Portal Photo

No one has cracked teleportation quite yet. But one team has created a sci-fi-inspired installation that offers people a spectacular new view into another city—no passport or travel required. Part art exhibit, part interactive social experiment, Portal was created by the Benediktas Gylys Foundation as a “new wave community accelerator” to promote a sense of unity and encourage people to look beyond the “extremely viral polarizing ideas and narratives” in today’s society. Equipped with large screens and cameras, the 11-ton, 3-meter-wide (9.8-foot) structures broadcast real-time, life-size images between two cities—giving passersby a virtual window into another land.

It took five years for the team to design, manufacture and install the pair of digital portals: one in Vilnius, Lithuania and another in Lublin, Poland, some 605 kilometers (376 miles) away.

The project was designed as “an invitation to rise above the illusion of us and them,” and encourage people to rethink the feeling of unity, says tech investor and author Benediktas Gylys, who’s also president of the foundation behind the project.

But translating his high-concept idea into its real-world design required the team to lean into some creative problem-solving, enlisting engineers from the Vilnius Gediminas Technical University and collaborating with leaders from the two cities.

“From design, 3D modeling to digital content development and logistic challenges—a project like this requires a broad and multifunctional team,” says Adas Meškėnas, head of the the university’s Creativity and Innovation Centre. “When diverse people succeed in working together … meaningful projects are born.”

To evoke the idea of travel between time and space, the team chose to build the bridge in the shape of that iconic sci-fi symbol for teleportation: a circle. Yet the concept presented many design challenges, including fitting all the complex electronics inside the minimalist design, while also ensuring the structure’s longevity and minimizing the potential for vandalism. By testing different materials and designs, the team eventually chose a mix of concrete, stainless steel and tempered glass for construction. Nailing down the elements ultimately meant stripping out inessentials, including a feature that would’ve caused one portal to vibrate when someone touched its twin. 
After six months of testing iterative prototypes, developers spent another full year scaling up the portals from 3D models for their debut installation in May.  

The concept is no doubt suited to the times, with pandemic-weary folks craving connection. But the team is already planning for a future when the two-way portals might be installed permanently in cities all over the world. Next up: The Lublin portal is slated to be moved this month, with portals also planned in London and Reykjavik.

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