With alone | among a group of designers from Progressive AE continued our tradition of creating urban installations as part of Grand Rapids’ annual ArtPrize festival of public art. Through the design and fabrication of a place for outdoor work and collaboration, the project offered an opportunity to explore how a small urban project might create a “third space” beyond the home or workplace to engage with ourselves, our community and the city.

Located in an existing urban plaza adjacent to several corporate headquarters and across the street from the City’s central courthouse, we created a semi-enclosed space for use by individuals and small groups that embraces the flexibility of contemporary tools for working while suggesting that today’s digital worker might also take advantage of the light, air, views, and social interaction that come only with the outdoors and with being a part of an urban public space. Though our project is inspired by its specific site, it is intended to be a prototype for a structure that might be built and used in a variety of locations.

Within each of the four identical “frames” that create the installation, the size and height of individual surfaces invite multiple uses for an individual or small group. The range of possible uses expands depending on how each frame is rotated and if it stands alone or together in groups. Whether stopping for a moment or settling in for focused work, each piece provides a variety of ways to stand, sit, perch, and lounge.

At night, a loop of LED strip lights transforms each frame into a lantern. Where during the day, the installation can be a place to step away from the activity of the street, at night it becomes a beacon and a place to be seen enjoying the City.

Throughout the design process, we kept fabrication and assembly in mind. Working with the craftsmen at Metro Engineering, a fabrication shop in Grand Rapids, we detailed the frames so that they could be made and quickly fit together from flat sheets of plywood milled on a CNC router. After finishing the pieces, a series of pre-cut tabs, slots, and finger joints allowed each of the 8’ tall frames to be quickly moved and assembled (and even disassembled when we learned the frames were inches too tall to fit into the shop’s freight elevator) using only finish screws to hold the pieces in place.

One unexpected outcome of our installation was that the piece quickly attracted groups of children who saw it as more than sculpture, but as a place they could make their own. Climbing, jumping, and sitting on and even on top of the frames, their engagement and enjoyment of the work proved that we had truly created a successful new place for the community. With none of the reluctance of adults who might see “art” as unapproachable, the children began finding unexpected but welcome new uses for our work.

We hope to continue that process of exploration when we reinstall alone | among outside our Grand Rapids office in 2015.

02 Art Prize 2014  05 Art Prize 2014  0.5 Art Prize 2014