Relativator - CODAworx


Client: San Diego Airport Authority

Location: San Diego, CA, United States

Completion date: 2017

Artwork budget: $160,000

Project Team

Architectural-Arts Collaboration

Principal Architect

SGPA Architecture

Software and hardware design

Jeff Lubow

CNMAT Lab, UC Berkeley

Full project collaboration from Concept to Design and Administration.

Louise Bertelsen

Living Lenses Artist Team

Lead Artist full participation

Po Shu Wang

Living Lenses Artist Team

Public Art Agent

Constance White, Project Manager

San Deigo Office of Arts and Culture


RELATIVATOR is the contraction of Relativity and Elevator.
Our team transformed this airport elevator into a walk-in experiential journey where riders can tangibly couple their bodily sensations while witnessing their weight change (via a weight meter inlay in the cap floor) in realtime, an intimate person bodily confirmation of Einstein’s Equivalence Principle: Gravity = Acceleration, which he aptly came to it through his famous ‘elevator thought experiment’. And from there, his General Relativity Theory.
The was only possible because our collaboration began early with the SGPA Architect Team from their 25% design doc. stage. With SGPA full support, we still have to consider ourselves lucky, to have gotten permission to integrate the artwork right into the functionality of the elevator within the context of airport security. This kind of deep integration between the site’s dynamic function and the community is the main mission goal for my personal approach to public art in general.
Once this often most difficult goal is fulfilled, the aesthetic integration usually emerged organically. As in this case, we applied a ‘binary story of the Equivalent Principle’ to be spelled out with its long strings 0s and 1s, printed onto pages of dichroic films, and laminated to the entire surfaces of both the shaft and the cab of this glass elevator.


Given an elevator at the airport, a moving site for the artwork, our musing wandered out a bit and settled at the realization that this humble elevator ride has already all the characteristic physics and sensations that a plane ride would give us. Acceleration, deceleration, and inertia when we can actually get up and walk around the aisle as if on a 'stationary' ground.
The verticality of this small flight naturally turned our curiosity to Einstein's thought experiment in his hypothetical elevator. And from there, our goal was to create a work for the passengers that would offer them the intimate physical in person proof of Einstein's Equivalent Principle, by way of taking Einstein's thought experiment out of his head and fleshes it out onto the bodily sensations of a momentarily captive audience with places to go, all so transient.


As we started early with the SGPA Architect Team and got a lot moral support from them to our logically somewhat touch and go concept to be worked out.
Also, luckily the airport authority was opened to try a new way of integration, so came on board and actually put it as a condition that the elevator contractors would work with us on it, as it would mean a customized standard elevator to be purchased, not business as usual for them.
We did have one set back or our original concept of using a holographic glass laminate film where our 1s and 0s with constantly be switching to its opposites and back, and making our Equivalent Principle story much of a mystery. But for airport's contractual reason and their subcontractor has no such knowledge to do that laminate, after several tries they declared it impossible and they obviously not funded to hire a separate team to do just the laminate. But they did collaborated well and given very provide dimensional parameter so that we can provide the with exact dimensions for all the films.
All and all, there is a set back of the decorative elements, but we managed to the main integration of the work realized.

Additional Information

We learn in this project, to paraphrase, '"There is no small parts but only small actors". That is possible only within the right supportive environments and overall teams' and client's openness toward experimenting.