It”
“For a short moment, I was in control of the colouring of the Aarhus City Hall tower AND simultaneously the Danish embassy in London. Powerful experience!”
“So nice! It should always be like that!!”
“It is magic …just magic”
“We lit up our City Hall AND the Danish Embassy in London – Wow”
“It’s so international”
“We can see it from our home – love it”
“The most original in 2017”
“Can it stay forever, it looks fantastic”
– Audiences and Visitors to the control room in Aarhus