Milan Design Week 2023: Previewing Google’s “Shaped by Water” Sensorial Installation

At Garage 21, an exhibition co-created by Google Design Studio; Google's Vice President of Hardware Design, Ivy Ross; and water, light and sound artist Lachlan Turczan

In addition to being an integral component to human life, water influences our connection to the planet and informs how we view everything around us. For Milan Design Week 2023, Google returns to explore water’s attributes and the way they suffuse design. Led by the Google Design Studio, Ivy Ross (vice president of design for hardware products at Google) and the immersive artist Lachlan Turczan, the installation Shaped by Waterat the Garage 21 exhibition space—features two interactive sculptures, “Sympathetic Resonance” and “Wavespace,” and much more—all in an effort to probe our understanding of the liquid.

“I have been developing my water projection technology for nearly a decade now and this exhibition was the perfect opportunity to share it with the public,” Turczan tells COOL HUNTING. “It was a joy working with the Google Design Team, who helped to create bespoke furniture that invites audiences to lie back so that their visual field is completely filled with liquid light reflections.”

This is the Google Design Team’s return to Milan Design Week after their eye-opening, emotional presence—focused on neuroaesthetics—in 2019. “Because Google Hardware is a relatively new business, Salone gives us a chance to show up as thought leaders in design, and share critical aspects of our creative process,” Ross shares with us. “For 2023, through Shaped by Water, we’re striving to do this by showing how one of the most powerful compounds in the natural world—water—served as the muse for Google’s latest hardware design.”

Ross notes that water became a source of inspiration and guidance for the Google Design Team with the onset of the pandemic—because of its vitality and resilience. They began to examine its qualities and toy with its intrinsic tension. “It’s water as a study of opposing forces: abundant yet precious, powerful yet yielding, transparent yet reflective and formless yet formative,” Ross says. Turczan’s art pieces funnel these dichotomies, which are furthered by a Google Hardware display presenting videos of how a “single drop of water served as the inspiration for the shape of our Pixel Watch and Nest Wifi Pro,” according to Ross.

Turczan and his understanding of cymatics (the science of making sound visible) was an ideal partner. “‘Sympathetic Resonance’ is an artwork that invites viewers to experience water’s sonic potential. Eleven mirrored vessels of various sizes, ranging from 2-6 feet in diameter, are filled with water to create a field of reflective dewdrops,” he says. “As audiences navigate the space, the vessels hum with infrasonic tones which create cymatic patterns on the water surface.” Turczan sees this as a type of liquid wind chime, “one that sings in response to the audience rather than the wind.”

In contrast, “‘Wavespace’ is an immersive light artwork that transports viewers into a water droplet,” he says. “Viewers lay back on recliner couches beneath a planetarium-like screen that fills your visual field with water reflections. At the center of the artwork is a small basin of water that is vibrated with choreographed infrasonic tones that move in response to music. A patented projection optic reflects light off the dancing water, which acts as a liquid lens, creating a real-time translation of sound into movements of liquid light. The result is an organic display similar to the experience of cloud-gazing or staring into a fire.”

Throughout the installation, imagination is integral. In our everyday lives, we do not pause enough to consider the sensory attributes of water beyond taste and perhaps texture. For Shaped by Water, the collaborators opened their tap of inspiration and the result is profound reflection—figurative, literal and lasting.

Shaped by Water will run from 10AM to 5:30PM, 18-23 April at Garage 21, Via Archimede 26, 20129 Milan, Italy.

Images courtesy of Google