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Swings and VR goggles bring Leonardo’s dreams to life

Words:
Stephen Cousins

A playful VR experience that celebrates the artist’s quincentenary livens up City workers’ lives at London Festival of Architecture

City workers will experience the sensation of flying when they ride the swings wearing virtual reality goggles.
City workers will experience the sensation of flying when they ride the swings wearing virtual reality goggles. Credit: Studio Go Go

If you’re walking through London this summer and see a business woman swinging from a tree shouting ‘Whoopee, I’m an ornithopter!’, it’s probably a reaction to cutting edge technology rather than boozy over-indulgence at the office summer barbecue.

Volo is a virtual reality swing experience, commissioned for the City of London’s Fantastic Feats season, and part of the London Festival of Architecture, to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci.  

Participants are being invited to don a pair of VR goggles and climb into one of four specially-designed swing frames cantilevered from the trunks of mature trees around the Square Mile, to experience the sensation of flight.

The abstract VR environments, created by VR thrill ride developer Studio Go Go, react to motion and were inspired by the Renaissance genius’ concepts for flying contraptions, including the ornithopter, a machine that flies by flapping its wings, and the helical screw, an early predecessor to the helicopter. In addition, they draw on da Vinci’s studies of flight and pioneering work on perspective.

Participants are being invited to don a pair of VR goggles and climb into one of four specially-designed swing frames to experience the sensation of flight

The intention is to transform citizens’ engagement with the City through play, says Brendan Walker, artist and founder of Studio Go Go: ‘Lots of people work in the City of London but they don't necessarily engage with its public spaces. Volo introduces an element of play and a different lens to see spaces through. When the swings are gone, peoples’ memory of those spaces will also be transformed.’

The swings are arranged along a 'flight path' running north from St Paul's Cathedral via Smithfield Rotunda Garden, up to the Golden Lane Estate north of the Barbican. VR wearers and non-participant audience members are expected to move along the route and experience people and parts of the City they would otherwise not encounter.

‘A person on the swing wearing the VR headset on will become an unwitting performer, 10 people will stand and watch, 100 people will pass by and observe. Seeing someone playing and have a positive and transformative experience is infectious, we expect Volo to have ramifications beyond the wearer's experience,’ says Walker. It’s healthy 3D alternative to burnt sausages and champagne cocktails.

Volo is free and runs from June 18-22

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