On Tuesday, January 8th, 2019, the Maritime Authorities of Barcelona prevented Open Arms' ship from leaving the port of Barcelona. By blocking their ship, they have already let 419 people die in the Mediterranean.

Open Arms is a non-governmental, non-profit organization whose main mission is to protect, by having a presence at sea, those people who try to reach Europe fleeing from war, persecution or poverty. Their goal is to save lives and ensure no refugee is adrift or at the bottom of the sea.

However, the Maritime Authorities of Barcelona prevented their ship from leaving the port of Barcelona and have already let 419 people die in the Mediterranean. For Barcelona's annual llum festival hackathon, Hack the Light Up, our team chose to design and create an interactive hack on Barcelona's iconic Agbar Tower, to bring light to this issue.

Feb. 2019

Motion Design Experience Design Strategy


Priscilla Li
Maria Joseph
Manuela Pereira

Ludwig Camarillo
Hadi Hissi
Albin Correya

Leo Da Costa
Miguel Sanchez

Since the hackathon only lasted 1.5 days, we quickly began brainstorming and realized that our original idea of gamifying our message would not be possible due to the limitations of the Agbar tower.

Prior to the start of the hackathon we were given technical constraints on the Agbar tower. For example, the windows of the Agbar tower were not squares, and were 4 meter by 1 meter rectangles. The 15 top and bottom floors of the tower could not be used for display. Additionally, the tower has a default color skin that could be removed, and any color we projected onto the tower would be layered on top of existing colors. This meant that if the tower's default skin has sections of red, if we wanted to display white it would appear as pink.

Our initial concept was to create an interactive game on the Agbar tower, where the game scene starts off with moving waves representing the sea, an unmoving red ship representing the detained Open Arms ship, white squares in the sea representing the refugees waiting to be rescued, and a counter at the top reflecting how many refugees were rescued in-game. We envisioned that visitors of our installation could send a tweet with the hash tag '#freeopenarms' to increase the counter.

However, due to technical constraints of the Agbar tower, and political issues of projecting '#freeopenarms' hashtag onto the tower we had to modify and simplify our original concept.

We had one chance to test our animated message on the Agbar tower at the end of the first day of the hackathon, as a result we rapidly prototyped many variations of colors, ships, waves and animations.

Although we were able to test some of our prototypes on the Agbar tower simulator, when we tested them on the actual tower we ran into unforeseen issues. Even though we accounted for the Agbar tower's skin color, we did not account for offices in the tower that were illuminated causing specks of white to appear in our designs. We also did not expect the colors we selected to appear so light due to the surrounding light pollution.

We decided to present the issue in a symbolic manner where the ship starts off unmoving and as users tweet '#freetheship' or tap the on-site web interface, the ship begins to move - showing that support for the cause will free Open Arms' ship.

Our resulting animation sequence starts off with a yellow circle rotating near the top of the tower, which symbolizes a lighthouse guiding those lost at sea home. The sequence continues with the yellow circle speeding up before red stripes of the lighthouse spirals in. Afterwards a blue wave rises up from the bottom of the tower, and settles into a scene with an active sea and a still red ship. The hash tag '#freetheship' is displayed in red uppercase letters and rotates around the bottom of the tower.

The ship starts off unmoving, and as users begin to tweet '#freetheship' or tap the on-site web interface, the ship begins to move around the tower. This symbolizes that as we garner support for the cause, we are one step closer to freeing Proactiva Open Arm's ship, and allowing them to continue rescuing refugees in the Aegean and Central Mediterranean sea.

Our hack won the most socially impactful award and was displayed on the Agbar Tower as part of Barcelona's Llum Festival.

Through our hack, the hashtag '#freeopenarms' made its way onto Twitter's trendsmap in Barcelona, and the attendees at the llum festival enthusiastically supported Open Arms' after interacting with our design. Although our hack won as the most socially impactful idea, our real award came three months later when Open Arms' detained ship was finally freed.

On April 23rd, 2019, three months after Open Arms ship was detained, their ships were able to start their engines again and continue to rescue those in need. Learn more about Open Arms and donate to their cause.