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Design Bridge Visits: Arcadia Earth in NYC

It has never been more important to have honest conversations with our clients about how they can work to address climate change and, in New York, we recently had the rare opportunity to learn about our clients’ impact on the planet alongside them. We joined our Mastercard clients on a visit to Arcadia Earth, an integrated VR and AR experience located in New York’s bustling Soho shopping district. We went hoping for inspiration, we left with so much more.

Arcadia condenses the cold hard facts of climate change into 15 themed rooms. It transports visitors from the busy city into a vibrant underground world, combining tragically beautiful art installations with hidden augmented reality (AR) surprises at every turn. As we moved from room to room in darkness, listening to an informative voiceover and haunting soundtrack, it felt more like a theme park ride than an educational experience.

What makes Arcadia unique compared to similar types of initiatives is its total commitment to its own integrity. Designer and founder Valentino Vettori explained that they try to collaborate with brands that have values consistent with their own, organizations that have a measurable impact. They want to work with companies that are genuinely trying to make a difference and reward good behavior.

“We want to support companies who are not only sustainable, but are true, honest and have inspired initiatives to do something,” he explained to us. “Even if the company is not there yet, we want to do something together. We are careful that we don’t want to be used for green washing, especially in fashion.”

The installations at Arcadia have been designed to be understood by audiences of all ages and backgrounds. In one room, visitors are led into a cavernous space that is composed of thousands of plastic film bags. We were told that New York City produces that entire room’s worth of plastic bags every minute. In another, giant jellyfish made from plastic waste dangle from the ceiling, representing the trash islands that plague our oceans, and the plastics that pollute our waters and poison the fish that we eat. As if this stark imagery wasn’t enough to get the point across, one of our guides slipped in a particularly pointed piece of information: “Did you know that in one week we eat enough microplastics to create one credit card?”


Despite the serious and profoundly concerning message, this experiential exhibition offers engaging moments of genuine hope and optimism. Visitors can use their phones to see a gigantic AR whale swim through the room that is themed around protecting the coral reef, and you can watch beautiful plants sprout up in the room that tells the story of forest protection. Between each melancholy moment, there is a list of specific ways that we, as consumers, can help alleviate each issue, such as reducing our reliance on single use plastics and cutting down on meat consumption.

We entered Arcadia bracing ourselves to learn depressing truths about our planet’s unstoppable decline, but we emerged feeling hopeful and inspired that not only is it possible to have a significant impact to help reverse the situation, but also that through our work and partnerships we are uniquely positioned to help others do so, too. And, of course, we started by buying some sustainable souvenirs in the gift shop.

To learn more about Arcadia Earth and plan your own visit, check out their website.

Words by Marisa Hagerty, a Designer based in the Design Bridge New York Studio.


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