Sunday, March 15, 2009

White Tents

Through conducting interviews and listening to other presentations, it is clear that RISD students need unity outside of the studio.

If we think of RISD for a moment as a small city, Jacobs explains, “It is so easy to fall into the trap of contemplating a city’s uses one at a time.” I fall into this trap and apparently many other students do as well. RISD can easily be defined as a city with many individual businesses that serve different uses.

Continuing with the metaphor of a city, there is no denial that RISD is a diverse place – artists with varied backgrounds, skills, nationalities, religion, and aspirations. Jacobs writes, “City diversity itself permits and stimulates more diversity.” Jacobs’ four conditions for diversity are all present on RISD’s campus. On paper, it appears to have all the ingredients to be a very powerful place that facilitates unity and growth.

So, why isn’t it?

Why is it that the four students I interviewed have never met each other before? Does this matter?

Is RISD as diverse as I think it really is? (We can look at admission statistics to ascertain this information, but more importantly: Does RISD FEEL as diverse as it actually is?) Is this what students need? Personally, I get extremely excited when I meet someone outside of the architecture department. It is during this time that I remember that I am a RISD student. In that moment it reminds me why I chose to come to RISD – to be completely immersed with the best designers and artists in the world. How can a community space exist which utilizes RISD’s diversity and sustain itself for growth?

It is apparent that I am eager to find a way to answer all the questions I have.

A proposed plan for a public intervention may begin to address my curiosity. I have chosen the courtyard between the Chace Center and the Metcalf building as a location for a simple reason – it’s an in-between space on campus that is used for circulation by many students in differing departments as well as people not affiliated by the school at all.

Why is this space more appropriate than Market Square?

Although, Market Square is also utilized as heavily for circulation, the Chace Center courtyard, for the moment, is more of an ambiguous space. Market Square has places to sit which begin to suggest programmatic intentions. Although, spring is not here yet, I have never seen anyone sit on the steps in the museum’s courtyard. In contrast, I have seen people utilize Market Square for rest in the winter.

My interview with Tyler Denmead sparked my interest with ambiguous and uncertain spaces. It became evident that the success of New Urban Arts was greatly influenced by its completely amorphous space that changes daily. It’s unclear where one office or studio starts and ends.

Taking ideas from my interview with Tyler as inspiration, I have proposed a question that is the conceptual basis for the public intervention: “Will a changing, uncertain space, that responds to people’s actions within the space, promote a unified community?”

It is important to note that my proposal for the public intervention is an experiment. The formal qualities of the intervention are of little significance, they would purely exist to facilitate the conceptual question that I established previously. The experiment could begin to show whether or not RISD is capable of supporting this type of space and more importantly, demonstrate whether or not RISD students hold shared values about it.

The interview with Tyler also brought forward issues regarding the notion of the physical location of space versus the idea of the space. The courtyard at the Chace Center represents the physical location of the space. It is my hope that the experiment will test the idea of the space. The results may show if the idea of the space can manifest itself in other spaces on campus – possibly in more of a permanent location in the future.

The script of the event is as follows. I plan on setting up individual white tents inside the courtyard for one complete day. Why white tents? Firstly, I want the tents to be seen as mini space makers. I want people to circulate through them as they move through the site. They would move from outside to inside and back to outside. I want them to spark curiosity and ambiguity. Why are they here? Do they begin to define and influence the path people are taking through the courtyard?

I also see them as a way to define specific program. Each tent may have a specific program. One tent can be designated as work space, another for a food stand, one for socializing, and the others simply for circulation. Multiple tents could have similar or the same program. It is my intention that the program of the specific tent is not apparent on the outside. By traveling through them, the public understands what you do inside them. People will ether pass right through them and ignore the event taking place inside, or the event may slow down their path and spark curiosity and interest.

Although each tent has a specific function or program, I want there to be a sense of no barriers. I want people to understand that although each tent is a separate component, they are all interrelated to one another. Multiple tents could be positioned in a way so that more than one is defining an interior space. The program in these specially positioned tents could have the “open shell” idea that Tyler defined in my interview with him.

Another aspect of the experiment is the concept of precise indeterminacy; the idea that the designer constructs a “generative system of formal production, controls its behavior over time, and selects forms that emerge from its operation” (Kolarevic 26). I want the program of each tent to be defined yet allow the people who engage the space to affect what happens inside it. For example, if the “work space” tent has benches inside, will students move the benches around? Will they move the benches outside the tent all together? I want the space to continuously change as more students pass through it. I want the tents to be responsive to the students. Is it possible for the program within the tent to completely transform as students see fit.

Like I mentioned previously, I am interested in uncertainty. I am uncertain what the projected outcome of the event will be. That being said, I want to receive specific results from the experiment. I see both the failure and success of the space to be extremely valuable. In fact, I hope that I see a mixture of both. My actions during the experiment will have to respond to the failure of the space. Can I re-arrange or change the tents during the experiment to respond to how people are passing through the space. The result of the experiment will not be something that I gather at the end of the day but rather continuously throughout the entirety of the intervention. What aspects had to change? What things about the space attracted people to stay and use the tents? How were people interacting with each other? Were students meeting fellow students they had never met before? Was the ambiguity and uncertainty of the space attracting students to stay rather than pass through?

It is too presumptuous to think that the results of this experiment will be the answer to RISD’s lack of a unified community. However, I am hoping it will begin to show whether the physical location of the site (an in-between space on campus with heavy circulation going through it), and the idea of the space (an amorphous, uncertain, and changing space, with multiple programs, can have positive results on campus.

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