A shining beacon of connectivity rises in Shoreditch Design Triangle today, and it comes bearing rainbows. Arriving near the end of London Design Festival, The Ommatidium, created by designer Samuel Wilkinson and neuroscience professor Beau Lotto, is a multi-purpose landmark, acting as a sculpture, street lamp, community notice board and refractor of light, which beams down rainbows from its 1500 hand-made crystal prisms.
It's this multi-functionality that separates The Ommatidium from just any old piece of street art-cum-furniture. It is partnered with a notice board app, Traces, which allows users to post a whole range of multimedia (music, pictures etc) to physical spots, and its built-in WIFI means the project is more than just a pretty lamp – it’s a fixture that uses virtual technology to bring people closer together.
‘It’s really just about a new concept – pairing something that isn’t just a beautiful object, it’s an object that has functionality,’ explains RSA award-winning designer Wilkinson. ‘You can meet people there and look at all this digital content and just find something interesting... it’s beautiful and it's functional.’
This is a concept the pair both agree on. Beau Lotto – a seasoned TED speaker – believes bringing together neuroscience and design can help create meaningful experiences on social media. When talking about interactions with social media devoid of physical context, he asks, ‘How can they be meaningful instead of merely informative?’ The Ommatidium, they hope, is the meeting point of the real and virtual worlds.
Though focusing on interactivity, Wilkinson made sure not to neglect the structure's aesthetic appeal. ‘A lot of street furniture for me doesn’t feel it’s got enough effort in it: for this, people look at it and think, “Oh, is it a beautiful chandelier for a hotel?”’ During the daytime, in the rare instance that the London sun is shining, it casts rainbows through its prisms, but at night, it becomes a beacon, beaming 24 powerful LED lights. Though street lamps normally use between 39–153 watts depending on function, The Ommatidium produces a solid 140 watts of energy – actually rather green for a public installation.
A commitment to both aesthetic beauty and digital connectivity is what makes The Ommatidium a truly modern artwork, as well as acting as a potential precursor to streets filled with art that brings us together virtually and physically. ‘I think the streets should be as beautiful as anywhere else – more beautiful, potentially, because it’s for the public and more people get to enjoy it.’ Isn’t that the truth?