Phipps Project Final Documentation

Phipps Lighting Display

-Johnny Wu, Nitesh Sridhar, SooJin Sohn, Brandon Darreff



Our project attempts to mimic the motion of candlelight to enhance the sense of a family feast as part of Phipps Conservatory’s Winter Flower Show and Light Garden. This year’s concept for the Sunken Garden included holiday arrangements and decor which evoke a sense of spending time and eating with family around the holidays.

We planned to utilize pre-existing lighting hardware to create the candlelight effect by briefly flashing white, yellow, and red lights as visitors passed by the corresponding motion sensor. As the candlelight effect follows the visitor’s direction, it encourages forward movement through the exhibit. This fulfills our secondary aim of reducing congestion and addresses the Conservatory’s main concern of crowding surrounding this annual event. Additionally, we implemented an idle animation of red pulses moving along the Sunken Garden Path along the tops of the walls that both fits in with the holiday themes and helps to move visitors through the space.

We initially planned on assigning one motion sensor to each existing arc light in the Sunken Garden which would trigger a light animation in shades of red and gold to mimic the effect of candlelight and lead visitors through the transitional space. We adjusted the quantity of sensors to one for every two arc lights and the colors of the animation after receiving feedback from Phipps to make the sensors a little more obvious and improve the quality of the lighting effect.



Bill of Materials:

(2) Cable Gland Joints- $3.90
(2) Electronics Waterproof Casings- $39.90
(2) Particle Photons- $198.00
(2) Arduino Unos- $44.00
(1) 2’ x 2’ Black Acrylic for Sensor Housing – $10.20
(6) PIR Sensors- $0 (Lent)
(130 ft) Electrical Wiring- $0 (Lent)
(2) USB CAT5 Extension Cables-
(2) 50 ft CAT5 Cables-
(6) 2” Diameter PVC Coupling- $6.84
(1) Mac Mini- $0 (Lent)
(2) USB to Barrel Jack Cables-  $8.18
(2) Breadboards- $0 (Lent)

Total Cost: $330.96



For our proof of concept demonstration, we connected a motion sensor with an Arduino and an LED behind diffused acrylic to mimic the basic functionality of our installation. When the sensor detected motion, the LED would light up. This basic circuit gave a simple but tangible visualization of how our project would look.

For our actual installation, our first approach was to use Photons as our micro-controller because of their WiFi capabilities, since the sensors would have to span long distances. However, we ran into many problems with this method. First, we found out that the Conservatory did not have reliable WiFi. We decided to try and send information through our own wireless local networks without internet. Unfortunately, this also failed because Photons compiled through the Cloud. We tried many times to put the Photon into USB compilation to get the code on the Photon, but it always had issues sending messages over local networks. We tried to have them communicate wirelessly with simple server/client or OSC/UDP setups but ran into a lot of issues with wireless communication without internet.

After realizing that the Photon would not work for our purposes, we decided to use Arduinos with extended cables. We first used Serial to communicate between the Arduinos and Processing. It seemed to work, however it had issues onsite. Processing was unable to get the proper sensor inputs from Serial. To circumvent this, we used firmata to control the arduinos and
ran all the programming from Processing itself.This setup was much more promising and we initially got better results regarding inputs from the PIR sensors and lag times. One side of the garden was even completely working. However, ultimately they also did not work as planned because of port issues and we ended up running our project generatively through processing alone. We also had some issues with the sensors themselves. Each time they detected motion, they remained on a ‘HIGH’ state for five seconds. This meant that during crowded times, the sensors would always read ‘HIGH’. We adjusted our animation in code in order to account for this, so the candlelight would only trigger on the first activation of the sensor after a ‘LOW’.

Besides the microcontroller issues, the rest of our project was relatively straightforward. Each sensor was soldered with long wires to span the lengths of the Sunken Garden hallways. They were heat shrinked to isolate metal contacts and for water-proofing. These sensors were then placed into acrylic boxes, the construction of which are further detailed below. Each
sensor’s wires were run behind the garden’s brick walls, and connected to an Arduino inside of a waterproof box. There are three sensors for each Arduino, and one Arduino for the two long sides of the garden. The two Arduinos fed into a Mac Mini via extended USB cables, where the Processing code ran. The code communicated with a light manager script which communicated with a DMX controller through MaxMSP. Additional barrel jacks were run from each Arduino because the USB cables could not carry enough power over long distances.


We fabricated acrylic housings for the sensors which nested into the existing perforated brick wall to help conceal them from the light show’s audience. The boxes fit together with finger joint connections and had a large circular opening in the front for the PIR sensor and a smaller one in the back for the wires leading back to the arduinos. The boxes were ultimately sealed with caulking in order to waterproof it and prevent damage to the sensors. We also added a section of 2” pipe in order to narrow the field of view of the sensors to prevent excess triggering of the system.

The installation was done on the off-hours of the Conservatory. We placed each sensor box equidistant along the long sides of the Sunken Garden. The wires for each sensor were run behind the garden’s brick walls, while the corresponding Arduino was placed in a waterproof box behind the middles of the brick walls. The power and USB cables were then run behind the walls and above a doorway to a closet where the Mac Mini was placed. There were several instances where we had to revisit the site to make changes, whether it was replacing the Photons with Arduinos,
resoldering connections, or checking connections.




This was our group’s first time installing a project in a real-world space with hundreds of visitors and a real client. Working through the process to waterproof our devices and create systems robust enough that attendees could not easily damage them was an incredibly eye-opening experience. While it did not ultimately work out how we wanted it to, we learned a lot through the process and created a generative light installation which fit the theme of the site.


Looking Out 2: Brandon

Light House: 888 Collins is a full facade lighting installation by Ramus Illumination. The project uses light as a communicative device about weather data. The lights illuminate real-time weather data as well as forecast the weather for the next data every hour. Lighting animations display different weather conditions: wind causes the lights animation to ripple radially, rain causes a vertical animation, etc. Essentially changes in the weather conditions are shown on the facade.

I think this piece lends itself to Colangelo’s ideas about massive media because of its scale, prominence on a major street corner, visibility, and it engages media from an outside, changing data feed (the Bureau of Meteorology). The project misses the concept of being “trans-local” but I think it would be easy to incorporate if there was a way for online users to change the location which weather is being broadcast from and if the facade could be live-streamed as an abstract weather data source.

Airport Proposal: Glow Pittsburgh

Brandon Darreff & Nitesh Sridhar

For this project we pulled data from Twitter’s API around Pittsburgh and animated fiber optics based on live tweets. We chose three major Pittsburgh tech hubs (East Liberty, Oakland, & Downtown) and focused data around those regions. Each area is abstractly hinted at through wireframe building models most closely associated with them. For tweets which are tied to these geographical locations, their respective buildings light up. If the location associated with the tweet is outside of these regions or absent from the tweets, the entire installation lights up blue.

Looking Out 01


With this project users wear a portable EEG interface on their head which collects brain wave data and maps it to a ceiling grid of steel panels. Tiny hammers, representing the hidden transitory circuits in a human’s body, tap rhythmically onto the backs of steel plates based on the user’s brain activities. As the user attempts to generate more cognitive processes the rhythms are altered. I think Staalhemel is worth talking about because it takes neurological processes which we are otherwise unaware of and develops a tangible art form from that information. Additionally the output is unique for each individual which makes the experience different for each user.

Staalhemel – Steel Sky from Christoph De Boeck on Vimeo.


The Work Comes First


“The Work Comes First” is intended to pay homage to all of the creativity, ingenuity, and patience which goes into developing great work. With this project The Lodge is subtly criticizing how repetitive projection screens and interactive work has become by developing an interactive exhibit which is handcrafted using hardware store materials. Using solenoids and 3-D mapping, users’ hands are tracked and cause the bolts to move in a rippling effect. Overall I think this project is an interesting bridge between emerging media and rudimentary construction.