Rainbow connection

An art installation called Rainbow Machine that connects design, art, science, engineering and innovation is brightening up days around Auckland.

The Rainbow Machine.
The Rainbow Machine was designed by Sarosh Mulla, lecturer at the School of Architecture, with sculptor and designer Shahriar Asdollah-Zadeh and architect Patrick Loo.

A team made up of staff and alumni from the University has won a major design award for their interactive art installation that “makes rainbows”.

Rainbow Machine was installed at Silo Park for the first time in January this year. Since then it has been to MOTAT and is now back at Silo Park until February.

It was designed by Sarosh Mulla, lecturer at the School of Architecture, with Elam post-graduate sculptor and designer Shahriar Asdollah-Zadeh, and Patrick Loo, an architect who recently completed a masters in commercialisation and entrepreneurship at the University.

The three studied together at Creative Arts and Industries (CAI) during their undergraduate years: Sarosh and Patrick at the School of Architecture while Shahriar was at Elam.

The team of designers, artists and architects had been approached by Auckland Council and the Waitematā Local Board, which was looking to create opportunities for fun, discovery and the unexpected in the city centre, for children and their families.

“All of us have a history of working on projects that challenge our usual disciplinary boundaries, but Rainbow Machine was the biggest project we’ve worked on together,” says Sarosh.

“Our friendship and collaborative creative process began forming in our university years and has continued into our professional design practices,” says Shahriar.

Children look through Rainbow Machine to see the prisms of light.
Children look through Rainbow Machine to see the prisms of light.

Rainbow Machine is an immersive experience of natural light through interactive play.



Shahriar Asdollah-Zadeh Elam post-graduate sculptor and designer

Rainbow Machine was awarded a Purple Pin from Design Institute New Zealand (DINZ) in the Spatial class. Previous Purple Pin winners in the same category include the Waterview Connection (2018), the space in the National Library where Te Tiriti o Waitangi is displayed (2017) and Auckland’s pink bicycle Te Ara I Whītī Lightpath (2016). Rainbow Machine also won three Gold Pins in three categories within the same class.

All three creatives say they are attracted to unusual projects and exhibitions that demand innovative solutions.

“I enjoy working on installations, artworks and more traditional pieces of architecture because they all present different problems to solve and creative opportunities,” says Sarosh.

Rainbow Machine allows participants to capture the essence of light and its colour spectrum, by turning the cone toward the sun. Its form is redolent of the types of mechanical devices often found in children’s playgrounds, with elements (such as the wheels) positioned and shaped to encourage curiosity and intuitive interaction.

“Rainbow Machine is an immersive experience of natural light through interactive play,” says Shahriar.

The cone position is scaled for a child, but also accessible for adults, and painted a vibrant yellow, picking up on the colour we associate with the sun, as well as happiness and play.
The artist team were inspired by the studio of Olafur Eliasson. His light installation artworks, which span several decades, were a point of research.

“We always wanted to do something with rainbows and the colour spectrum and when we came across Eliasson’s works, we knew we were working with the right medium – light,” says Shahriar.

The Rainbow Machine connects design, art, science, engineering and innovation. Scientists from Callaghan Innovation brought their expertise to the design of the optical module from which rainbow spectra are formed. The module contains eight custom-made lenses to refract light.

“We’re fortunate to have had the chance to collaborate with an impressive group of experts from physicists, fabricators and engineers in order to bring the project to life,” says Patrick.
The machine is a mobile structure that can be programmed as a site-specific installation in different locations.

“The design bridges the gap between contemporary play-space design and interactive experience and provides a simple way for people of all ages and abilities to enjoy one of nature’s most intriguing phenomena,” says Sarosh.

The DINZ judges said of the work: “So unexpected. It did not exist in the world until now. It is its own language and typology. This ray of sunshine injects joy into space. In fact, it creates its own spatial dynamic wherever it goes.”