“People looking down at their phones don’t see it,” says designer Samuel Wilkinson about the Ommatidium, his glimmering installation in the center of the bustling Shoreditch in London. “But others will look up and appreciate this glass canopy kind of floating above them.”
That floating structure is part kaleidoscopic street lamp and part digital message board, where passersby can leave audio notes, videos and photos for their friends. Made up of 1,500 hand-made glass crystals, the Ommatidium–named for the cluster of cells that makes up the compound eyes of certain insets–churns out prismatic rainbows during rare moments of London sunlight during the day and flickers softly with glowing LEDs at night.
To design the digital element, Wilkinson collaborated with Beau Lotto, neuroscience professor and founder of the London-based research space Lotto Lab. The pair connected the lamp to Lotto’s digital app Traces, a tool that allows people to leave friends a virtual message that can only be received by going to a certain location. The app essentially transforms the lamp into a physical hub for picking up digital messages, so that someone can leave a song or video for a friend they know will pass by on their morning commute, or people can access information about local shops, restaurants and routes by standing under the crystal canopy.
Wilkinson says that that idea of interconnectivity also informed the design of the lamp itself. “Originally, we were thinking how can we represent the internet in a physical form,” Wilkinson says. “It’s a difficult challenge. We started thinking about wires and things being refracted, and technology as a matrix of glass that slits everything up. That was the starting point.”
An ending point is not yet in sight. Originally designed for London Design Week this past September, the Ommatidium has remained in place long after the event ended. Now, Wilkinson and Lotto are making plans to extend the digital element beyond a community message board to a digital magazine that people can read snippets of as they pass by.
The Ommitidium is located at 243 Old Street in London.