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Middle Ground

A National Science Foundation grant, to combine place-making with social psychology exhibits, funded the creation of the Middle Ground exhibit, but the San Francisco Civic Center site became the driving force in the design. 

How do you create a safe space for a challenging topic (the study of us and the way we interact with each other and the world) in a monumentally gray and sometimes troubled neighborhood?  Add to that a complexity of jurisdictions that would leave your head spinning and a temporary (but one year long) install and you have the makings of a real challenge.

After investigating, and sometimes fully designing, at least seven sites, we arrived at the Larkin Street front porch of the San Francisco Public Library.  Here the gray monumentality is further overlaid by a relentless 3’x3’ grid. The design extrudes this grid vertically into a series of modular columns each topped by a different yellow chair. The chairs represent the diversity of humanity, and became a motif for the graphics on the exhibits below.

The columns also create two outdoor ‘rooms’ on the porch, helping to mediate between the scale of the big looming facade of the library and the human scale of the tables and chairs that populate the ground plane. Each the exhibits invite you to stop and take some time to watch the world around you and to reflect on the ways we interact with and process the world we inhabit.

Designed with the Exploratorium Studio for Public Space.