Interactive lighting using plants

Sonnengarten is a light installation with human-plant interaction developed for the light and science festival CityVisions which took place for four days in October 2015 in Jena (Germany). The installation was located in the courtyard of a modern architecture building from concrete and steel. The courtyard serves as a place to linger as well as a throughway to other roads and plazas.

Two main ideas motivated the project. One was to raise visitor’s awareness of nature via Human-Plant Interaction, creating a symbolic communication channel between nature and user. Furthermore, the installation was to increase the overall attractiveness of the place and to entice people to stay for longer. The site owners also requested us to make the courtyard more visible in order to highlight its function as a passage way between two destinations in the city.

Interaction design

For the interaction design plants were chosen in order to raise the awareness for nature and emphasise one's own impact on the environment. When touching a plant, the corresponding light lost its brightness and the plants below became dark. In general, it is hard to see plants react to environmental influences in everyday life because of their slow but steady movements. The visual light reaction to touching a plant was to provide a symbolic possibility for the plants to communicate with the person interacting and to highlight how a simple touch affects it.


Reactions of the public

Sonnengarten offered diverse possibilities of exploration and it was intentionally aimed to trigger visitors’ curiosity. Besides of direct interaction, observing the light effects triggered by other people can effect the experience of the location. The courtyard’s layout further created different spaces where visitors could explore the installation from different angles and see different views. During the festival we witnessed different approaches of use. Some visitors briefly interacted with the plants and continued their way after figuring out what happened. Others stayed considerably longer and tried out different ways of interaction and various positions. Also, the technical implementation attracted considerable interest.




Till Fastnacht, Abraham Ornelas Aispuro, Johannes Marschall, Patrick Tobias Fischer, Sabine Zierold, Eva Hornecker. Sonnengarten - Urban Light Installation with Human-Plant Interaction. Adjunct Proc. of UbiComp'16, the ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing, pp. 53-56.



Carl Zeiss eG
Public Art Lab e.V.

City Culture Science Lab Jena

Production Team:
Johannes Marschall (Concept, Construction Planning)
Abraham Orneals (Concept, Construction Planning)
Till Fastnacht (Project Management, Interaction)

Patrick Tobias Fischer (PM, IxD)
Johann Gielen (Lighting Design)

Curated by:
Susa Pop (Public Art Lab)

Research support:
Dr.-Ing. Sabine Zierold (MedienArchitektur)
Prof. Andreas Kästner (Architektur)
Prof. Dr. sc.hum. Jens Geelhaar (ID)
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Eva Hornecker (HCI)
Dr. Patrick Tobias Fischer (Urban HCI)

Georg Müller (Culture Care)
Leslie Garcia (Pulsum Plantae)

Construction Team:
Emir Genc
Afroditi Manari
Dima Meiqari
Majd Murad
Dhora Tego
Maria Estel
Ramiah Lemma
Shubhra Bhasker

Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BmBF)