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Rainbow Machine is an interactive installation that creates diverse rainbow spectrums – it can be installed in different locations – All photos by David St George

Let there be light – Rainbow Machine wins gold

A team of staff and alumni from the University of Auckland, who met as students at the Faculty of Creative Arts and Industries (CAI), has been awarded the Good Design Australia Gold Award for an interactive installation.

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The Good Design Australia Awards received a record number of entries in the history of the awards this year, with 840 projects submitted across 11 design disciplines and 28 categories from around the world. The Good Design Awards programme is one of the oldest and most prestigious international design awards in the world, promoting excellence in design and innovation since 1958.

As its name suggests, Rainbow Machine is an interactive installation that creates diverse rainbow spectrums. It can be installed in different locations, and gives both children and adults the chance to harness natural light and experience an ephemeral moment in saturated colours. It is currently on exhibition at the Mangere Arts Centre in Auckland.

Rainbow Machine was commissioned by Auckland Council and installed at Silo Park for the first time in January last year, and was again installed at Silo Park in the summer of 2020. It was also awarded a Supreme Purple Pin from Design Institute New Zealand in 2019.

“We are very chuffed to have been recognised with a major design award for an interactive art installation that makes rainbows,” says Sarosh Mulla, now a senior lecturer at the University of Auckland School of Architecture. He designed the installation along with Elam graduate, installation artist and designer Shahriar Asdollah-Zadeh (who now teaches on the design programme at the university) and Patrick Loo, an architect who last year completed a masters in commercialisation and entrepreneurship at the university.

Challenging disciplinary boundaries

The three designers first met at CAI in their undergraduate years; Sarosh and Patrick were at the School of Architecture and Planning, and Shahriar at Elam School of Fine Arts. “All of us have a history of working on projects that challenge our usual disciplinary boundaries, but Rainbow Machine was the biggest project we’ve worked on together,” says Sarosh.

Rainbow Machine provides a simple way for people of all ages and abilities to enjoy one of nature’s most intriguing phenomena

Shahriar agrees. “Our friendship and collaborative creative process began forming in those years and has continued on into our professional design practices. But working as a project team on Rainbow Machine and for Auckland Council was a particularly amazing experience.

“We wanted to design an interactive art installation for children and adults and let them interact and experience it together through discovery, activation and play. We thought it would be great to create something that people wouldn’t expect to find and inspire curiosity, and find it was something they could interact with,” Shahriar adds.

The Good Design Awards judges described Rainbow Machine as a distinctive interactive and engaging urban public artwork. “It’s innovative and cleverly connects design, art, science, and engineering to create a positive experience for users. The Rainbow Machine, it is clear, will bring a sense of delight and wonder wherever it roams, highlighting the need for community access to sunlight as our urban environments become more dense.”

Brandon Gien, CEO of Good Design Australia, says:“There’s no doubt it has been a really tough year for everyone, so it’s nice to be able to share some good news. The projects represented in this year’s Good Design Awards shine a positive light on our creative and innovative capacity as human beings. These inspirational winning projects give me hope and optimism that our design community will continue to innovate, no matter how challenging the world around us is.”

Play-space design

Rainbow Machine is a mobile structure that can be programmed as a site-specific installation in different locations. “The design bridges the gap between contemporary play-space design and interactive experience, and provides a simple way for people of all ages and abilities to enjoy one of nature’s most intriguing phenomena,” says Sarosh.

It was created with the advice and expertise of Otahuhu Engineering, Callaghan Innovation, Kiwi Star, Holmes Consulting and Auckland Council. “Every contributor played a significant specialised role and understood the creative opportunity in front of them,” says Patrick. “The most exciting ideas come through collaboration and working at the edges of where creative disciplines cross over.”


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