Nov 222012
For all the education about how much our human impact is destroying the ocean, not much is changing our behavior. Could some of these crazier projects do the trick?
Hurricane Sandy and flooding vital infrastructure, not to mention homes. But water is also vital to our existence. And if we don’t pay attention to ocean health, we’ll all be in trouble. San Francisco nonprofit Blue Trail is drawing attention to ocean sustainability with 10 interactive “art-design-science-tech installations” showcased along the city’s waterfront during the America’s Cup sailing challenge next fall.

60 people showed up for Blue Trail’s recent Design Jam, a competition intended to suss out the most promising installation ideas from local architects, designers, engineers, and others. Below, some of our favorites. Note: These ideas were all hatched during a daylong design session, so there are no prototypes to display–yet.


This project features a metal storm drainpipe-like cylinder coming out of the ground with one end facing the Bay. When passersby enter the giant pipe, they see a trash gyre blocking their view, courtesy of fans blowing the trash between layers of glass or Plexiglass. The trash will consist of plastic wrappers, lids, straws, paper, cigarette butts, plastic bags, polystyrene foam, and other common items found in the ocean. Levers at the end of the pipe let participants control the fans (and the different layers of trash). Each lever will come with a sign offering actions people can do to reduce ocean waste–i.e. a sign on the plastic bag lever saying “Bring reusable bags when you go shopping instead of using plastic bags.”


This interactive sculpture broadcasts live feeds of ocean sounds (using a hydrophone) via a Victrola horn or nautilus shell. The creators write: “The sound environment below the horn will be unexpectedly immersive, showering the participant with an intimate sensory experience that connects them to the underwater seascape of the site.” A nearby microphone will let participants record comments on the project, which will later be transcribed and posted on Twitter.


Like a carnival midway, the ocean contains unbelievable sights. This series of booths and sculptures will contain exhibits like “Are You Stronger Than a Shrimp?!” (a traditional strongman game that lets people test their strength against various sea creatures), “Step Right Up and Step Inside the World’s Largest Heart!” (a large blue whale heart sculpture that people can step into, and “The Narwhal Tells All Fortune Teller” (a hand-crank activated Narwhal dressed as a gypsy that spits out ocean problems and actions that can be taken to resolve them).


This large, transparent enclosure contains nine feet of ocean plastic and waste. The creators describe the project: “From afar, participants first see a giant aquarium-like structure with water running down the walls and pulsing blue lights illuminating the movement inside. A ceiling of discarded netting contains it all.” Each piece of trash is inscribed with a name to indicate a human source. Marine sounds, a water mat, and ambient lighting serve to disorient visitors (yes, people are supposed to actually get inside this thing). When people leave, they are encouraged to take a piece of trash with them.


The Design Jam people’s choice winner (that means it automatically advances to the proposal development phase), Your Majesty features a series of stations inside a life-size whale: a life-size whale heart that blasts sounds from the ocean, a trash can that causes the whale to blow when it’s filled with garbage, and an intestine made out of plastic bags that children can crawl through. The blue whale skeleton is made of locally harvested bamboo.

Next up for the Design Jam participants: a jury featuring experts from the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, IDEO, California Academy of the Arts, and ZERO1 will judge entries. Up to five teams will be selected to submit formal proposals.



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