The Room of Illuminations - An interactive room in a hotel

The Room of Illuminations - An interactive room in a hotel

An artist and an engineer used the Touch Board to transform a room in a hotel into an art installation, where the walls and ceilings became light switches.

The Touch Board combined with the Raspberry Pi has a lot of potential to create smart surfaces and interactive installation. The team behind “The Room of Illuminations” used the Touch Board to create an interactive hotel room for ART B&B in 2019. They are a two-person team made up of visual artist Mark McClure and developer Terry Clark. Mark is a London based artist and designer who specialises in bold, abstract artworks that draw inspiration from the built environment – resulting in gallery works through to public art and collaborations with brands and interior designers. Terry is a freelance creative software developer, recently graduated from Goldsmiths University, and is interested in all things digital and audiovisual.

The project was initiated by Mark – after he was one of a group of artists invited to create a room at the Art BnB, an independent boutique art hotel and venue overlooking the sea at Blackpool, UK. Drawing on the heritage of traditional seaside entertainment, the famous Blackpool illuminations, and the gamification of the seafront arcades, Mark’s idea was to create a room that could be “played with”: a light installation that could respond to input whilst also existing as a functioning bedroom in this unique hotel. Teaming up with Terry – together they explored ways to make it happen!

The plan was to create an abstract, geometric, sculptural installation that covered the ceiling and part of the walls, which would be backlit with LEDs. The lighting would then be controlled via touch-sensitive panels built into the sculptural areas. These panels would trigger a number of lighting effects that change the mood of the room – before it returned to a default setting.

When they originally discussed the idea of an interactive bedroom, they were considering possibilities ranging from escape room type mechanisms to interactive LEDs. They then went on to narrow things down to more focused and manageable goals – with touch panels triggering lighting effects and a Twitter triggered, data-driven sequence in the lights. They wanted to bring an element
of fun and playfulness to the room through the interaction, while the Twitter feature added a ‘live' element. This live element could also be used to help to promote the hotel once up and running with hashtags that would trigger the lighting, and which could be changed to promote events or have a
seasonal relevance.

From the beginning, they created and tested some prototypes and learned more about the material we would need to use. This included Electric Paint, and testing how they could paint over or seal the paint whilst preserving the conductivity without interference. They also experimented with the types of sensors they could use and the range of electronics they would need. The technology they used,
in the end, was a combination of a Raspberry Pi, which was connected to the Touch Board, along with a set of FadeCandy LED controllers. They wired up the web of cables to connect grounds and data to the FadeCandy boards, with the mains power and ground coming from 5 power supplies hidden behind detachable shapes in the installation.

The touch panels which would control the LEDs were painted with Electric Paint, and they then used copper tape and cabling to connect the painted panels to the Touch Board. The duo had a limited space to deal with and needed to think about how they might integrate the cabling and tech into the installation, hiding as much as they could behind the shapes of the sculpture. From initial proposals to the completion, the project took about 2 years, with the actual research and build being spread over 6 months, and then installed over a fortnight.

There were a few snags in the process, for example, some LEDs weren’t turning off when they should, so they made the most of the pandemic downtime as an opportunity to iron out a few glitches and streamline the interaction.

The response has been fantastic, although unfortunately, the hotel was only open for about two months before the pandemic hit. The room definitely has that ‘wow’ factor when people open the door and see the colourful clusters of wooden shapes. To then be able to interact with it really brings out a sense of excitement; it’s great to see the smiles! The team learnt a huge amount of working on the project, with the key takeaway being to keep things simple and focus on the core of what you want to achieve.

Next steps are tricky to plan for right now with current events but we’d both like to work on similar projects again – alongside our own personal work – but we’ll see what happens when the world starts to return to something close to normal. For now it’s a good time to plan & experiment for future projects.