In a moment where "interactivity" has become as ubiquitous and desirable as social networking and wi-fi, the design of an ambitious new public space in San Francisco expresses how ideas of interactivity can bear themselves out architecturally and urbanistically.
Physical connectivity, material contrast, and consumer choice come to the fore, along with event planning and even furniture design:
These clearings in the urban jungle point to what we can expect as the city grows; the best designs and spaces will be interactive in the way these plazas are, with new stores, arts and music venues and digital playgrounds. They are interactive in the simplest way - you walk through them. In addition, venues linked to them use technology to make it possible for visitors to personalize their experience, whether it is while looking at art or engaging with a history museum.
These plazas are not Disney-fied in the way of Belden Alley or other gentrified alleys in the city, which have French or Italian themes. Instead, the new spaces provide a smorgasbord that you can mix and match at will, just as you do when you go inside some of the buildings. Museum placards and curators' captions alone will not be the only voices you hear. You will hear artists' points of view, too.
Mint Plaza, formerly an alley in the SoMa neighborhood, surrounds the future home of the Museum of San Francisco and the Bay Area. Inside, the museum will offer a range of high-tech accoutrements that allow users to customize their visit:
Voice and motion triggers will be incorporated in the $90 million museum - not just to be au courant, Chadbourne explains, but because it will make the museum truly interactive. Computer chips embedded in walls and tabletops will enable people to summon information for their own versions of history, allowing them to chart the progress of their own ancestors from the time of the Gold Rush. For example, Italian Americans with roots in the city will be able to call up maps that show where Italian Americans lived in the city and find documents or photos provided by the California Historical Society that might even lead them to the first place their family lived. Because the museum will not be set up in a chronological fashion, self-guided podcasts will let visitors customize their visits.
In the plaza itself, the space is ordered very simply by the placement of two "rain gardens" that capture and retain stormwater; a steel trellis along one edge; minimal overhead lighting; and small changes in elevation. Echoing the customizable experience of the museum inside are groups of movable orange chairs that stand in sharp contrast to an otherwise subdued material palette. (photos below via Flickr)
Around the edges of the plaza are a varied assortment of (no doubt carefully selected) cafes and retail spaces that spill into and animate the space (including the one you may have read about where you can get coffee from a $20k halogen-powered "siphon bar.") Soon a number of food carts will further enliven the plaza's peripheries.
A non-profit agency created specifically for Mint Plaza programs the space with a changing schedule of music, film, and theater events, thus acknowledging temporality by engineering a variety of ways for the plaza to be used and seen. This dimension is so important because it underscores the notion that the design of physical space, by itself, cannot offer any guarantees of a dynamic, well-liked public space. In other words, the choreography of the Mint Plaza experience exceeds architecture and urban design--extending to event planning and easy access to nearby spaces--and how these things "communicate" or interact with the plaza architecturally and through program.