Since its early cinema glory, Central Market has carried a sense of identity for the city of San Francisco. However, since the mid 1970s, the area lost its momentum due to the disruptions from the large subway construction. This prototype was done as part of the city-organized prototyping festival to help reinvent ways to revive and regain the identity of Market Street.
This prototype exhibits two phases: (1) by day and (2) by night. By day, to encourage more street interactions, this project sets a stage for informal activities. It takes the concept of the open grid, where a variety of events can be staged through simple lego-building strategies. It consists of "voxels," which are wooden boxes that can be stacked to form walls, backdrops, enclosures, tables, or a stage and each has one side that is glazed with an acrylic sheet to also allow for informal white-board street art. The other component are "fuzzles," which are foam seating that serve as seating or climbing blocks. By night, the project harkens back to Market Street's cinematic era and becomes a drop-in outdoor theater space. The "voxels" are stacked in the form of a projection surface/wall on which films/photos can be projected onto and the fuzzles serve as theater seating.
Step 1: MATERIALS
(4) 18"x24" 1/4" plywood sheet*
(1) 18"x18" 1/4" frosted acrylic sheet**
(36) 75-lb zip ties***
* 18"x24" was the size we used, which was based on the size of the laser cutter bed (this may vary). The plywood sheets, typically they come in 4'x8' sheets, you can request the retailer to cut them to smaller sheets.
** 18"x18" was also the size needed to fit the laser cutter bed. Depending upon the retailer, they may only come in cut-to-order sizes.
*** for this specification, typically it is the 8" strips
(1) 17"x17"x17" custom-cut dense foam ****
(5) 17"x17" fur (color of choice)
30" strip of 2" wide heavy-duty velcro
**** depending on the retailer, they usually come in cut-to-order sizes
(15) rolls of 15-foot 2" duct tape (color of choice)
(2) input devices (tablet, laptop, etc.)
Step 2: DESIGN
Our team was split between San Francisco and Toronto. The early concept design was done with the SF team and later refined in conjunction with the Toronto team.
- We did a few early tests with the material. We had initially intended to create the screen out of vinyl/spandex fabric, but because of the material behavior and cost implications, we have decided to change it to acrylic sheets (which are more stiff and durable)
- We did a few digital mock-ups using standard 3d modeling software (rhino) to get a better understanding on how the pieces fit together (i.e. where holes are needed for assembly, where notches need to be for even stacking, etc).
- We saw this project in a series of layers:
- city STREET scape (given sidewalk)
- PLAY scape (ground cover - the city "mat")
- HARD/SOFT scape (3-dimensional pixels)
- MEDIA scape (digital projections)
- E scape (additional electronic technology incorporated into the stage setting)
- Throughout the day, the project would take the form of the many MARKET [SCENES], switching between serving as a stage, a lounge, or playground.
- Specific to the MEDIA scape, we wanted to create a contrast between the two conditions (historic vs current) - and given the media content focused around Marker Street, the orientation of the wall/screen was such that it matches the actual Market Street trajectory.
Step 3: FABRICATION
While the first physical mock up was done in Toronto, the following mock ups and final piece were constructed and assembled in San Francisco.
- We went through a few rounds of budgeting and value engineering. We had initially intended to have 2 or the 5 cube sides be made of acrylic sheets, but because of costs, we have reduced the acrylic sides to just 1.
- We laser cut the pieces and began assembling a couple of different forms (cube, rectangular, trapezoidal). We finally decided upon the cube for ease of mass production/assembly and the consistency across the project.
- The final pieces were laser cut at Tech Shop over the course of a month (on average 10+ hrs/week).
- We've tested with the projector to determine if the boxes will work well with the projections. As a note, the opaque plywood sheets give a more crisp image quality compared to the acrylic sheets, which was opposite from what we had thought initially. However, we stuck with the one-sided frosted acrylic when considering the daytime activities (used as erasable white boards) when the projections don't work in broad daylight.
- We had assembled all of the final pieces (including the fur on the foam seats using velcro) the weekend before the festival with the help of a few friends!
Step 4: INSTALLATION
- Following the assembly day, we've hauled all 25 boxes to the site on a pickup truck.
- Once on site, we blocked out the 12'x12' area and gridded the plot (8 across x 8 down) with duct tape.
- Assembling the voxels/fuzzles on site was simple. Since there were to be more than one configurations of the voxels, we left the configuration tests for the morning of the festival. We were also partly interested in how the visitors would interact and arrange the space aside from the more formal settings we had initially diagrammed.
- The last test was the projections and sound. This was the first test we did where we used the projector outdoors. Note the time of day needed to the sky to be dark enough for the projections to show up.
- Final stacking and wrapping of the pieces at the close of the night - to secure them before the opening day! Note: there is street cleaning during the night hours which includes a water spray across all sidewalks across Market Street - if we did not take precautions in wrapping the piece in a bag, it would've been difficult to clean/dry each piece during the morning of Day 1 of the festival.
Step 5: INTERACTION
The final outcome of the festival was more interactive (in the social setting) than we had expected.
- Many of the visitors were the normal everyday crowd (ranging from commuters to street dwellers and neighbors). Many who stopped by on this day were not aware of the larger festival happening, though they were intrigued by it and wanted to know more.
- We found out very quickly that people were less inclined to move the pieces than we had expected. We then improvised and added a few signs, which attracted more visitors to stop by and pick up/sit on the piece.
- Through the many configurations (once every 2-3hrs), we learned which assembly attracted more to come and which one less so.
- The acrylic/white board attracted many younger children.
- This was the first projection that we did for the festival. After about 7:30pm (Spring Daylight hours), we were ready to start showing the footage.
- This was the tour day and so many of those who came were aware of the festival and were more engaged and curious.
- We set to motion a few of the configurations that worked better than others (based on what we had learned the day before). Generally, those that lend to a wall/backdrop condition with a few floating seats were the ones that attracted visitors to stop by.
- We also improvised and began numbering the grid boxes to imply an informal hop-scotch game. This was a main grabber - people were very inclined to follow and walk sequentially through the gridded boxes on the floor.
- We also had the extra fur installed on the ground to promote sitting on the street as normal/acceptable.
- The visitors on the last day came to the festival as a weekend destination - mostly with children.
- Impromptu shows were unexpected surprises (puppet shows as well as karaoke performances both from the audience drew in passer-bys to the "stage")
- As a part of the night time screening of "A trip down Market Street" we had also informally spoken with the visitors about the history of the screening, of Market Street, of San Francisco, of the quake. Soon it became a mini history lesson/discussion around this topic - which was exactly what we had intended for the project - bringing the curiosity around Market Street's identity in San Francisco!