Bus-Tops: London, screens and the Olympics

September 13, 2010

Back in January, I was approached by Art Public and asked to build an application and website as part of their Bus-Tops project. This has just gone live over at http://bus-tops.com/shelters/, so it seems like a good time to talk about the project.

Bus-Tops is part of the Cultural Olympiad, and benefited from a grant from Artists Taking The Lead, a nationwide series of arts projects sponsored by the Arts Council and London 2012. In short, we’re putting screens on the top of bus stops across London, and we’re going to let people play with them.

One part of the first stage of the project has been choosing where to put these screens, so I designed and built the Shelters site at http://bus-tops.com/shelters/, which lets Londoners register and comment on all the (2-bay) stops in the capital, and pick a top 3 they’d like to see screens installed on. The visual design of the site has been significantly enhanced by Nicolas Myers and the rest of the Bus-Tops team.

I’m incredibly excited about this project, because it brings together so many of my interests, particularly in the possibilities of networked storytelling, and in the city itself. If, as many futures admit, the city will soon be infested with screens (see writings by Chris Heathcote and Adam Greenfield) then I think we’re in a wonderful position to get some out early and say to the public: you have a right to this space too. To talk about the city, the environment, about surveillance and social history—about a huge range of things, in unexpected and delightful ways.

Over the last few months of the project, my role has been slowly changing from a primarily technical one to something more creative. I’m now the Narrative Lead, an odd title which means I’m looking at ways to wrap all the aspects of this project into a single, coherent narrative, that both explains itself, and excites and guides the public into participating. I’m wary of the clichés of “public art”, which I haven’t been shy of attacking in the past, but I believe there are aspects of this project which enable us to overcome them. The other folk on the project are brilliant and uncompromising, and we’re all going to do our best to make it extraordinary.

There are 33 boroughs in London—I’ve lived here all my life and I didn’t realise that. There’s going to be at least one screen in every borough, a multi-headed networked beast emerging all over the city, outwith individual or governmental control. It’s going to be fun.


  1. Oh, fantastic project! Reminds me of mayor Delanoe’s basic black LED screens in Paris. Most of the time these just give out information about festivals or traffic news but on Valentine’s day they blink out lonely hearts ads and Parisiens are also allowed to put up their own messages(http://tinyurl.com/37a5glg). Sure these are usually about some kind of event but I sometimes see fragments of poetry, personal messages… A real way for Parisiens to write their city.

    Comment by badaude — September 13, 2010 @ 1:46 pm

  2. […] Bus-Tops: London, screens and the Olympics | booktwo.org"we?re putting screens on the top of bus stops across London, and we?re going to let people play with them."(tags:design art cities ) […]

    Pingback by Warren Ellis » Links for 2010-09-13 — September 13, 2010 @ 6:00 pm

  3. Sterling work, but might I suggest a correction to para. 2, line 1? ‘Benefited’ needs just the one t. (And Badaude can’t spell ‘Parisian’.) yours in not seeing the wood for the trees, Shryane, D.

    Comment by Dominic Shryane — September 14, 2010 @ 11:07 am

  4. In my case your pedantry is justified, but Badaude is a parisienne and as such is quite justified in her spelling. Enjoy the woods.

    Comment by James Bridle — September 14, 2010 @ 11:11 am

  5. Was using the french spelling, silly I know…

    Comment by badaude — September 14, 2010 @ 11:42 am

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