Sound Tree

The Challenge

Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center in Boston is known for its unique history and excellent care for children. The hospital began as a ship that sailed the Boston Harbor providing care to children in the late 19th century. Now the hospital is located in downtown Boston but still uses the name as well as the nautical theme for much of its interiors. We were brought in as a part of Nail Communications branding and communication plan for the hospital. This included revamping sections of the hospital to make them more vibrant and align with the central theme of ‘You don’t have to be big to be strong’. A set of animal friends called Toughlings were developed to push this idea forward. Our responsibility was to create a physical intervention to complement the toughlings and the messaging created by Nail. In keeping with our mission, our decision was to create a calming interactive light and sound piece that alleviates anxiety and provides a much needed distraction and relief to the children and adults who are visiting the hospital. We selected the entrance lobby of the Floating hospital to create this intervention and identified a 9-foot wide cylindrical glass brick structure in the middle of the main lobby to install it in. We utilized the light diffusion of the glass bricks and the space’s acoustic elements to create what we call the Sound Tree.

The Solution

The Sound Tree is an interactive sound and light tree. It is meant to create a calm and soothing, yet fun environment for anyone who walks under it and engages with it. The tree is made of nine branches or fins, and lined with lights that cycle through rgb colors at a slow and steady pace to encourage a tranquil setting. When a user enters the glass brick structure and walks around the tree, the sensors located on the top of the tree sense the person and trigger sounds of the ocean and the harbor, and change the color of the lights so that it follows the user. For a few moments one is transported to the seashore by the soothing sounds of waves by the beach, birds singing and flying through the air, and cheerful sound of playful dolphins. With the Sound Tree, we aim to promote a serene environment for everyone to enjoy; whether you are a patient going through recovery, or a family member eagerly waiting for the results of your loved one.

The Technical Details

The tree is made of laminated MDF with a textured stainless steel flooring. The project uses addressable RGB LEDs, IR sensors, speakers, raspberry pi and arduino microcontrollers, and a central media server. The sensor modules are controlled with arduino and raspberry pis creating interactivity controlled by a the media server running MAX MSP and Open Frameworks.

Partnerships & Community

The project was commissioned by the Floating Hospital for Children and Nail Communications. The hardware and physical fabrication was done by Brooklyn Research. The metal components were fabricated by Dash 7 Design and Stella Metals. The project was installed onsite by Stella Metals.

Commissioning Partner

Floating Hospital for Children and Nail Communications.


Strategic Overview, Concept Design, Physical Design


Completed Feb 2016


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