Aarhus aquarium ripple ceiling

An interactive ceiling recreating ripples on the water's surface

2013

I designed the interactive ceiling as the main attraction for an underground aquarium that was situated at the harbourfront in Aarhus, Denmark. Comprised of an array of modules, the ceiling utilised small "arms" to push down into a fabric stretched over the array to create bulges in the ceiling. Motion sensors would detect movement under each module in order to activate it. The modules were able to send signals to each module around it in order to create a rippling effect in the ceiling that emanated outwards from the position of the user.

The aquarium

Location of the proposed aquarium

Aarhus harbourfront

The site for the aquarium was the harbour in Aarhus, in a location being used as a boat launch. I envisioned an underground space with large windows facing into the harbour, giving visitors a view of the marine life in the water. The surface of the site would be transformed back into a coastal landscape, with shrubs, grasses and rocks that would attract wildlife.

Floor plan of the aquarium

Underground level, harbour at bottom of plan

Programmatic plan of the aquarium

Underground level, harbour at bottom of plan

The aquarium space was to be simple in its design, with unadorned concrete walls so as not to detract from the activity happening on the ceiling or in the exhibits. The aquarium was laid out as an open space with a number of smaller exhibit space in individual rooms. Exhibits featured topics that were relevant to the geographical location of the harbour. In the centre of the space was a large area devoted to an interactive 'ripple ceiling.' Influenced by the ripples I encountered at the harbourfront, I decided to bring this effect into the aquarium space and create an interaction based on a user creating the ripples.

Interaction rules

After seeing the Constellaction project by panGenerator I was intrigued by the concept of emergent behaviour, where objects with a simple set of rules can create unexpected or emergent behaviour when they interact with each other on a larger scale. I created a module that did two things: if a motion sensor saw movement, it should activate a motor, and if that happened, then a LED should be turned on for the duration of the motor running. An arm was attached to the motor that pushed downwards into a piece of fabric stretched over the modules, creating a visible change in the ceiling. The modules nearest to the user-activated module would see the illuminated LED, and they too would activate and push down into the fabric. This continued in an outwards motion across the expanse of the ceiling, creating the intended ripple effect.

Module design

Each module consisted of an Arduino, a servo motor, a motion sensor, a photocell, three LEDs, and gears. The mechanical parts and case were cut from MDF on a laser cutter. The three LEDs were arranged to cover a 120° field of view, which meant that each module would be arranged so that it had three other modules around it.

A group of modules assembled into a removable panel

Test version of the ripple ceiling

String attached to the end of each module's arm for visualisation purposes

See the prototype in action: