Introduction: Shimmering Stars in Your Neighborhood

About the project:

San Francisco is a city at war with itself, and no area exemplifies this better than Central Market. Local artists complain about the tech community pushing them out, and the area now wears a deserted look. The tourist flow abruptly stops at the Hallidie Plaza, and people walking down from the crowded and vibrant Retail area will suddenly wonder if they’re still on Market Street. We wanted to turn around the area that was seen as rundown, sketchy, and struggling to one that was fun, inclusive, and safe.

To this end, our project aimed to bring the arts back to the area by creating a dance floor in the streets for both the tech and art communities to enjoy together. The dance floor lit up with lights that turn on for brief periods of time as the sensors attached detected motion and with music that played according to the frequency of movement. This resulted in not only a place of fun and vibrancy, but also a canvas for natural rhythm of lights created by the pedestrians on Market Street in the form of art using the medium of technology. With our art piece, we solved two main problems: the technology-artist interface and the tourist-locals interface.

Step 1: Materials

The list of materials we used for this project were as follows:

Item Quantity

26” clear gym ball ------------------------------------- 1

12” lampshade ----------------------------------------- 7

24” lampshade ----------------------------------------- 1

1” OD gray PVC pipe (length 10’) ----------------- 7

1.5” OD gray PVC pipe (length 10’) -------------- 1

Motion sensor light ------------------------------------ 7

36” x 24” mirror acrylic sheet ----------------------- 4

12” x 48” mylar sheet --------------------------------- 2

1lb Rockite expansion cement --------------------- 10

Concrete block ----------------------------------------- 4

9V battery ----------------------------------------------- 14

10’ Copper wire ---------------------------------------- 28

Smart phone -------------------------------------------- 1

12V geared DC motor -------------------------------- 1

1.5” OD aluminum tube (length 3”) ---------------- 1

0.85 fl oz Loctite plastic epoxy ---------------------- 2

0.14 fl oz Loctite super glue ------------------------- 4

LOKO IKEA umbrella base -------------------------- 1

Plastic sheet --------------------------------------------- 2

Duct tape roll -------------------------------------------- 3

Fishing line roll (Xtra Strong Copolymer) -------- 1

1” circle punch ------------------------------------------ 1

0.5” circle punch ---------------------------------------- 1

Bolts & nuts (pair) -------------------------------------- 8

Pipe cutter ------------------------------------------------ 1

Step 2: Design / Exploring

With a vision to make shimmering stars on Market Street, we explored various materials, including metal mesh, lamp shade and color filter. One big challenge was how can we make enough "shimmering effect" in daytime, because any light source is not strong enough compare to sun light. In the exploring process, we found a mirror ball can generate shimmering effect by taking advantage of strong sun light.

Step 3: Fabrication

Fabrication took a lot of man-hours from machining parts individually to hacking devices to fit our design, which was one center piece of a rotating mirror ball with six lights with motion sensors facing the mirror ball, all on poles so that the lights were bouncing and shimmering in the air.

Mirror ball:we wanted a huge mirror ball in the middle of the streets, but it was very expensive to buy one that was the size that we wanted it at. So we decided to make our own.

We purchased mirror acrylic sheets and laser cut circles of 3 different sizes. We also purchased reflective mylar sheets to cut out circles of 2 different sizes using circle punches of 1” and 0.5” diameters.

We then attached these circles onto a 26” clear gym ball using epoxy and superglue.

We created 8 equidistant holes on the rim of one of our 12” lampshades and put a pair of bolts and nuts onto each of the holes. Then we placed the mirror ball onto the lampshade and by looping the fishing line around the ball and the bolts on each hole of the lampshade, we were able to keep the mirror ball in place.

Base: we decided to use lamp shades to form and cover our bases for the poles to be fixed into.

Mirror ball base

We made sure that the 24” lampshade fit perfectly on top of the umbrella base, because we wanted to use it as a covering for all the electronics we would embed under the lampshade.

We created a cylinder using a plastic sheet and placed it on top of the LOKO IKEA umbrella base (we sized the plastic sheet so that it would fit under the lampshade). Then stuck the plastic onto the umbrella base using duct tape.

We poured Rockite into the cylinder to keep it in shape and to create spaces to embed our electronics into.

Motion sensor light base

We made sure that the 12” lampshade had a top opening that would fit our poles.

We created a cavity for the pole to fit into, made sure to stick duct tape on all the edges, and poured Rockite into the lampshade (up to half the height of the lampshade) with a cylindrical shape for the pipe to be assembled into later. For rapid production and weight of the bases, we broke our concrete blocks into small pieces to embed into the lampshades before pouring the Rockite mix.

We then placed the battery holder on top of the hardened Rockite (batteries would be easily replaced from the bottom, so we decided to attach it to the base) and poured more Rockite around the battery case.

We cut all the poles to the appropriate length with a pipe cutter.

For the rotational function of the mirror ball, we machined (using a mill and lathe) a joint part between DC motor and a top cup of pipe out of aluminum block, because this part should be strong enough.

Motion sensors

We hacked a security light to get a motion sensor. By taking apart of a security light, we got a circuit board, switches, LED light and a motion sensor itself.

Soldering / Wiring

We extended wires of all components to fit with a pole, and then soldered.


We assembled!!!

Step 4: Installation

The installation process mainly consisted of transportation and assembly on the spot.


We transported all parts by one car from Stanford University (our fabrication space) to Market Street.


We had 7 items in total: 6 motion sensor lighting and 1 mirror ball. These items were all in 2 parts, the base and the poles with either the mirror ball or the lights with motion sensors attached. Therefore, we had to carry these separately and assemble the poles onto the bases on the spot. We also had to power the DC motor in the mirror ball pole. One difficulty around construction was limited time frame for installation.

Step 5: Interaction

Initial Interaction

The interaction with our project was successful at first, as it lit up the sky beautifully with sparkling lights and as it played vibrant music as people passed by. The aura created with Shimmering Stars was truly that of comfort, safety, and creativity. Pedestrians enjoyed both the visual and audial effects of the project.

Final Achievement

However, as time went on, the mirror ball seemed to become an invaluable object (like a diamond) that people wanted to bring into their homes. It was the same for the smartphone embedded in our mirror ball base as well as the motion sensors and light sources. On the last day, we found most of the items, except for the bare poles and bare bases, missing. We discovered that such actions were taken as indicators of appreciation of and desire for our art pieces. So in the end, we didn’t have much to take back with us. Very sustainable, ain’t it?