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“Strange Lenses” to distort Market Street until 2018

Downtown is getting weirder

The Market Street Prototyping Festival has come and gone...but not completely. A few installations proved popular enough that they’ll be left in place for two more years, including Autodesk protege Robb Godshaw’s Strange Lenses.

Strange Lenses is almost self-explanatory: It’s a kiosk with nine windows, each of them one of Godshaw’s custom-made lenses that changes the image on the other side into some singular shape.

Essentially they’re fun house mirrors that require two people: You can’t see your own weirded out face in the glass, but you can see whoever is on the other side. (In the video below you’ll find an earlier version of the project.)

“You approach it expecting a mirror, but that’s not what you get,” Godshaw told Curbed SF when asked about his installation’s allure for pedestrians.

“You realize you need to convince a stranger to look at you for it to work. People start interacting. It gets intriguing.”

Godshaw made the first lenses by accident while trying to create parts for his previous project, a robot that tracks the moon everywhere it goes. (It makes sense when he explains it...)

Several of the 3D printed silicon lenses came out defective. Which got him to thinking.

To make a new lens, Godshaw first creates a 3D model of his own head by taking selfies from every angle.

Then he uses a computer program that mimics the way light travels through silicon to model a piece of silicon that will create whatever effect on his 3D head he has in mind: square heads, pear heads, heads with a million eyes, etc.

Finally he makes a mold, usually with a 3D printer. (Making them by hand or traditional machine tools would be almost impossible.) “If the mold is polished enough, the silicon will come out perfectly smooth when dry,” he says.

Godshaw acknowledges that there are perfectly good reasons why strangers don’t usually approach each other on city streets the way his piece encourages them to. “I live near 6th and Folsom,” he adds.

But nudging San Franciscans into each others’ paths in a fun way is still important now and then. Strange Lenses will display between Third Street and Fourth through October 2018.

The only change Godshaw plans to make is maybe adding some warning stripes to the glass casing. “People have been hitting their faces pretty hard” peering in, he says.

Well, they did call it a prototype, after all.