“The Universal Silver Platter” at FIGMENT Oakland

On Saturday, June 10th, the Universal Silver Platter opened in downtown Oakland. For just one day, we handed people whatever they needed or desired most on a silver platter.

FIGMENT   is a participatory art festival that takes place in a few cities across the US. Artists, designers, and entertainers come together to create fun, creative pop-up experiences open to the public. My friend Josh L suggested the festival, and my friend Josh H joined the project when we decided we wanted to jump on the opportunity to create a fun, playful experience for our community.

After a quick brainstorming session, we riffed off the idea of using an actual silver platter that I had to symbolize the current political discourse around entitlements. Rather than having privileged, smug, politicians telling people they should just work harder, and that they don’t deserve or even need assistance with education, healthcare, or housing, we decided that for one day, you DO deserve to have whatever you need “handed to you on a silver platter”.

Our team quickly prototyped a nail board to collect the collective story of what people needed and wanted on installation day. We dubbed it the “USP Data Accumulator” to fit with our theme of the Silver Platter being like a government bureau or information desk. The idea was to have each participant choose a colored rubber band based on the theme of their wish or desire, then attach it to the nail board based on their relationship with the person who granted their wish and the outcome of their wish.

Participants were invited to express a need, wish or desire. We asked visitors to fulfil one another’s wishes, and if a single visitor came up, a “U.S.P. Technician” (one of the designers) would draw their wish. Once the wish was represented graphically or with words, the wish grantor would hand the completed wish to the recipient on one of our shiny silver platters.

Finally, the person who had just had their wish handed to them on a silver platter would add a rubber band to the data accumulator.

There were quite a few other fun installations happening that day in Oakland’s Mosswood park:

And by the end of the installation day, we had so many rubber bands stretched on our nailboard, that they started popping off!

We had a lot of fun playing with the visitors to the U.S.P. booth, and had a number of interesting and illuminating conversations. Some of our visitors wished for something quite meaningful and serious – a healthy body, a child, family reconciliation. Others wished for something more lighthearted like a goat to eat their neighbor’s ivy, or a fried chicken sandwich. One of our younger visitors had the following, slightly creepy wish:

It was a day well spent, facilitating conversations and granting wishes to our friends and neighbors.

The Play Station on Market Street

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For a few days in October, Market Street got a little friendlier, a little more colorful, and a little more fun. The Play Station was live on the sidewalk, next to a bus stop just down the block from Powell Street. Our team was selected to join the Market Street Prototyping Festival, with support from the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and the SF Planning Department.

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Thousands of passersby from all walks of life stopped to interact with our kinetic bike sculptures or to take a spin on one of our three free public exercise bikes. Above, a young girl spins the hand-cranked LED bicycle wheel featuring a programmable LED light display from Berkeley’s own MonkeyLectric.

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We were fortunate to have wonderful weather for the entire installation. Here, visitors take the bikes for a spin, and the last rider plays a game of “Newspaper Delivery”. The game, a simple toss game designed by team mate Ivan Rodriguez, was a crowd pleaser as visitors got competitive about slinging the newspapers into a faux windowbox from the bike.

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A young visitor checks out one of the zoetropes designed by team mate Michael Huang, a popular attraction we placed to create a “soft edge” to our installation and draw people’s attention and interaction. Visitors could even draw their own zoetrope design on receipt paper. The zoetropes are mounted on bike wheels.

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The overhead canopy I designed from 4-way stretch mesh had the unexpected effect of creating dappled light and shade (we didn’t expect much sun), hung on a structure designed by team mate David Yao. It also achieved my personal aim of creating a sense of color and inviting space on drab Market Street.

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The whole design team. Not pictured – friends and significant others who helped load, carry, shop, paint, install, and volunteer on the festival days! We’ll share more insights shortly – data collection led by team mate Deland Chan will reveal more insights on how many visitors we had, how many interacted with various parts of The Play Station, and what their thoughts were about public space and Market Street.

The Play Station SF is coming!

This weekend, my team tested concepts for our upcoming installation, “The Play Station SF”, soon to be a temporary part of the Market Street sidewalk in downtown San Francisco.

We tested interactive kinetic bike sculptures, this one hand cranked and featuring a MonkeyLight Pro 256-LED wheel installation.

We also played with a teammate’s last minute fun addition – two hand made zoetropes created on horizontal spinning bike wheels.

There will also be a kinetic bike sculpture created from corrugated hose, to add a sound element.

A fun canopy to create color and a sense of place . .

And three spin bikes with a box full of games and challenges to play on them!

The Play Station SF

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Keep your eyes peeled for a new outdoor fitness and play installation that will be popping up on the sidewalk of Market Street in downtown San Francisco this fall. I’m part of the team behind “The Play Station”, a concept proposal that was accepted by the Yerba Buena Center for The Arts and the San Francisco Planning Department to be part of this year’s Market Street Prototyping Festival. 

Our team has been engaged in a brainstorming and concept development process for the past couple months and we’re excited to share our project progress with you: 

Play is for everyone. But there’s really nowhere to play on Market Street. Thousands of people will walk by this spot or wait for the bus – but they won’t play. Step into The Play Station and experience Market Street in more fun way. Placing free, public workout equipment in a public space is a radical way to invite everyone to workout, play, and feel good – right on a city sidewalk. Community starts with a shared experience. The Play Station invites anyone to look up, get curious, and start playing. Don’t just wait – play. How far can you go while you wait for the bus?

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After researching current challenges and needs on Market Street (above, a visual of a typical bus stop), we’ve recently moved from concept development to prototyping some of the moving parts. 

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Team Play Station recently had the opportunity to get feedback from the public at an open house along with other artists and designers. We debuted our kinetic hand-cranked bicycle sculpture prototype, complete with installation of a 256-LED programmable Monkeylight PRO donated by our new friends, local business, and bike fun advocates Monkeylectric over in Berkeley. 

Stay up to date on our progress by following #mspf and #playstationsf and by adding your name to our email list over at www.theplaystationsf.com – or come find us October 6-8 on Market Street between Ellis and O’Farrell Streets! We’re open to collaboration (activities, games, cyclecomputers and more), participation (lead a game or activity during the festival) or feedback (how to make our installation safer and more interactive), so please get in touch. 

Playland at 43rd – A Brand New SF Park(ing) Lot Playspace

Neighbors, designers, and families teamed to create a low-cost, low-intervention flexible play and gathering space in what was formerly a very large asphalt-paved school parking lot in San Francisco’s Sunset District. 

Even on a wet, cloudy day, these photos clearly show the effort made to create a bright, colorful, welcoming space. Overhead nylon paracord delineates a pingpong table and outdoor seating, and colorful painted murals break up the asphalt surfacing. 

A newly built plot of raised beds freshly planted with greens frames the new skate park, in the back, with the magenta spires of two climbable “San Francisco Hills” donated by participants in last year’s Market Street Prototyping Festival. 

awkward spaces: makeshop

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A before-and-after shot: from strange concrete “appendage” to “red carpet”.

A few notes from the “Awkward Spaces Makeshop” with the Stanford d.school, where interdisciplinary teams each performed a quick makeover prototype on an “awkward space” of their choosing on campus. With only a few hours and limited materials, speed and creativity were valued over perfection. 

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We started off by exploring a small part of the campus and identifying “awkward” spots – be they awkward because of social interaction, design, spatial relationships, or use over time. 

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This table, for example, was bolted onto the concrete on the upper deck of the student union. Not only is the table – and its chairs – fixed and immovable (limiting social interaction), its also placed by itself (away from the other seating), in a corner (that catches all the sun), unshaded, and wedged in between two plate glass windows that look into office areas (awkward privacy issues). What’s more, the door behind the furthest chair can’t open all the way without hitting the seat (remember – its bolted in place). I can’t imagine anyone loving this awkward seating arrangement. 

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Next, the group shared back their awkward spaces and chose teams to work on a particular spot for the rest of the day. We chose this concrete “appendage” awkwardly and unattractively protruding from a stairway directly in front of the main entrance to a music hall. With no clear function – or even aesthetic decoration – this flat topped “podium” seemed ripe for an intervention. 

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This shot contextualizes the “appendage”, showing how its also centered in a pretty generic, colorless, hardscaped setting. Pedestrians and cyclists pass right by it (foreground) on a busy path, without being invited into the space for any conceivable reason. 

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With only four hours to come up with an idea, build it, and install it, our team quickly started throwing out ideas about how we could make the space less awkward. We discussed how different interventions could “highlight” the awkwardness (by making it stand out even more or even leveraging it), or “hiding” the awkwardness (by reconfiguring a space or how its used). We opted to highlight the appendage, and to actually use it as a centerpiece or stage. With the Oscars scheduled to air that evening, and the appendage’s location in front of a performance space, we came up with the idea of creating a  faux “red carpet” VIP area on the concrete platform, complete with photo backdrop for the Stanford community to shoot selfies. 

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Without a measuring tape, we made some quick guesses (using sneaker measurements) about the dimensions, then headed back to the d.school workshop to start building our prototype. 

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Part of our team got to work on building a frame for the backdrop. 

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Part of our team started creating on-brand Stanford imagery for the backdrop, adding additional colors to brighten up the drab concrete space. 

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A canvas dropcloth formed the backdrop, and construction paper and masking tape stood in for stencilled logos. 

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With time running out until the end of the workshop (and the day!), the team setup the backdrop using zipties. 

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Blue butcher paper stood in for a red carpet, and a pallet made a step. 

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Since the space was awkward, we called our intervention the “Awkward Oscars”, complete with an awkward fake Oscar make from tinfoil to hold up .

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The photo backdrop in use. 

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Selfie station complete with hand held sign, and awkward, tilted tree. 

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Much more colorful and fun than before! 

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Fellow team members creating a wayfinding sign that corrected an unused and unloved “awkward understairs” space, and simultaneously worked to help confused new students find a student ID office (confusingly and awkwardly located on a second floor midcentury building with only two outdoors staircases to locate). 

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A third team worked to “un-awkward” an unloved and underused seating area outside the student union hall, with a few strange seating arrangements (including a table with no chairs), dirt for ground cover, and a pile of trash behind both sides. 

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The team created a “sculpture garden” by creating a prototype modern art sculpture on a table, and added a simple screen as a backdrop to make the space feel more intimate and block trash from view. 

Thanks Our City, d.school, and the teaching fellows!