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Teaching City

interactive art + illustration + animation

This project was selected to be presented at the Ars Electronica Festival in Linz, Austria in 2017. Teaching City is an experiential learning framework highlighting urban issues through playful interactions. It offers an antidote to the industrial-age pedagogy of the classroom, subverting the preconceptions of citizens through “knowledge interventions” embedded in urban spaces – the city is the teacher. Three of these interventions were proposed as concepts: Glitch, Gaze and Gulp.

Contributors: Leah Gustafson, Samantha Glennie,

Ars Electronica Futurelab team.

Photos: Florian Voggeneder

In our current industrial era pedagogy, education is largely confined to the classroom narrative. A teacher facilitates learning, and students adhere to a one-size-fits-all standardised curriculum in which compliance is favoured over curiosity. Teaching City aims to shift perceptions of education and learning by constructing experiential, playful learning moments, embedded in urban spaces.


This project comprised a number of guerrilla interventions or “knowledge bombings” dispersed throughout the city, to be discovered by urban citizens. Each intervention was designed to subvert and disrupt expectations of the city, creating glitches our everyday lives and routines that offer a window into contemporary issues. Through playful engagement and experiential learning, the city becomes an educator - a Teaching City. The creative interventions were design to be open ended rather than delivering a right and wrong, a standardised learning outcome or answer. Rather, the project intended to offer citizens a novel, interactive experience that ignites thinking and focus on particular issues such as: noise pollution, water shortage and light pollution. These are interactions that each person can appropriate and experience through their own lens – creating uniquely meaningful learning experiences.

Learning about the city

A key feature of the work was a large, painted map of Linz – the host city for Ars Electronica. Visitors were encouraged to highlight issues throughout the city – from poor bike infrastructure to the destruction of a beloved old bridge. This information was collected to inform potential guerilla-style interventions that could be tailored to the idiosyncrasies of Linz, while also provoking dialogue around urban issues among locals and visitors alike.

The interventions

The installation comprised three works, each highlighting a different urban issue: Gulp (bottled water consumption), Glitch (noise pollution), and Gaze (light pollution). These concepts were presented on a small scale, however each has the potential to scale to a larger public artwork, embedded in the city.

Gaze - light pollution

Roughly 5,000 stars are visible from Earth – yet if you live in a city, you wouldn't know it. More than 80% of the world's population lives under light-polluted skies, clouded by skyglow which grows as rapidly as our well-lit cities.

Gaze encourages urban citizens to consider their role in diminishing the visible night sky. Visitors sit in one of the chairs provided, rocking back to view the projection of a night sky above. As they recline, the stars begin to appear, as the "light pollution" surrounding them diminishes. The amount of pollution corresponds to the angle of the chair, allowing them to alter the level of pollution through their own input.

In Austria, 809.7 million litres of bottled water were consumed in 2015 alone, each bottle requiring about 2,000 times more energy to produce than tap water. Austria holds the highest possible ranking for water access and sanitation in the world, so why are Austrians drinking out of plastic?

Gulp is a concept simulation of a real vending machine which would be placed in high traffic urban areas. The vending machine would dispense empty bottles, with a label providing information such as where the city sits on the Global Tap Water Access and Sanitation Score, the toxic and wasteful "ingredients" of a plastic bottle, and possible nearby water sources where the bottle could be filled. By seeking out these water sources, citizens are prompted to question their own purchasing habits, and become aware of the availability and quality of their municipal water sources. The $2 paid for the bottle would be donated to improving water sources in a country at the bottom of the global scale.

Noise pollution – ever heard of it? Urban noise presents an underestimated threat, not only to our quality of life but also to our short and long-term health, yet we seldom stop to contemplate the sounds that litter our concrete jungles.

Glitch is an intervention that highlights noise pollution in urban spaces by creating real-time sound glitches experienced from inside transparent parabolic domes, positioned in highly populated city centres. These domes were replaced by headphones for the presentation of the concept at Ars Electronica. The design of the dome allows you to see the world as it is whilst the audio glitches draws your attention to the omnipresent noise that surrounds us and that we filter out, as a way to manage living in a noise polluted environment. Each of the three domes presents a different sound "glitch" – pitch shift, real-time lag, or the transposition of environmental sounds from another location.

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