This new installation reimagines the iconic piano scene in ‘Big’ for the socially distant era

By Elizabeth Segran

December 23, 2020

Staying six feet apart from our fellow humans will continue to be a fact of life in 2021, even as COVID-19 vaccines roll out. And yet, around the world, people are feeling collective exhaustion about coronavirus restrictions and are more likely to let their guard down.

Surveys have shown that people’s adherence to social distancing guidelines is slipping, so Japanese designer Eisuke Tachikawa is taking on this pandemic fatigue by making social distancing more fun, engaging, and even a channel for self-expression.

He’s created a giant interactive piano score on the floor of Japan’s Yokohama Minato Mirai concert hall. The notes are spread at least six feet apart, but as you walk on them, they play the score of Gymnopédie No. 1 by French composer Erik Satie. But you don’t have to follow the notes as they’re laid out. If you decide to go off the predetermined track, you can create your own tunes. It’s similar to the beloved scene in the movie Big where Tom Hanks plays a piano on the floor of New York toy store FAO Schwarz.

Tachikawa is the lead designer at the firm Nosigner, which uses a range of design disciplines on projects geared toward social change. Nosigner recently launched a platform called Pandaid, a wiki-like collaborative website where people can share information about the coronavirus. The site’s funny posters about social distancing became a viral sensation in Japan. One features the iconic image of the Beatles walking across Abbey Road, urging people to stay “1 Beatle apart.” These efforts inspired Tachikawa to launch this new project, which is designed to approach social distancing with humor and creativity.

Around the world, we’ve seen many creative solutions to social distancing. In the U.S., for example, Brooklyn’s Domino Park painted literal circles in the grass, marking places where visitors could enjoy the park safely distanced, while a Maryland bar seated customers in jumbo inner tubes. Tachikawa’s project might just inspire designers to incorporate music into their social distancing experiments as well.