North Terrace’s old RAH building is now abandoned. Its doctors, nurses, patients and beeping machines have moved into new state-of-the-art digs just down the road. The place is suddenly quiet and more than a little eerie in their absence. On the forecourt – somewhat obscured by roadworks – a mysterious gold box has appeared.
The curious shipping container is a “Portal”, which links to other Portals across the world via real-time multimedia streaming. It brings visitors face-to-face with strangers in a live conversation.
Waiting on the other side is an excited trio of New Yorkers in Times Square. They’re listing five things that make America great. Manifesting as life-size projections, the group is chatting with the cube’s custodian, Max Mason (ex-The Henry Austin). Mason does a quick round of introductions as others appear and join the conversation peering inquisitively at the two of us.
Designed by international collective Shared Studios, the Portal aims to use technology to introduce people rather than draw them into isolation. The Adelaide Portal is the first in the Southern Hemisphere.
Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday for the next six months it will transport Adelaide locals to Palestine, New York, Afghanistan, Rwanda and 18 other far-off locations. You can book a time slot online or just show up and see who’s waiting on the other end.
The box arrived for tech festival Hybrid World, and has stayed on under the custody of Mason and Renewal SA. “In a world where communication is seeing the leaps and bounds of advancing technology, I find the process less and less about human interaction,” says Mason.
The Portal allows a dialogue between regular people who would (presumably) not otherwise meet. They can talk honestly and openly about, well, anything. Conversations can get deep or feisty, and at other times people just want you to dance with them.
“The nuances of conversation and minutiae that you learn about them are the real value of this concept,” Mason says. “It’s a very touching, powerful experience.”
The Portal is a feature of Renewal SA’s redevelopment of the RAH site, which will include new commercial, educational, tourism and cultural spaces, even a modern-art gallery
It’s also an illustration of what South Australia can offer the innovation economy. “I can see this city becoming the next Silicon Valley in two years,” says Mason. He’s convinced Adelaide has the size, the population and the connectivity and the lifestyle to make us the global epicentre for technological development.
Adelaide Portal is at the Old Royal Adelaide Hospital site on North Terrace. For opening times visit theadelaideriverbank.com.au/adelaide_portal/