Playhouse, Liberty Hall , Dublin

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How Playhouse Works

How it was made

Playhouse has been created by installing over 100,000 tiny LED lights in to the window frames of 330 windows on the south and west faces of Liberty Hall in Dublin’s City Centre. The LEDs are attached to a flexible circuit board which is run around the frame of the window using Velcro to keep it in place. Over 2 kilometers of Velcro was used in total; the use of which greatly simplifies the installation and removal process. Thanks to Daft.ie, Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival and SIPTU for enabling it to happen.

The Workers Building

The principle design consideration for Playhouse was to make it function in a building that is in use during the day. The presence of the equipment needed to have minimal impact on the working environment. Each strip of LEDs sits invisibly into the window frames, as they are less than 5mm deep.

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A single control box is mounted at the bottom of each window. This is receives signals from our central computer and turns the window on or off and changes the colours. The controllers are daisy chained together using ethernet cabling — this meant that we could connect the windows using the building’s existing network infrastructure without the need to install new wiring. The central computer communicated with the controllers using ArtNet and DMX protocols.

We needed to install a covering over each window to reflect the light of the LEDs outwards to give the appearance of a solid colour in each window pixel – The problem with this was that it would block out the view out the windows during the day. Our solution was to use the existing blinds on the windows to reflect the light. Every evening, when work is finished, people close their blinds to help us prepare for the show.

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The Marquee

The top floor of the building (or ‘The Marquee’ as we call it) is used to scroll text around the building. Inspired by the Times Square stock tickers, the marquee turns each window on the 15th floor into a single giant letter made up of 35 pixels (5 across and 7 down).

Using custom cut sheets of thick PVC, we created jigsaw pieces that could be assembled into a unit consisting of series of small boxes (7 down and 5 across). We installed a small strip of white LEDs into each box and these were wired into some controlling circuitry that turns each pixel on or off. The units, of which there are 30 in total, are the exact size of a window in Liberty Hall and slot nicely into the window frame. They are designed to be plug-and-play so that they can be put up and taken down every night if needs be, so as not to interfere with the working environment during the day.

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Sound, Music and Burps

Due to the small number of pixels it was felt that the addition of audio to the project would enable far more creativity. For example, through the use of sound two dots on the screen could be transformed into people having a conversation.

The sound is broadcast on FM radio (94.3MHz) in the vicinity of the building. The Broadcasting Commission of Ireland award temporary radio licenses for periods of less than 30 days to short term projects.

We worked with Irish Music Rights Organisation to secure the appropriate permissions so that people could use their favourite music from their libraries when creating animations.

Although it was possible to use copyrighted music, many people created their own. Many also made custom sound effects that brought the low-resolution display to life; for example, the monster who gulps a soft drink from a can then lets out an enormous burp.



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Green Machine

The LEDs used in Playhouse are ultra-bright and super efficient. Unlike normal lights, they run off 12V power supplies which means that each floor uses about the same amount of energy as a kettle. The maximum power output per floor is 2000W but it is normally far less as it is rare that all lights are on at full intensity – when this does happen it is usually for a brief period. The total electricity used for the three week period is the equivalent to the electricity usage of approximately 3 households over the same period.

The fact that we could use the existing cabling infrastructure meant that there was no need to run kilometres of cabling around the building. The fact that we used the existing blinds to reflect the light outwards meant that we didn’t need to install hundreds of sheets of custom cut plastic boarding. The use of Velcro meant that the equipment could be removed and reused extremely easily – the Velcro itself is for the most part reused also.


6 Responses to “How Playhouse Works”

  1. Playtweet - the world’s biggest Twitter client | I Am Steph Says:
    October 7th, 2009 at 11:06 pm

    [...] out more about how it’s all put together here on the Playhouse blog and vote for your favourite animation right here. | MoreThis entry [...]

  2. Nodlaig Coghlan Says:
    October 8th, 2009 at 10:13 am

    Fantastic use of a public space. Not only does it function well as a work of art in its own terms creating arresting images on a huge scale in the city, it allows the public engage with it in a very direct way. I’ve been having great converstations around it, more than any other project in the public arena.

    Well done.

    Nodlaig

  3. Dean Scurry (comedian) Says:
    October 8th, 2009 at 11:05 pm

    world class idea, should be a permanent installation, simple and brilliant.

  4. Dara Says:
    October 10th, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    I think it’s brilliant!
    unfortunately liberty hall is being replaced… but if it wasn’t this should definitely be a permanent installation!

  5. Shannon Says:
    October 14th, 2009 at 3:28 am

    who won ?

  6. jedblogk » PlayHouse in Dublin Says:
    November 25th, 2009 at 9:03 am

    [...] Kidney, vj et membre fondateur du collectif Delicious 9. Pour les plus curieux, voici l’installation nécessaire pour ce type de projets. Enfin, la création de cet évènement assez spectaculaire s’est en [...]

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