Ten years ago, PARK(ing) Day was established with the goal of temporarily transforming metered parking spaces into tiny public parks. Some of the novelty has worn off since then, but the appeal has only strengthened, and the annual event now occurs around the globe. With “The Goatlet,” in 2013, the San Francisco studio brought live… Read more »
Ten years ago, PARK(ing) Day was established with the goal of temporarily transforming metered parking spaces into tiny public parks. Some of the novelty has worn off since then, but the appeal has only strengthened, and the annual event now occurs around the globe.
With “The Goatlet,” in 2013, the San Francisco studio brought live goats into the heart of the city. The concept highlighted urban versus pastoral life, sustainable (edible) construction, and goats as weed control. Among the many surprises that day was how the appearance of goats disrupted the pedestrian flow in the normally bustling financial district, causing passersby to break from their patterns to engage with our temporary street park. The staged interaction between people and goats became a kind of landscape intervention, a temporal performance that transformed the static parklet from an object into a space of interaction. This was a prime example of how the activities on a site, how it’s programmed, should be of equal importance for designers with its construction.
This year’s entry from SWA SF, The Harplet, builds on that idea of the staged interaction, but this time by introducing the ethereal sounds of live harp music to activate the park. A geometric construction of commonplace triangular cardboard tubes skinned with artificial turf created a comfortable lounge/stage for the musician. The audience sat on a series of steps across from the parking spot, outfitted with custom cardboard and turf seating elements. The big surprise this time was that the harp music managed to coexist with the urban cacophony, providing a kind of sonic refuge from the surrounding commotion.
The goats and the harpist’s music were both unpredictable elements that reframed the known city through juxtaposition. The goats generated a puzzled delight among onlookers. Crowds formed and many photos were taken and shared. “Why are they here?” was generally followed by a big smile when the answer came. By contrast, the harp music this year encouraged a quiet pause in the day. Passersby stopped and sat calmly, taking in the music and recording videos. Seemingly spontaneous events function as a kind of cultural currency every day now; only the provocative and unexpected are deemed especially worthy in the age of Instagram.
Today, the urban landscape is the designated place of public expression and the locus of cultural movements. Advertising agencies put on festivals and pull off outrageous stunts in public spaces to help their clients reach sought-after demographics. Protest movements have become synonymous with their sites of resistance, from Occupy Wall Street to Tahrir Square.
The Goatlet and Harplet suggest a type of urban experimentation for landscape architects. How does the introduction of unexpected living elements and sounds affect the streetscape? What can we take away as designers from these types of unexpected interventions? Is it enough to say “Place Art Here” in our documents, or should we take a more active role in the programming of space? In order to push the boundaries of the unpredictable and indeterminate aspects in landscape architecture, this type of direct action is a useful tool.