Rebekah Araullo with interactive light art installation Orkhestra.

Rebekah Araullo with interactive light art installation Orkhestra. Photo: Dallas Kilponen

What looks like a giant hunk of white coral sits in the Powerhouse Museum, flashing pink, now yellow, now blue.

Take a photo with your phone and one of a possible 16 million colours will pulse through Orkhestra, perhaps the most complex item in this year's Sydney Design festival. 

Camera flashes set off a sensor, which feeds into a software program governing a network of 412 lights arranged along a mathematically designed surface.

It is high-level morphology meets phone culture, but for children the lights are attraction enough. 

"From a child to a grown-up academic, it works on all kinds of levels," says Matthias Haeusler, a member of the Orkhestra design team, which includes Rebekah Araullo. 

A computational design lecturer at the University of NSW, Mr Haeusler believes architecture should embrace interactivity. 

"In a smart city of the future we would have more and more responsive environments," he says.

Festival director Janson Hews hopes activities such as 3D printing and robotic portraiture will bring designers and consumers closer.  

"People are really, really interested in DIY culture," Mr Hews says, adding that crowd-funding and social media platforms could spearhead "a much more democratic and participatory design approach". 

Sydney Design runs from August 16 to 24.