Water is an all important element in Chinese culture, this is especially true in Hangzhou, a city of lakes, rivers, and canals. “The Water Walk Alongside the White Snake” is an interactive, architectural installation in the Hangzhou Cirque du Soleil theatre that induces an emotional reaction by communicating the omnipresence of water as a fundamental element in all aspects of Chinese history and culture. This effect is created by transforming the entire lobby of the theatre into a shallow, flowing river. When someone approaches this river, the riverbed rises to create a solid, level path that enables them to cross the body of water. As more people enter greater portions of the riverbed rise to accommodate them. Gradually, bridges and islands of all shapes are formed. When people leave to enter the theatre, the raised sections recede and the lobby becomes a river once again. The experience is repeated during the intermission, and at the end of the show. This installation recreates the universal sensation of being at the water’s edge; an area of contemplation and reflection that is deeply rooted in Chinese culture. As such “The Water Walk Alongside the White Snake” creates an emotional passageway into the theatrical world.

Interaction mode

The principle interactive feature of this installation is the matrix of submerged floor sections that rise above the water to allow visitors to walk on them. The entire space consists of a grid of submerged, square mechanical pillars that move up and down. When in the “up” position they are above the surface of the water and thus allow people to walk on them. There are cameras observing the scene from above that identify the positions of all the people. When people approach the water’s edge, the pillars in their vicinity rise above water level and provide a surface to walk on. As they walk across the body of water, the pillars behind them will eventually return below the surface of the water. The ambience is enhanced with lighting effects. Service areas, such as shops, food concessions and bathrooms are excluded from having a dynamic floor for obvious reasons. Prototype description

A sequence of prototypes were created for testing this concept. The final prototype consists of a 13×9 grid of pillars that can be moved up and down. By activating them from below, the pillars rise above the water level simulating the surface that a person could walk on. The activation of the pillars can be accomplished either manually by pushing up from below with the hands, or by using a motorized, automated piston that pushes up in a location that corresponds to where a scale-model person is standing. The location of the person is found using computer vision from above.