Designing the White Night Experience

Maeve Wood

The people of Melbourne, Australia need little encouragement to fill the city streets. From social movements such as Occupy Melbourne though to the enduringly popular Moomba parade, Melbournians are drawn to physically connect with their city centre. The much anticipated ‘White Night’ graced the streets of Melbourne on 22 February. Over 500,000 people filled the crowded streets of Melbourne for a night of art and culture. White Night and the streets of Melbourne melded together creating a sensual array of design experiences.

The concept was first developed in Paris, France in 2002 and has since inspired many cities around the world. For one night Melbourne was turned into an illuminated spectacular from 7pm to 7am. Throughout the 12 hours, famous landmarks and city streets burst with cultural exhibitions and performances. The sensory nature of the outdoor installations and lighting projections created a sense of connection between the physical spaces and those roaming the streets.  The alcohol free family friendly event provided accessibility across all age groups.

Organisers were delighted with attendance numbers.  The popularity of White Night reflects the great relationship Melbournians have with the arts. Theatre, music, performance, exhibitions, food, festivals and exhibitions are the essence of Melbourne culture.  Over one summer evening, White Night captured all those experiences in one event. White Night allowed the creative innovation that Melbourne has to offer to be showcased to thousands of individuals. Artistic Director Andrew Walsh believes the event invigorates the city centre to its full potential and allows the crowd to discover the undiscovered, ultimately giving the night back to the people. The target audience for Melbourne’s White Night is families, youths and everything in between. The organisers strive to provide something for everyone.

Highlights of the evening included French artist Pierre Ardouvin’s installation ‘Purple Rain’. People walked through the RMIT University courtyard with a clear umbrella as purple rain poured down. The physical experience was not only spectacular to watch but the soundtrack provided an eerie yet intriguing sound that Ardouvin describes as ‘piercing’. This event was extremely popular throughout the night with a steady line during the peak hours.

Another popular highlight was the Wonderland projections on Flinders Street by the Electric Canvas group. The colourful projections were both playful and mesmerizing. People stood to watch well-known buildings light up in a new and fantastic experience. Many musical acts were showcased across the whole night at Federation Square and stages set up throughout the closed off streets. A musical highlight was the local ten-piece instrumental funk/soul band Cactus Channel who performed to an appreciative crowd at a main stage next to the State Library of Victoria.

Electric Canvas also provided a visual focus of the night, ‘Tattooed City’.  The external walls of the National Gallery of Victoria provided a backdrop for giant projected images of tattooed people from Melbourne. The images provided a beautiful display of this under rated art form through remarkable design work on the building. Tattooed City was extremely popular due to Melbourne’s love of street art and decoration. Thousands of people stood to watch the protections of these people in minimal clothing turn to bare their tattoos in every shape and form. The raw exposure was an exceptionally powerful experience to watch.

Social media commentary was very active on the night. Many people commented on the long lines and crowded streets, which organisers have already promised to address for next year. Public transport was available all night but was limited in some areas. Police reported few arrests on the night for drunken and violent behavior. Walsh praised the joyful crowd dynamic of family and friends believing it left little tolerance for bad behavior. The long lines for venues and bars discouraged many people from extreme alcohol consumption.

The event was an experiential feast of interactivity involving listening, looking, laughing, moving and eating.  Experiences were designed to connect interest areas around physical proximity pathways. Organisers encouraged people to create individualized routes of interest online before commencing the expedition. Culture, food and art were combined to connect to the people to provide a night like no other. All of these aspects together delivered an amazing evening that was extremely memorable for the guests. The differentiating layers give the event depth and meaning to the personal journey of the evening.

Melbourne is the perfect environment for a large-scale event such as White Night. The grid-like city provides wide streets and footpaths which gives it an edge on other cities around the globe. Melbourne’s 2015 White Night preparations are already under way.

Images by Fresh Photography Melbourne 2014