The Playable City

agile city hello lamppost

image: 2014 winner by PAN Studio, Tom Armitage and Gyorgyi Galik.

Developed and pioneered by digital producing hub Watershed in Bristol, The Playable City (TM) ‘puts people and play at the heart of the future city… where people, hospitality and openness are key, enabling residents and visitors to reconfigure and rewrite its services, places and stories.’ Acting as a ‘framework to think differently’ Watershed champion the most innovative and exciting work operating under this banner.

Increasingly the principles of smart cities are becoming understood and implemented all over the world The Playable City however, could be described as its mischievous little brother.

The driving factors for smart cities are to increase sustainability, efficiency and improve services with the motion coming from the top down and enabling councils and governments to forge better links between technology, the city and its citizens. The outcomes are often utilitarian and functional. The Playable City however is about opening up the city to its citizens. About creating opportunities and instances of unexpected human interaction that play to our deeper, visceral sensibilities. Touch. Feel. Experience. Play. The Playable City, encourages, supports and facilitates industry (not government) to manipulate and disrupt a city – and a citizen’s experience of it.  These moments of interaction can then act as conversation starters for the type of city we’d like ours to be.

Watershed now run an annual competition on The Playable City with the emphasis on creating shared experiences and new memories through play. The guidelines are deliberately broad with the idea to encourage the exploration of universal themes.

Most recently applications came in from over 60 countries. This year’s shortlist can be seen here, with the winner being announced imminently on 9 June. Last year’s winner was the sublime ‘Shadowing’ by Jonathan Chomko and Matthew Rosier and it capturing, other worldly and immediate.

The Playable City demonstrates how the Internet of Things has quickly become a resource that’s understood, manipulated and can be powerful communicator. Coupled with curiosity, this has opened up the possibilities for how artists, designers, architects, technologists and creative practitioners can disrupt and make comment on our built environment.

As Keith Stuart of The Guardian said; ‘cities that play together, stay together’.