The Van Alen Institute: Projects in Public Architecture held an invited competition for the design of a public interactive installation for Lower Manhattan facilitating the dissemination and exchange of local information. The essence of our winning Civic Exchange proposal is that it is both an easy access point to useful local information, and a public space for social interaction. Its recognizable design makes the installation into a beacon in the environment. Activities that are encouraged through the digital information extend from the purely practical to the educational and entertaining. The installation is an open platform that allows for community participation on different levels.
The basic gesture for the installation was inspired by the image of people gathering around a bench under a tree, as found in city parks. The installation features multiple screens for different purposes. The main information screen is a multi-user interactive map table. The interactive map of Lower Manhattan provides direct access to place-based news, events, alerts and other information. People can engage in community dialogue by responding to polls, articles and by annotating the map. Local organizations can produce content for specific place-based activities. A public announcement screen in the form of a LED column presents broadcasted as well as interactively invoked content. The various types of information are distinguished through color and motion. Normally, text is animated in a poetic manner, respectful to the residential and recreational neighborhood. In alert or emergency modes, messages are presented in a more attention-grabbing manner. Also integrated into the column is an emergency intercom. A single-user internet terminal allows for private exchange. Seating modules invite people to gather. A roof with solar panels, which provide partial and back-up power, provides shade for the interactive display and acts as a shelter from rain. The physical components are designed as a modular system, like a “hub” with “spokes”, which can be tailored to the requirements of various locations. The components are covered by glass mosaic pieces captured in a stainless steel grid for durability. On the column the glass mosaic gives a more subdued quality to the LEDs and unifies the display with the rest of the installation. The seating modules can be decorated with neighborhood specific mosaic graphics.