“Parking Rooms:” speculation by @Aramique and @town.and.concrete

Unleashing the imagination by releasing our bodies

Zoom-bodies as the perfect antidote to our challenge of creatively enabling a community of strangers to produce collective art in a two hour virtual gathering.

lance weiler
May 20, 2020 · 9 min read

The following was written by Romy Nehme

From the Futures hosted its fourth global virtual gathering Thursday, May 7th. It was our sixth event (including two workshops) since the shelter-in-place orders froze all life around the globe. We started the series to shake off a feeling of collective angst we surmised might be lodged in bodies all over the world in hopes of offering a release through social dreaming and art-making.

The opening “connect” component of each gathering had validated the hunch that 150 people zooming in from different continents and time zones would be longing for that kind of interaction, but we still hadn’t cracked the code on how to get the group sufficiently warmed up to really explore creating collective art pieces, landscapes from near and distant futures vivid enough to make us want to take up residence there.

In conversations about this session, we (Columbia DSL, Beautiful Seams, Minkowski and Fake Artists) wanted to explore the topic of Public Spaces From the Future and really lean into the performative, the embodied and the playful (instead of the technologically sterile public spaces from the future that we often see depicted in movies, or, almost realities). While the last remnants of physical public life have migrated online, for many of us, parks and the streets remained the last vestiges of healthy lives in motion. For that reason, Zeynep Tufekci and many others have argued for keeping the parks open.

We wanted to try our hand at replicating some of the affordances of parks in our zoom setting and lean into instructional art, both to constrain and free up our community of diverse practitioners. An earlier prototyping session revealed that the more sharply we could define a specific form and function for our creative prompts, the more participants could explore unknown realms.

We kicked off the gathering by having Christina Blankenship establish a throughline of freedom of movement as choreography to help us break out of our zoom frames and bring our bodies with us into digital space.

Everyone has done a form of an icebreaker where one participant throws an invisible ball in the room to someone else in the room, but as Christina instructed us to “make eye contact with someone in your grid, and once you’ve locked in on someone, see if you can synchronize your movements”, I’m sure most of us paused to take that in, and proceeded as though we had it in us to commandeer that kind of magnetic pull through the screen, zoom be damned.

After five minutes, there was a palpable energy in the air, a collective electric energy that we released by unmuting ourselves and exhaling whatever sound felt right to exclaim at that moment.

Submissions from around the world

Before we started to collectively imagine visions of public spaces from the future, we featured remixed audio from over 300 submissions we’d received (some of which were photos) of “the first public space where you want to go when you’re able to”: emotionally and descriptively rich accounts of spaces from all over the world.

Fireside Chat on Public Spaces

Next, Romy Nehme and guest, game and narrative interactive designer, Nicholas Fortugno, had a conversation about the affordances of space, and more specifically, of public spaces. We took a conversational stroll through the qualities of public space and why some dynamics and interactions are only made possible by the nature of their design, design that’s often invisible to us.

Next, we invited artists @Aramique and @town.and.concrete to present a few speculations. We had given them an open brief to create built environments designed to elicit emotion in the people occupying them.

Their starting point was to think of an incentive that could spur cities to create public spaces to accommodate growing populations in the same way that cities compete to produce the largest buildings (ahem, spires).

The premise: Introducing the United Nations Prize for Public Space.

“Parking Rooms:” speculation by @Aramique and @town.and.concrete

“Parking Rooms” the 2025 winner from New York City, not only created an entirely new idea of public space but also public healthcare. As the city moved towards autonomous vehicles parking spaces were removed as well. Parking Rooms turned those parking spaces into wellness rooms on every block in the city for all citizens to use for free 24 hours a day.

“ Sub-City” speculation by @Aramique and @town.and.concrete

2030. The main entrance into “Sub-City” is a beautiful sloping topography. There are also plans for entrances from every subway station in the city. Underground, natural systems maintain a mild temperature year round without the need for any heating or cooling systems. The underground park is full of walkways, bike paths, picnic areas, kids parks, as well as gardens and farms using UV light. While Sub-City is the scale of Central Park in its initial phase, it can expand to grow into the size of all five boroughs to supply the public with more space for leisure and nature.

“ Sky Park” speculation by @Aramique and @town.and.concrete

“Sky Park” 2037 has reinvented our notion of public space by expanding it upwards, allowing cities around the world to imagine dramatic new possibilities in air. At 56 meters tall and 56 meters wide at its top, Sky Park adds over 50,000 sf of new climbable public space while barely touching the surface of the earth. Above all else, it has a revolutionary system to capture pollution as it inflates and releases clean air from the pressure of people climbing on it. It is lightweight and can be replicated and placed anywhere in the city in a matter of hours.

“ Sky Park” speculation by @Aramique and @town.and.concrete
“ Sky Park” speculation by @Aramique and @town.and.concrete

NEXT EVENT “LEARN FROM THE FUTURES “ JUNE 4th

Thursday, June 4, 2020
12:30 PM — 1:30 PM

Explore and experiment with the creative possibilities of machine learning with this hands-on session introducing how to use and train your own models with RunwayML. No coding required!

The session will be led by Cristóbal Valenzuela, co-founder of RunwayML. Cris is a Chilean-born technologist and software developer. He is a co-founder of RunwayML. Previously, he was a researcher at New York University mainly working on the development of ml5.js.

RSVP here

The next prompt asked people to imagine a public space from the future.

Bringing forth the ingredients of public design that had percolated earlier in the gathering, i.e.:

  • The intention of and feeling from the opening zoom choreography
  • Nick’s principles for designing for raucous participation in street games that often goes against our timid dispositions
  • And the above four building blocks for designing “digital public spaces” from Civic Signals layered with sub-principles that surfaced in people’s audio stories

We asked our collaborators the following:

Next, they were invited to create a scene:

You can:

  1. Play with your background:
  • Use your actual backgrounds — where YOU are — creatively
  • Or change your Zoom backgrounds. You can play with colors, contrast, images, etc…

2. Use props:

  • Use any physical objects or props near you.

3. Perform:

  • Use your body posture and your interactions.
  • Interact with the other participants in other windows.

We offered the following example, and off they went! Note: for this session, we took a step back from Miro to test if the simplicity of creating and documenting in simple Google Slides would allow teams to tinker and be playful rather than focus too much on the mechanics of documentation within a program that they still have to feel their way around.

Imagine….

Example based on “high-speed train station” mentioned above

Then prototype…

… using the following guidelines for documentation:

Takeaway from previous sessions

Having learned from previous gatherings and our prototyping sessions, we made sure to provide instructions within the breakout rooms. A flaw of Zoom is that breakout rooms become isolated islands. Hosts are blind to the conversations that happen within them and sometimes confusion can arise that distracts from the learning and exercises.

Co-created Speculations

Below is a sample of the truly amazing prototypes of “scenes” from public spaces from the future that teams came up with. Co-created by teams of strangers from around the world who had only met for 20 minutes in the prior session…

Coming together

After going back into grid view within zoom one last time, we wanted to finish where we started: a collective action (in this case, simultaneously striking a pose from our respective scenes) to help us see each other.

Afterwards, the conversation kept humming… it wasn’t the same as encountering each other in real physical public space, but I’d venture to say it was a successful experiment at breaching the rules of engagement in digital space. We didn’t break the rules, per se, but we definitely spilled out of our respective frames and created a kind of facilitated zoom body poetry that sent us back to our respective shelters feeling a deep sense of renewal and buzzing with creativity.

NEXT EVENT “LEARN FROM THE FUTURES “ JUNE 4th

Thursday, June 4, 2020
12:30 PM — 1:30 PM

Explore and experiment with the creative possibilities of machine learning with this hands-on session introducing how to use and train your own models with RunwayML. No coding required!

The session will be led by Cristóbal Valenzuela, co-founder of RunwayML. Cris is a Chilean-born technologist and software developer. He is a co-founder of RunwayML. Previously, he was a researcher at New York University mainly working on the development of ml5.js.

RSVP here

From the Futures is a collaboration between Columbia DSL, Fake Artists, Minkowski and Beautiful Seams. The project is released under a creative commons 4.0 license — open to all to remix and share. Those who enter the sessions will become part of an open learning and art-making project. What is gathered during the sessions will become part of an open global art project and learning resource that will be shared virtually and IRL.

Columbia DSL

Exploring new forms and functions of storytelling at…

Columbia DSL

Exploring new forms and functions of storytelling at Columbia University School of the Arts' Digital Storytelling Lab

lance weiler

Written by

Storyteller working with Code - Founding member & Director of the Columbia University Digital Storytelling Lab - curates @creativemachines

Columbia DSL

Exploring new forms and functions of storytelling at Columbia University School of the Arts' Digital Storytelling Lab