Architect Giacomo Gastagnola and I created the world’s largest interactive city diorama right here in the City of Long Beach. This interactive diorama taps into the mental and physical ways people understand the city and transfer information through their body. The diorama is designed to make participants physically interact with it through various positions and break the normal way which people interface with the built environment.
The diorama measures 40 feet by 30 feet and 10 feet high and takes up the entire gallery. The diorama celebrates this city by copying it its topography and captures the many perspectives and physical activities you can have here. You can dive under the harbor without getting wet, you can lie down under the city, you can explore and graffiti inside Signal Hill, and you can view the city from its highest point.
The installation is designed in three parts: the Long Beach Harbor/beach, the street patterns, and Signal Hill. These parts are separated by walkways. Long Beach Harbor and beach is located along the window wall of the gallery. The city streets are located in the center of the gallery, while the back wall of the gallery locates Signal Hill. This design embraces the architecture elements of the gallery and transforms them to urban elements of the diorama.
Long Beach Harbor and beach was created by five, 4 feet and 4 feet tables placed in a row against the window wall. The 40-inch height of the tables is the same as the first row of window mullions. The tables are steel bases with Plexiglas tops. The Plexiglas tops are cover in blue transparent vinyl. The first band of window mullions is also covered in with blue cellophane with creates the look and feel of water. Under the tables a beige carpet was installed to mimic beach sand. The carpet was placed on the floor against the window wall running the length of the gallery. The carpet was cut in a subtle wave pattern to break up the right angles of the tables and windows. White beanbags were installed under the tables to encourage people to investigate under water life or relax and read a book.
The city of Long Beach portion of the installation is twelve feet by twelve feet and is placed in the center of the gallery between the harbor/beach and Signal Hill. This placement of the city mimics the geography of the city. The city is designed in an H pattern. Seven forty inch, 4ft by 4ft tables form this pattern. People are encouraged to walk into the city in the center areas of the H.
The 40-inch high tables keep in line with the harbor. They are made of wood. One table top, however is Plexiglas and under it was designed a wood lounge chair. People are encouraged to lie under the table and look up to the city through the transparent streets.
The Long Beach street pattern is a grid however I took artistic license added some diagonal streets to add interest to the street pattern. The streets are 2 inches wide with medians place in the center of some. The block sizes are generally four inches by six inches. Numerous parks were added to the model.
Hundreds of small and large one inch scale buildings made from recycled materials were placed on the city blocks. Additional buildings were placed on the two selves in the gallery. Participants are encouraged to move the building around and create a their own city. By using their hands and minds participants are doing urban planning!
Six tables tops form the overall street pattern of Long Beach. On one table top thousands of colorful, small vibrant, oddly shaped materials are placed to allow for creative thinking! Here people can think out of the constraints we created and design their own city, buildings, activities or uses.
Signal Hill portion of the model was placed against the back wall of the gallery. It is twelve feet wide and eight feet deep and is the highest part of the installation. It is made of steel and plywood. The top is one flat top with sloping sides on three sides. On the top of hill was created with wire mesh and moss to copy the dry Mediterranean landscape. Oil wells were created and placed in this landscape. In back of Signal is a series a stairs with allows the participants to walk up the hill and view the overall city from this vantage point.
In addition people can walk in side the oil rich hill as if they were entering a back holeThe underside of hill was painted black. Participants are provided calk and encourage to graffiti it. Black beanbags were placed inside hill to allow people to contemplate the intimate space.
These three ecologies capture the essences of Long Beach and encourage discovery of the city.
This interactive model sets a new precedent for dioramas. Cities like New York, Berlin, Boston, Havana, and many other others have dioramas. These city dioramas are large, precise models of the city street patterns and building. They are usually made of wood, clay, or other materials and many are colorless. They capture the over all form of the city. People can view but not touch these models. Therefore, mainly urban planners, architects and urban enthusiasts visit theses models.
Cities are messy, engaging, creative and rich information, which the Long Beach Diorama captures in its design and interactions. Every city’s planning department should have one to encourage more people to get involved in creating better places.
The diorama is an experience!
421 West Broadway
Long Beach, CA 90802
Hours of Operation:
Wednesday through Friday: 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Thursday: 11:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday: 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Phone: (562) 590-9119