Playful Water: Sound-Sensing

I presented the model studies of my four playful water spots in Eindhoven to the Gementee (Mayor Office). There I received feed back and information from Wil van der Schijndel. In the Province of Brabands, the water in fountains has to be of potable water quality, or there has to be extensive signage indicating that it is not drinking water. This makes water fountains in Eindhoven expensive and so limits there number in the city. These rules vary from province to province.

The Mayor’s Office considers water in public space to have an active social function like a camp fire: it allows people to share a common point of focus without the tension of giving each other direct attention. They say that water features function as gathering spots and landmarks in the city.

Making a scale model of the site:

This playful water spot is in front of the Stadhuis (Mayor’s Office). There has been a fountain here since 1970, but it was re-designed to it current form in 2005. It was designed by EH/EH Architects. The fountains re in a cycling sequence of a short, middle, and long shot of water. The sequence is not reactive.

Re-design 1: Homo Ludens

I research theories of Human playfulness, and social behaviour and ended up picking Joan Huizinga. He was a historian and a cultural theorist with an anthropological theory called Homo Ludens: Man the Player.


Johan Huizinga identifies 5 characteristics of play:

1. Play is free, is in fact freedom.
2. Play is not “ordinary” or “real” life.
3. Play is distinct from “ordinary” life both as to locality and duration.
4. Play creates order, is order. Play demands order absolute and supreme.
5. Play is connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained from it.

I translated Huizinga’s 5 characteristics into 5 new design criteria and use them to re-design my playful water spots.
1. The design concept has to allow user input.
2. It has to create a new context/stage/ ‘other’ space.
3. It has to use temporary architecture and temporary programs to avoid becoming ‘ordinary’.
4. Users must intuitively understand how to play.
5. The game space is free, open and public.


In the Re-design, User input is in plugging a leak of water in the back rest of the seat. Plugging the leak means the chamber behind the back rest slowly fills with water until the water overflows. The plugging of a leak corresponds to a random water chamber, so the risk in creating a seat for yourself you soak someone else.

Re-design 2: Age/Interactivity Gradient

I interviewed the public about their opinions of my four playful water spots in Eindhoven, as well as what playful water means for them. In the data I collected from this process a pattern emerged between the age of the public and how much interactivity they want from playful water. To make playful water for the public ages ‘0 – 99’ I re-designed the 4 playful water spots to literally have a gradient of interactivity.

In the Re-design, the Age/Interactvity is realized through the acoustic activation of the fountains. The gradient of interactivity is expressed in the varying level of sound produce by the public. The greater the decibels of noise the fountain registers the higher the water rises. In this way the activity of water reflects the social life around the fountain.

Re-design 3: Combining Design Elements

This model takes the location away, and allows me to cherry-pick the most interesting design elements from the previous 2 re-designs regardless of context. Here the fountains are laid in a grid. Each individual fountain head is fitted with a microphone that translates the volume of sounds into height: louder noise = higher fountain. The key thing is that since water falling back down on the ground creates a noise itself, one fountain will set off the fountains around it, creating a chain-reaction. I believe with the right sensitivity, the grid of fountain will reach a beautiful equilibrium that will fluctuate like a murmurration of birds. This equilibrium is set off and disturbed by music, talking, shouting, clapping and so on. So the living water sculpture will interact with and reflect the social life of the city around it.



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