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Case Studies

The Garden of Light comes to the McArthurGlen Designer Outlet

Light and pixel technology specialist Pixel Artworks has designed a multi-sensory install at a popular retail outlet in Kent that draws inspiration from its natural surroundings. Duncan Proctor was given the chance to see the installation as part of the first tour group

The Garden of Light uses the latest LED pixel lighting and immersive audio technology to create a 360° virtual garden environment and is part of the expansion of the McArthurGlen Designer Outlet in Ashford. 

In tribute to Kent’s status as the ‘Garden of England’, The Garden of Light provides shoppers with a multi-dimensional walkthrough experience designed to stimulate the senses and reflect on visitors’ connection with nature. The experience will also feature Europe’s largest living wall installation, made up of more than 120,000 plants. The experience is free to the public with visitors encouraged to donate money towards building a sensory garden for the William Harvey Hospital at the end of the walkthrough. 


On the original brief, and how close the final install is to that brief, Riaz Farooq, creative director at Pixel Artworks, explains: “The journey of creation has been a partnership with McArthurGlen, they approached us to create and concept a multi-sensory, truly immersive experience which would be a first-of-its-kind in a shopping destination. Drawing inspiration from the surrounding heritage of Kent being the Garden of England and the installation of the largest living wall in Europe at Ashford Designer Outlet, we felt we should continue this theme in this space. Now that the installation is open we’ve had the opportunity to reflect, we can honestly say the original concept is almost identical to the finished product. We generally pride ourselves at Pixel Artworks on not proposing ideas we can’t deliver.”

Light is the key factor of the installation, and the immersive and interactive experience offers shoppers a journey into a secret garden through projection and LED, with elements of winter, spring, summer and autumn accompanying their journey.

Where there any other projects the team had in mind when working on The Garden of Light? “We’ve created many 360 immersive experiences, our own showroom is a great example and of course, worked with interactivity, we recently did a project for Bombay Sapphire in which PIR sensors picked up movement from a visitor triggering the content to change,” states Farooq. “We’ve previously created interactive natural environments  – but most of these projects have not been in the public domain. We’ve always wanted to design a more art-exhibition-like project, this really is it, this project also allowed us to freely showcase our creativity and how wide our breadth of technology is. I personally have visualised elements of this kind for other jobs, every project is about looking at what you’ve done and making it better.

The journey begins

Visitors enter through a light filled wintery tunnel, with visible light rays cascading through the walls and floor. At the end of the tunnel, a rear projection display presents visitors with a macro winter scene, that comes to life with colour through interactive hand gestures and touch, revealing a bright spring scene.

Stepping into spring, a fresh woodland scent fills the space to fully immerse shoppers with the surroundings. The journey from spring to summer offers visitors colourful and rich projections on all planes of the room. At the centrepiece of the attraction is a tree connecting the floor to the ceiling with light chasing upwards to the 10m wide canopy. The inside of the trunk reveals an LED kaleidoscopic light show displaying a deep celestial scene.

Throughout the immersive experience, moving particle elements invite visitors to explore with interactive zones on the floor and walls and play with interactive content. The LED within the tree trunk is brought to life from these actions, sending light further into the canopy.

There’s a constant soundscape of melodies throughout, while individual sounds can be triggered through spatial and gestural interactions.

An interactive path from summer leads into an autumnal setting, where an overhead LED light sculpture creates shadows of falling leaves that gust and gesture guests towards the exit, accompanied by the sound of rustling leaves.

“Producing The Garden of Light has truly been a creative journey through a multitude of artistic and technological disciplines,” comments Farooq. “Collectively we have explored the boundaries of motion design and real-time graphics, effectively creating a living game-like environment, full of discovery and play.”

Quick turnaround

As for the timescale for the project, Clarisse O’Dell, technology consultant, Pixel Artworks, explains: “The full timeline was around six months but the install was only three months, this is an extremely quick turnaround. There wasn’t any leeway here as we needed to meet Ashford Designer Outlet’s Christmas campaign launch on 7th November. 

“There are always challenges when working to short timeframes, and with this deadline there wasn’t much room for error in terms of look, feel and end result. Our main challenge was allowing time for sign off with the client, however with our workflow we were able to pre-visualise a full virtual walkthrough showcasing space, creative and interactions, gaining sign off before the set was up.”

The Pixel Artworks team used TouchDesigner (TD), a powerful visual development tool, to combine projected visuals, pixel lighting and intuitive interactions. TD also facilitated the management of multiple arrays of continuous projector outputs on several canvases – all vastly different in nature. In total, 16 projectors will create over 200,000 lumens throughout the installation. 

“The whole project is based on light and bespoke interactive technology – technology really is the success of this project,” says O’Dell. “But the newest and most technically advanced elements of the project was the ability to integrate of Notch and TouchDesigner in a completely new way. We combined TouchDesigner and Notch to create a bespoke system which integrates various pieces of software and hardware necessary to drive animations, audio, lighting and smell. Hardware includes Lidar sensors, PIR sensors, projection, spatial audio system and LEDS. Software includes Notch which generates realtime, generative animations.

“Real-time generative content has been a focal point of achieving a beautifully fluid, unique experience in the space – something we’ve only seen achievable to this extent in Notch,” said Haaziq Farook, senior technology consultant. “The recent integration into TD opens up a new world for us in this installation. We’ve manipulated incoming sensor data using TD, and affected parameters in Notch inside a single project. The net result is an optimised workflow to output precisely triggered, high quality motion graphics.”

On the day-to-day handling of the system, O’Dell adds: “There is a sophisticated show control system which allows anybody to operate the show at the press of a button on a tablet. All the elements in the system can be maintained remotely so that it doesn’t require somebody on site permanently.”

The power of light

Peter Corr, centre manager at McArthurGlen Designer Outlet Ashford, comments: “In celebration of the £90 million expansion opening this autumn, we wanted to offer visitors a brand new experience. With The Garden of Light guests can expect to journey into a virtual garden of discovery, exploring nature’s four seasons represented through the power of light. We are committed to elevating our guests shopping experience and we are thrilled to be partnering with Pixel Artwork to deliver a unique multi-sensory installation to McArthurGlen Designer Outlet Ashford.”

Laurence White, business director, Pixel Artworks, adds: “We were excited by McArthurGlen’s proposal from the outset. The scope to design and deliver all aspects of a unique shared immersive experience ticked all our boxes. It has been a joy to collaborate in partnership with McArthurGlen to make this project become a reality.”