In his Public Space and the Public interest Class, Soukwan Chan, a professor from the university’s department of geography, planning and environment, assigned his students to come up with a multidisciplinary project in three weeks to encourage interaction between strangers in different public areas by using the urban settings themselves as a stimulator.
Of the ideas, Chan asked the class to rate the ones which stood out, and the students favoured the Nov. 20 public library installation set up on the corner of Guy St. and de Maisonneuve Blvd, which cost the group $50 and consisted of a bookshelf holding over 150 books, a sofa and two chairs.
Concordia urban planning students set up a library installation on the university’s campus in an effort to stimulate human interaction in public space, impressing fellow students by making use of the space and getting strangers to interact with one another.
“Sometimes artists create public art that is just there to decorate, and it’s not meaningful to the place,” said team member Elizabeth Thongphanith. “The comfortable setting of the library, we thought, would spark interaction with the built environment.”
The library setting was meant to play up the “democratic nature of public libraries,” said team member Patrick Serrano. He explained the group theorized that the majority of users would be students coming from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds.
Based on their data, the group counted 156 users throughout the 13 hours of the installation. While the group expected 28 per cent of users would engage in conversation, 7 per cent ended up doing so.
The group attributed their results to climatic factors, believing there were less users due to the cold weather. A time-lapse video was also produced, which includes interviews with those who used the space.
“[People] want to see more, not exactly this experiment, but a better use of the great space we have that nobody uses. People liked the idea that finally something new and interesting was happening,” said group member Brett Hudson.
Chan explained the projects showed the importance of building more possibilities for interaction in the public space. “We are concerned about others less and less,” said Chan. “We rely more on the virtual world than networks to communicate, to connect. … The stores that have automated doors, for instance, have eliminated even the smallest possibilities for interaction.”
The groups came up with a wide variety of projects, including a farting machine designed to force awkwardness at main street intersections and notes seemingly written by secret admirers or friendly unknowns the students then passed to strangers in an effort to evaluate gender interaction.
“In all these experiments we realize that people are comfortable with spaces,” said Chan. “But there’s value in trying to break those bubbles and to try to get people to interact with each other.”