Urban Pinball: The First Playable Building?
December 21, 2011
For those of us who grew up in arcades, there remains a level of attachment to pinball that is rarely replicated by other games. Invented in the 18th-century in, where else, France, pinball (née bagatelle) went from an aristocratic novelty to emblem of American pop jouissance in the post-war period, after the machine had been electrified and fitted with flippers. Its contemporary form helped shape a domain for the rising, increasingly autonomous youth by creating dynamic and flexible spaces exclusively suited to them, while the machine itself reconfigured the teen’s relationship with an expanding mechanized society. It was, in short, a unique interface different from radio, television and eventually the desktop computer in that it required the body to be alert and almost athletically poised.
With the digitalization of space, of course, that has all been changed. The noble mouse has even seen its day, its basic functionality made redundant by easier and more intuitive means of navigation. Instead, we have entirely digital environments, in which the material world, including our bodies and architecture, has been absorbed. Apart from the political and sociological implications of this reality, there has been a profusion of interactive installations which explore its more ludenic side. Created for Lyon’s annual Festival of Lights, “Urban Flipper” projects a fully-playable pinball game onto the facade of a neo-classical theatre. What differentiates the installation from the admittedly now-over light projection fad is that the architecture itself informs the design of the game. Windows, balustrades, reliefs, and even the capitals of columns become bumpers for the virtual ball passing across the facade. It even bleeps and boinks like the real thing!