‘We are the first generation to know the impact we are having on our planet and the last generation that can do something about it.’ - Sir David Attenborough
The compelling words by Sir David Attenborough embody the call-to-action behind his recent Netflix series, Our Planet, emphasising how sustainable change is now more crucial than ever. As a prelude to the series, Netflix engaged with a line-up of forward-thinking partners including Google, the World Wide Fund for Nature, PHORIA, and Arup to create an interactive exhibition - ‘REWILD Our Planet’.
The vision was ambitious: mixing acoustics, visual projections, theatre staging, advanced augmented reality (AR) technology, and travelling to three locations simultaneously - Singapore, New York, and Bristol. As acoustic engineer Jessica Gouthro pointed out, the multidisciplinary and socially responsible nature of the project aligned perfectly with Arup's approach.
Our collaboration with PHORIA is a great example of the fusion of engineering, art and technology for social purpose. - Jessica Gouthro
REWILD Our Planet takes audiences deep into the world’s most fragile ecosystems, viewed in realistic 3D imagery through hand-held smartphones. After experiencing the effects of climate change, visitors work together in real-time across locations to ‘rewild’ our planet. As people exit the exhibition, they can make a virtual pledge to make real-world changes. The social AR experience – the first of its kind – was delivered via an AR-powered digital twin platform.
Delivering the exhibition came with an additional challenge - achieving a sustainable, low emissions production approach. Luckily, this was something our team of structural engineers could deliver using nimble and inventive design-to-construction approaches. Structural engineer Clayton Riddle found the project a perfect alignment with Arup's commitment to shaping a better world.
Arup’s values are about shaping a better world, and this project connected on all levels. Our involvement was to engineer and deliver the digital design of the physical elements, and to enhance the user experience through the acoustic landscape. - Clayton Riddle
For the Singapore install, the team developed a physical ramp to enforce the AR experience. To realise such a complex physical installation within a tight time-frame, our engineers teamed with The University of Melbourne and set up a digital design-to-fabrication workflow. Using the state-of-the-art facilities at the Melbourne School of Design FabLab, a range of small-scale prototypes were quickly produced and the advantages of taking a parametric CAD-CAM approach became clear.
'The parametric modelling allowed us to monitor features like structure, fabrication, and construction, by feeding data back into the process and having it used as a parameter for optimisation,' says Clayton. 'After a few iterations, we went to full-scale and developed a design for a lightweight platform made as a kit of parts - easy to put together and disassemble without power tools, steel joinery, or gluing.’
Form and function were improved. Structural efficiency was optimised, reducing the self-weight to roughly half of an equivalent ‘traditional solution’. Vibrations were better monitored and reduced, enhancing user-experience. Construction pieces were nested and sheets cut with 90% efficiency. On top of this, assembly protocol were made simple enough to require no special training, no power tools, and be built quickly.
The Melbourne team sent the digital CNC files to Singapore, remotely pressed the ‘cut’ button, and had kit fabricated 8,000km away at the precision if 0.1mm. Pieces were flat-packed, brought to the Singapore Art and Science Museum, and assembled without any printed documentation.
Another element key to making the project successful was the immersive soundscape layer. Our Melbourne acoustics team worked closely with PHORIA to create an emotionally effective environment that was also designed with sustainable criteria, as described by Jessica Gouthro: 'We found a solution via an audience-facing flat array of speakers where, no matter the venue set-up, the design would work: whether with an existing sound system, or with parts easily accessible from a high street supplier.’
To avoid shipping of audio equipment from place to place and adding to the carbon footprint, we designed for flexibility that could achieve the quality we wanted in a range of situations. - Jessica Gouthro
The team took the original master audio score comprising music by Steven Price and adapted it, adding effects from nature to enhance pivotal moments. For example, when visitors experienced an ice crack mid- exhibition low-frequency sounds would respond, providing a felt-sensation of just how momentous that event is.
Both the Netflix series and the exhibition focus on people making changes rather than just learning new information. Audiences leave the exhibition making a virtual pledge, highlighting our collective power. Arup Australasia Regional Chair Peter Chamley echoed the power of collective action - ‘Because you see pledges being made across the various locations, you realise that you don’t have to do this alone. Lots of people want to make a difference, and you can become a part of that.’
And it’s having an effect. The Singapore installation alone gathered more than 13,000 pledges in just 3 months, where the global count is now over 30,000. REWILD Our Planet not only encouraged change via its participants, it challenged the creative partners to disrupt status-quo design and fabrication, and transport processes, to achieve emissions reductions. Realising the exhibition across so many partners and locations shows that inventive, collaborative and practical change can be achieved. And, as with all large-scale change, it can and must be done collectively.
REWILD Our Planet was shown at the Art Science Museum, Marina Bay Sands in Singapore (2/4 – 2/6/19), New York City’s Dolby SoHo (6/4 – 21/4/19), and at We The Curious in Bristol, UK (12/4 – 2/6/19).
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