10 Playful Public Works of Art


If you prefer to actively engage with art without a “do not touch” sign plastered on the wall next to it, interactive, public artworks can make you feel like a kid in a candyland. We spotted a playful installation on Colossal that transforms a swing set into a whimsical musical instrument when people take it for a ride. We featured it past the break, along with other playful public works of art that inspire viewers to channel the fun-filled days of their youth. Each installation requires spirited and carefree participation to bring it to life. See what we mean in our gallery of playful public artworks, below.

Image credit: Olivier Blouin

Musical Swings

This musical installation, 21 Balançoires (21 Swings), from Canadian design collective Daily Tous Les Jours is a whimsical, interactive experience. The contemporary-style swing set in Montréal’s busy Quartier des Spectacles is a giant musical instrument, triggered by motion. Dreamy, pre-recorded sounds of pianos, xylophones, and more are programmed to play various notes — creating complex melodies when the swings move together. Apparently a secret song kicks into gear when all 21 swings are in use. We’d like to steal it for our own backyard — the one we’re pretending we have, anyway.

A Virtual Flower Garden with Sound

Liverpool’s Clayton Square exploded with a colorful, blooming garden when new media artist Maria Stukoff made cheerful use of peoples’ Bluetooth devices in her installation, Every Passing Moment. When pedestrians moved across the shopping center, anyone with a Bluetooth enabled device saw a virtual flower being planted in a breathtaking landscape that was digitally projected onto a screen. Sound artist Jonathan Fischer created audio of running water and children laughing that emitted from speakers. If two people approached each other to talk, their flowers grew bigger. Casual onlookers passing by saw their flowers slowly fade.

Image credit: Shannon Morris

An LED Seesaw

An Australian art and design studio created A Tilt of Light, which we first spotted on Elemental LED, and installed it in Melbourne’s Federation Square. The group constructed an LED lighting strip (33 of them), activated by computer software and tucked it inside the body of a seesaw. When one end tilts, the lights glow and zoom across the seesaw’s length. Studio Eness wanted to demonstrate the kinetic physics of the playground equipment, but make it a truly fun learning experience. The video below demonstrates how it all works. Skip to the 58 second mark if the techno talk doesn’t interest you.

A Rainbow City

To celebrate the opening of a section in New York City’s High Line — a public park built on an historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side — art collective FriendsWithYou created Rainbow City. The vibrant, cartoonish installation invited visitors to play amongst a landscape of responsive, air-filled, minimalist sculptures — some of them towering forty feet in the air. Tim Burton would approve. The collective wanted to evoke toys and images of childhood in their design. You can see more videos of the colorful installation over here.

Playground Crochet

Toshiko Horiuchi MacAdam used to create her colorful, crochet playscapes for a galleries, but when several children started to climb the netted structure, she realized that the work came to life in new and exciting ways thanks to their interaction. MacAdam switched gears and started to create public artworks. Soft pouches, swinging balls of yarn, and other delightful spaces within the installation invite people to have a fully tactile experience. The NetPlayWorks are a lighthearted union of playground structures and contemporary art.

Interactive Think Sphere

New American Public Art created this interactive sphere for TEDx Somerville — an organization part of the TED program that helps promote “ideas worth spreading.” As people enter the group’s building, the bright sphere beckons for visitors to give it a spin. Since it’s a public work, it acts as an interface between conference attendees and random passersby, further emphasizing TED’s messages about community and conversation. See how Thought Follows Action works in the below video.

A Flexible Field of Grass

If you love walking through a tall field of grass, Daniel Lyman’s SWAY’D would delight you to no end. The Salt Lake City installation is composed of more than 1,000 moly-filled nylon rods, each one over ten feet tall. People are invited to walk through the urban field and interact with the flexible rods that bend and undulate — mimicking grass or trees blowing in the wind. Everything’s installed in a concrete foundation so it doesn’t disturb the existing site. At night, the space is colorfully lit to add a magical touch to the experience. See it in action, below.

Fantastical Roller Coaster Staircase

Heike Mutter and Ulrich Genth created Tiger and Turtle: Magic Mountain in Duisburg, Germany. The 70-foot tall sculpture sits on top of a hill and looks like a winding roller coaster, but it’s actually a staircase that people can explore for its amazing views while recalling childhood memories of amusement parks. It was constructed with carnival rides in mind, built to resemble the loops people speed through at breakneck speeds. Walking or racing up the elevated staircase inspires a similar, thrilling sensation.

A Bubble Building

This ephemeral, interactive installation known as the Bubble Building, built by DUS Architects, was created for a festival in Rotterdam. Almost 20 hexagonal ponds were filled with soapy water and covered with a steel framework that visitors used to construct iridescent walls. The soapy installation allowed people to playfully engage with each other, as they became unique architects.

An Interactive River of Lights

Meejin Yoon’s Light Drift was a temporary, interactive installation along the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia where thousands of people activated a field of lights on the waterfront. The 90 floating, neon orbs were lit by sensors on land that detected viewers every movement. People were able to transform the grid of patterns and colors that acted as a visual, conceptual documentary of the surrounding activity.