How can a subway learn from a glass-bottom boat?
How might it be possible to restore a connection to urban context and an awareness of movement through the city?
Uptown Underground projects a geographically accurate view of the cityscape above a moving subway car onto its ceiling as it moves under New York City. It has been installed, without permission, on a series of moving subway wagons from Brooklyn Bridge-City Hall to 96th Street stations, a roughly 6 mile/25-minute loop along the East Side of Manhattan.
The experience of riding the subway is marked by detachment: in the moments between stations, all urban context is stripped away, replaced with darkness or the occasional flash of a light. The project thus takes inspiration from the glass-bottom boat, where access is granted to the reeds, the fish, and the dark depths normally inaccessible. Imagining seeing through the ceiling to the street and becoming aware of such a dynamic perspective offers restored connection with and newfound contextualization within the city.
The project is implemented with four projectors connected to Raspberry Pi's, synchronized with offsets over a peer-to-peer WiFi network and informed by geolocation and acceleration data from a cellphone, all on battery power. As the window for installation is only some 45 seconds, and the window for deinstallation even shorter at risk of being caught, the build (both physical and digital) was designed for ultimate ease and fluidity.
The project aims to create a technology-positive interaction with the sole intention of augmenting the urban experience by directly intervening in the daily lives of subway users through projections and new technologies. With the installation in full force, those on the train tend to put down their cell phones and, with excitement and curiosity, look up.