The Swamp School and The Swamp Observatory

2018 Mellon Faculty Grant & 2022 International Exhibition Grant

Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas. The Swamp Observatory AR App. Powered by Hoverlay (2022). Photo by Jonas Žukauskas.
Friendly Spirillum by Nathalie flies in spirals, feeds on water bacteria and communicates with plants to make them grow better. Urbonas Studio, The Swamp Observatory. 2021. Conceptual sketches for AR environment. Drawings by the students of Athene school.
Urbonas Studio, The Swamp Observatory. 2021. Conceptual sketches for AR environment.
The Swamp School's Community of Plants workshop with biologist Daubaras, 2018. Photo: Urbonas Studio.
Swamp ponchos by Urbonas Studio, 2018. Design by Sandra Straukaite. Pattern: Gaile Pranckunaite. Photo: Norbert Tukaj.
The Swamp School discussion, 2018. Photo: Brent D Ryan.
Hybrid Radio by Nicole L’Huillier, 2018. Photo: Gabriele Urbonaite.

A project of imagination and non-material architecture


The Swamp Observatory, supported by a CAST International Exhibition and Performance Fund Grant

The Swamp Observatory is an experimental form of public art that engages the community in environmental pedagogy and probes new perspectives in urban planning. The project uses AR to unveil imaginative ecosystems of planned stormwater ponds in a future city district of Visby, Sweden. The stormwater ponds land in the middle of the debate on environmental sustainability and constitute a model for how to reintroduce wetlands on Gotland island in the Baltic Sea (arguably the most polluted sea in the world), where water shortage is already a condition of daily life. The AR app enables community members to experience a future in the making and to practice adaptive technologies in support of community resiliency at a local level. 

The Swamp Observatory builds on the network of a fictional society—The Society of Forgotten Futures—that is an assembly of experts who have contributed their local knowledges of flora and fauna, history, and mythology to the visualization of the digital instruments.

This hybrid reality project proposes a new model for public art that sensorially engages communities and facilitates their bonds with the environment. The Swamp Observatory supports environmental citizenship in Visborg through a new climate commons created and maintained by local stakeholders and users.

The Swamp School, supported by a CAST Mellon Faculty Grant

For the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, Gediminas and Nomeda Urbonas curated the Swamp Pavilion, representing their native Lithuania. The Swamp Pavilion was a networked effort to create new imaginary spaces for exercises in architectural and artistic practices, theory, and pedagogy through public interventions, field trips, workshops, lectures, discussions, and printed publications.

The Swamp Pavilion hosted the Swamp School, which focused on future learning environments, informed by and informing the architecture and installations within it. The Swamp School comprised three chapters: Swamp Radio: On transmitting; Futurity Island: On sympoietics; and Commonism: On cohabitation.

In a time marked by existential threats of war and climate change, the Swamp School set up a cross-disciplinary dialogue to challenge conventional concepts of territory. It aimed to reorganize identities and realities, and to envision the role of the immaterial in architecture, art, and nature. 

More at the project website: The Swamp


Past Events

The Swamp Observatory at the Children’s Forest Pavilion
May 20 – November 26, 2023
Lithuanian Pavilion, 18th International Architecture Exhibition
La Biennale di Venezia, Venice, Italy

The Swamp Observatory uses Augmented Reality to unveil invisible and imaginative ecosystems of the planned stormwater ponds for the future city district of Visborg in Visby, Gotland Island, Sweden, in the Baltic Sea.

For several years, Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas have been obsessed with the concept of the swamp, investigating it as a biosphere, and as metaphor that often signifies unorganized mud. For them, the swamp unfolds as a library of cultural, historic, and cybernetic knowledges. Learning from the swamp’s intelligence is here translated into organizational aesthetics that grapples with the mess of the new climatic regime.

Commissioned by Ines Weizman and curated by Jurga Daubaraitė, Egija Inzule & Jonas Žukauskas.

More information: Art, Culture and Technology Program at MIT and Neringa Forest Architecture 

The Swamp Observatory featured in multiple exhibitions and presentations in 2023:

Eco-Vision Plan, CAFA museum, Beijing, China, 2023
State of the Arts, Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DC, 2023
Partially Swamped Institution, National Gallery, Vilnius, Lithuania, 2023

The Swamp Observatory AR Application Launch
Part of Out of the Sky, into the Earth Exhibition
August 27 – September 11, 2022
Gotland Art Museum and Visborg Field
Visby, Sweden

Curated by Edi Muka, curator at Public Art Agency Sweden, in collaboration with Helena Selder, artistic director of Baltic Art Center.

More information 

The Swamp Pavilion at the 2018 Venice Biennale

Commonism: On cohabitation
September 24-29, 2018

Futurity Island: On symbio-poetics
June 26-30, 2018

Swamp Radio: On transmitting
May 23-27, 2018


Gediminas Urbonas, Associate Professor of Art, Culture, and Technology at MIT, is an artist, educator, researcher, and co-founder of US: Urbonas Studio (together with Nomeda Urbonas), an interdisciplinary research practice that facilitates exchange amongst diverse nodes of knowledge production and artistic practice in pursuit of projects that transform civic spaces and collective imaginaries. Urbonas also collaborate with experts in different cultural fields to develop practice-based artistic research models that allow participants – including their students – to pursue projects that merge urbanism, new media, social sciences, and pedagogy to critically address the transformation of civic space and ecology.

Biography: Art, Culture, and Technology Program at MIT

Nomeda Urbonas, MIT Affiliate, is a Lithuanian artist and educator who has a joint artistic practice, Urbonas Studio, with Gediminas Urbonas. Urbonas Studio is the interdisciplinary research program that advocates for the reclamation of public culture in the face of overwhelming privatization, stimulating cultural and political imagination as tools for social change. Often beginning with archival research, Urbonas Studio methodology unfolds complex participatory works investigating the urban environment, architectural developments, and cultural and technological heritage.

Biography: Art, Culture, and Technology Program at MIT


A project by Urbonas Studio: Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas (concept and development) in collaboration with pupils from Atheneskolan Gotland (drawings and sounds), Indrė Umbrasaitė (3D modeling), Kristupas Sabolius (script), Mouse on Mars (sound compositions), and Terry T Kang and Thomas Harriett (programming). Powered by Hoverlay AR platform.

The Swamp Observatory is part of the Region of Gotland’s Art in Urban Development Project Visborg led by the Baltic Art Center in collaboration with Public Art Agency Sweden. Supported by the Baltic Art Center (BAC), the Lithuanian Council for Culture, and the MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST). 

The Swamp School

The Lithuanian pavilion at the 16th International Architecture Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia was commissioned by Pippo Ciorra, produced by the Architecture Fund and presented by the Lithuanian Council for Culture with support from the MIT School of Architecture and Planning, MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology, MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST), and the Nordic Culture Fund, OCA – Office for Contemporary Art Norway.

View the full Swamp Pavilion team on the project website: The Swamp