For decades, designers have fixated on building spaces that encourage openness and social interaction. But now that smartphones have made it near impossible to completely disconnect from the world, designers have started reconsidering how and where quiet, more solitary experiences can benefit people.
During New York Design Week 2015, there were three interactive installations that, while taking different approaches, all roughly addressed the same overarching themes of retreat and escape.
The first, Nap Lab, was featured at the Collective Design Fair and anointed itself with the dubious distinction of being the “first-ever napping environment to ever be installed at a design fair.” Regardless of whether or not that’s true, the space was effective in allowing people to recharge.
A collaboration between a handful of left-field designers–including Katie Stout, Dome Collective, Various Projects, and Print All Over Me–the cavernous space was outfitted with a wide-ranging array of cushions, projections that reacted to your movements, and lazily placed drapes that dared you not to slip into a coma.
Most people probably aren’t trying to nap in a public space while, say, running errands, but it’s an idea that could work nicely in an office or university setting.
Noguchi’s Secret Garden
Also at the Collective Design Fair was a “secret garden” curated by the Noguchi Museum. Featuring lighting, sculptures, and rocks both found and designed by the legendary artist and designer Isamu Noguchi, the installation overtook a loading dock in the back corner of the event space. Following Noguchi’s general design philosophies for spaces of this sort, which generally feature multiple zones, and an industrial aesthetic where stone and metal are the featured materials, the installation strategically employed a handful of carefully placed Akari Lamps, giving the otherwise cold space a relaxing warmth.
The garden wasn’t as naturally cozy as the Nap Lab. But its tucked-away location and the lack of overwhelming stimuli did manage to make most people shut up for a few minutes and sit alone with their thoughts.
The Dynamic Sanctuary
And then finally, as the centerpiece for the Sight Unseen: Offsite satellite show, design firm The Principals were commissioned by Ford to build out an interactive space. What they created was the Dynamic Sanctuary, an enclosed space and experience built with a single person in mind. When you walk into the heart of the structure, which is covered in soft LED lighting, there’s a biometric sensor waiting for you on a mirrored podium. When you clip it to your finger, the structure becomes responsive, pulsing in time with your heartbeat.
The whole idea behind the project, which forces you to focus on your heartbeat and breathing, is that it will make you more mindful of your individual place and state of mind in that particular moment, and ultimately, relax a little.
The structure, which took roughly six weeks to design, and a matter of hours to build, is something that Drew Seskunas, co-director of The Principals, thinks could be helpful in areas where people are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental trauma. He acknowledged that it’s also just about providing a pleasant experience to anyone who uses it.
“We wanted to find ways to make it enlightening without just being about function or utility,” he says. “Sometimes things need to be beautiful just to be beautiful.”