David Baker Architects

WISHING CLOUD

DBA_Lab Gets Playful for PARK(ing) Day


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Image: David Baker Architects

By Taylor Dearinger, Erin Feeney, and Stephen Doherty

For PARK(ing) Day 2017, SFMOMA invited us to design a temporary installation in tandem with their PlaySFMOMA initiative. Along with fellow design firms Box Clever, Surface Design and Envelope A+D, we were selected to transform the row of parking spaces at the museum’s Howard Street entrance into a place for conversation, curiosity and, of course, play.

DBA_Lab is a studio within our firm that takes on small-scale creative projects that help us test theories of prototyping, new materials, responsive design, and improvisation. The scale, time frame, and spirit of the challenge proposed by SFMOMA was a perfect fit for DBA_Lab.

PARK(ing) Day is an annual open-source global event, launched in 2005 by Rebar Group, that calls for citizens to create temporary parks or public places in metered parking spaces, momentarily upping urban green space and reconsidering car culture.

For DBA, engaging in PARK(ing) Day is part of a larger dedication to creatively activating public space. In addition to participating in PARK(ing) Day multiple times since it was first launched, our office has designed several other activations of public space, such as SPARC-It-Place and peepSHOW

Early brainstorm sketches. Image: David Baker Architects

Image: David Baker Architects

 

Getting Started

After an inspiring visit to SFMOMA’s Playscapes exhibition highlighting the work of Isamu Noguchi, we conceived of the Wishing Cloud, which we then designed over a few short weeks and built, occupied and dismantled in a single day.

Our design process began with an office pin-up to generate ideas on how to activate the space in front of SFMOMA and engage visitors around the notion of Play. We narrowed down the initial ideas to focus on building a simple frame within which we could create spaces for visitors to relax. Knowing that we had to build our design quickly and with limited resources, we strove for simplicity, balanced with our desire to create something eye-catching and interactive. Working within an armature of scaffolding, we explored designs ranging from sculptural forms and multi-level structures to playful games, and explored materials including nets, ribbons, balloons, pool noodles, and an array of fabrics.

Fleshing out one of our many ideas in SketchUp. Image: David Baker Architects

We quickly found that attempting to insert too many interactive elements would not only prove challenging but also potentially dangerous, since we would not have an appropriate amount of time to test the various ideas. After a couple of collaborative design iterations, we opted for simplicity and landed on a concept that came to be called The Wishing Cloud.

 

Developing the Concept 

The Wishing Cloud was to offer the public a contemplative space to share their personal wishes and add them to a collective expression of dreams and aspirations for the future. Visitors would contribute by writing their wish on a card attached to a balloon, which would rise up into the larger cloud.

Once we had settled on our concept, it was time to work out how to bring it to life in a compelling form. As architects, we love scaffolding. It’s a human size erector-set whose kit-of-parts is relatively simple to assemble. It can be used to create a defined space quickly—most typically a narrow protective zone along a building facade—and offers an opportunity to play with a new and varied perspective of the world around us.

Our final design, as seen in SketchUp. Image: David Baker Architects

We were excited to play with this familiar material, but never having personally assembled any, we faced a bit of a learning curve. The first obstacle was choosing a manufacturer and specific system. We spent a lot of time poring over catalogues and modeling iterations before we selected Safway Scaffold, who also provided materials on our SPARC-It Place installation in Oakland.

Our installation site was a parking space along a bike lane and busy street, so we were careful to plan for protection along the outer edge and include a low netted platform inside the space for people to lounge away from traffic. One of the key ideas from our initial concept was to create spaces for visitors to relax and be able to watch The Wishing Cloud expand throughout the day. Safety was a top priority, and we initially felt we may have even over-engineered the system. However, once we installed the netting and tested it out, we were certainly pleased that we had planned for some redundancy.

Sketch: The final round of scaffold coordination. Image: David Baker Architects

The Build—One Day Only!

Because of the quick schedule, we had not mocked-up the netting, scaffolding, or balloons. We had to be very flexible in the process of installation; execution of our design was a trial and error process. Luckily, the simplicity of the concept allowed us to make some real-time changes and decisions about attachments and placement of the netting and structure.

The museum stored the scaffolding so it was near the site and ready to go. Of course there were some snags—a blocked forklift route forced us to carry the scaffolding pieces by hand, and there was a need for an emergency balloon run—but these delays gave us a little time to engage with our neighbors’ installations. We downsized from three bays to two to make up time and better suit the scale of the adjacent designs.

All the scaffolding parts laid out and ready to build. Image: David Baker Architects

On-site we made the call to double up the netting and make a run for another pack of zip ties! Image: David Baker Architects

Attaching the delicate "cloud" netting to the scaffolding with zip ties. Image: David Baker Architects

Running the Cloud

As the workday started, the sidewalks began to fill up with people rushing to work, headphones in and heads down. As people approached our stretch of parking spaces they looked up at an unfamiliar sight with curiosity. Most people were intrigued, but hesitant to stop their morning commutes. Yet as more people began interacting, the Cloud grew and attracted more people willing to take the time to participate.

Our original strategy to make the space approachable was to keep the sides relatively open; unfortunately, the wind had other plans, tossing our balloons wildly throughout the day. One moment it was perfectly calm and we would relax. The next second a gust of wind would blow the balloons towards the bottom, stretching the netting and at times breaking through. We were able to make quick adjustments, expanding the netting to better contain the cloud.

Wishes getting released into the Cloud. Image: David Baker Architects

The netting provided a perfect airy perch for watching the growing cloud of balloons shift and jostle in the wind. Image: David Baker Architects

Over the course of the day, wishes were added and the Wishing Cloud grew. We talked with people of all ages and walks of life. Some people were private with their wishes and others proclaimed them aloud. Some people would make a wish quickly and move on, others would take their time and sit and observe the space, reading other people's wishes before carefully deciding on their own. Almost everyone had a smile on their face as they released their wishes into the Cloud.

More wishes. Image: David Baker Architects

The innovative activation by Envelope A+D brought a pop of color and a place for public recreation. Image: David Baker Architects

Looking Ahead

The four PARK(ing) Day teams on our site were invited independently by the museum. Upon reflection, we think that it would have been interesting to work more closely with our neighbors and perhaps build a scaffold armature for our entire row, thereby allowing for the many and varied experiences we first envisioned during our initial charrettes.

 

Coincidentally, our neighbors from Surface Design complemented The Wishing Cloud well with their balloons and bubbles. Image: David Baker Architects

Moving forward, if we continue our investigations in scaffolding, it would be nice to be able to allow participants to do some minimal climbing and experience a new perspective on the street. While the simplest idea is often the most impactful, we believe future iterations could be more a little more complex and interactive.

Having completed the installation, we better understand the benefits and limitations of our materials and also what can be accomplished in one day. We are looking forward to exploring different materials and strategies for customization within the concept of scaffolding as a temporary activation of public space.

We’ll see you in our PARK next year!

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Collected wishes. Image: David Baker Architects

 

The Wishing Cloud was conceived of and installed by Taylor Dearinger, Erin Feeney, and Stephen Doherty with help and support from the larger DBA_Lab team.

 

Image: David Baker Architects

Image: David Baker Architects

Image: David Baker Architects

Coincidentally, our neighbors from Surface Design complemented The Wishing Cloud well with their balloons and bubbles. Image: David Baker Architects

The innovative activation by Envelope A+D brought a pop of color and a place for public recreation. Image: David Baker Architects

On-site we made the call to double up the netting and make a run for another pack of zip ties! Image: David Baker Architects

The netting provided a perfect airy perch for watching the growing cloud of balloons shift and jostle in the wind. Image: David Baker Architects

Attaching the delicate "cloud" netting to the scaffolding with zip ties. Image: David Baker Architects

Wishes getting released into the Cloud. Image: David Baker Architects

More wishes. Image: David Baker Architects

All the scaffolding parts laid out and ready to build. Image: David Baker Architects

Early brainstorm sketches. Image: David Baker Architects

Fleshing out one of our many ideas in SketchUp. Image: David Baker Architects

Sketch: The final round of scaffold coordination. Image: David Baker Architects

Our final design, as seen in SketchUp. Image: David Baker Architects

Collected wishes. Image: David Baker Architects

Image: David Baker Architects