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Pop-Up Plazas open on San Francisco’s Embarcadero

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"Social Circles" invites visitors move their chair.

“Social Circles” at Pier 9-15 invite visitors to move their chairs.

In preparation for the summer of America’s Cup races and final September matches, Rebar and San Francisco’s Exploratorium created two Pop-Up Plazas and public space laboratories called Experiments in People-Watching, which instruments and enlivens the most popular of urban activities—observing others. Funded by the Port of San Francisco and situated at the marginal wharf between the Exploratorium at Pier 15 and Pier 9, and under the Bay Bridge at Pier 24-1/2, these free public spaces are structured around reconfigurable and interactive seating that offers visitors an opportunity to view and explore the dynamics of social behavior. Opening July 1, 2013, for six months*, the site will also feature a collection of activities that will help people—visitors and locals alike—notice and evaluate the social signals given by the people around them. As they enjoy the parade of passers-by along the Embarcadero, they can discover something about those who live, work, and visit here.

The centerpieces of the space are two different constructions of modular lounging, tied together by a bold, graphic pattern painted on the asphalt. One seating configuration consists of two intersecting “social circles” of benches on tracks, which can be slid around for bay-viewing, people-watching, or interaction among sitters. The other construction is a “social spirograph,” which consists of a long main axis from which users can pull out individual arms of benches for solo or group seating. Each arm moves independently from the others, leaving chalk tracings on the ground — recording the way people have chosen to organize their social interactions, including their proximity from others.

The “Social Spirograph” includes two benches that both rotate and travel along a linear axis, allowing people to change the piece’s relationship to a long table. A stylus inside the Spirograph also draws in chalk on the pavement as it’s moved, creating a record of its use.

The installation at Pier 15 and 9 is complemented at the east end of the Embarcadero with a companion space at Pier 24-1/2. Directly under the Bay Bridge, it features generous seating, an elevated perch, and greenery to allow better views and appreciation of the Bay and the social life of the Embarcadero.

Pier 24-1/2 features an elevated Bay viewing platform and areas for lounging.

Pier 24-1/2 features an elevated Bay viewing platform and areas for lounging. Construction tape will come down after the last touches are on.

The design is based on a modular form that will allow pieces for the installation to be transported and re-purposed for a new site, when the duration of the installation is over. The hexagonal deck pods are structurally independent so that they can be moved with a forklift. Materials were chosen for durability and re-use appropriateness, with an eye toward long term use in various locations, depending on how long the installation remains.

The color palette for the ground plane is directly sampled from color spectrography of San Francisco Bay itself, with a couple of additional colors sampled from the skyline of the city of San Francisco.


A HUGE THANKS TO Tyler Pew and his unstoppable crew at LMNOP for a construction tour de force under burly deadlines; Paul Troutman; Diane Oshima and Dan Hodapp at the Port of San Francisco; Ellen Miramontes at BCDC; Rebar alumni Justin Ackermann and Celsa Dockstader for their early design firepower, Ben Davis for getting the ball rolling, Rebar principals John Bela and Matt Passmore for their ideas and brainstorming; and of course our esteemed collaborators Steve Gennrich, Shawn Lani and Eric Dimond in Exploratorium Outdoor Exhibits. The project was led at Rebar by Blaine Merker and managed by Ghigo diTommaso.

* The Port and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) have expressed interest in keeping the installation up longer than its stated end point of October 1, and eventually creating permanent public space improvements on the marginal wharves that are informed by Rebar’s designs. To express your support of these projects and more investment in the design of the Embarcadero’s public spaces, write the leadership of the San Francisco Port and BCDC.

Written by Blaine

July 2nd, 2013 at 12:52 pm

SOAK looks for a site, plus good news from Arup

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Do you get excited when you find a quarter under your seat cushion? That’s the feeling you get from talking to the engineers at ARUP when they analyze your design for a rainwater harvesting, solar powered, portable spa and tell you that you can get every watt of energy it needs from the sun. The quarters, in this case, are units of energy and come from heat exchangers and super efficient equipment that squeezes every last drop of solar goodness out to heat and power the “healthy hedonist” experience that is SOAK [see project page]. No guilt needed here: enjoy unwinding knowing that this luxe experience conserves resources with thoughtful engineering. Check out the Sankey diagrams on this baby:

SOAK is entering a major fundraising and site-raising stage, and Rebar is proud to have our design help launch the campaign. If you have a developing parcel with an 18-36 month vacancy window in the Bay Area, get in touch.


Written by Blaine

June 27th, 2013 at 11:39 pm

Kaleidoscape: A Study in Double Symmetry

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Kaleidoscape – plan symmetry. Photo courtesy BAM/PFA.


We are pleased to announce Kaleidoscape, our latest museum exhibition and social furniture project, which we recently installed at the Berkeley Art Museum for a three-year exhibition in the museum’s main atrium.

Led by Rebar principal/founder Matthew Passmore and Associate Designer Elizabeth Marley, Kaleidoscape is an interactive sculpture system created to explore the tension between the system of order implied by a radial “plan view” symmetry and the soft symmetry of social use patterns that change over time or emerge spontaneously. Exhibiting this unique form of double symmetry, Kaleidoscape can be enjoyed visually from galleries high above the atrium floor, as well as by museum visitors in search of a comfortable place to sit, relax, or collaborate to build a wide variety of social spaces. While the formal elements of the piece imply a system of radial order, the emergent use patterns will provide another structure – an informal “social symmetry” given by the improvised and evolving requirements of Kaleidoscape’s users. In this regard (and borrowing a page from the work of Henri Lefebvre) the piece can be thought of as an expression of the inherent tension between a “conceived” ordering system designed at a privileged distance from the experience of the space, and the “perceived” properties of the space, based upon the complex and evolving needs of the user; the tension between a radial, plan-view kaleidoscopic symmetry and an emergent and chaotic social symmetry of ever-changing use patterns.

All that and a video:

Social symmetry. Photo courtesy BAM/PFA.

Kaleidoscape was, like many Rebar projects, an intensely collaborative effort. We benefited greatly from the contributions of Joel Rose, fabricator extraordinaire, the expert upholstery design of Joona Creates, with clutch collaboration from Sasha Vermel Designs, and intrepid Rebar Apprentices Paul Andam and George Zisiadis.

The piece is on display at the museum through December 2015 and, if all goes well, it will continue to live at the new Berkeley Art Museum, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, which is slated to open in 2016.

Stay tuned for future Kaleidoscape events, including a presentation by lead artist/Rebar founder Matthew Passmore on July 26, 2013, competitive kaleidoscapic races later in the year, and other events to come.

Plan symmetry emerges, even during installation. Photo by Matthew Passmore.


The social symmetry of installation

Written by Matthew

June 4th, 2013 at 11:14 pm

Rebar in DC

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Rebar just completed our second ArtPlace event along the 14th Street NW Corridor with the DC Office of Planning and the 14th Street Uptown Business Association.  We set up a temporary workshop on 14th Street and Crittenden for the week and held open studios each night for volunteers.  On Saturday for our Street Furniture Design Build, community members, business owners, and DC planners alike came together to help sand, paint, and assemble furniture pieces.

We worked with Creative Dimension Group to cut flat plywood pieces with a CNC router.  These are the first prototypes of our kit-of-parts furniture that can be easily assembled and disassembled as necessary.  The pieces were designed in varying animal shapes and painted with bright colors with the intent to celebrate “play” in the urban environment.

(L) Volunteers painting high stool pieces; (R) Angie with a high table and stool set at Smokey’s.

We made 3 sets of high tables with bar-height stools and gave them to local businesses along the Corridor.  The sidewalks in DC are very wide (reaching 35′ at certain points) with ample opportunities for public use. Five planters shaped like hippos with fold-out benches were placed along the corridor.

Sandy and Aziza on a planter and stool.

Our final piece was a whale-shaped porch swing that hung from a crocodile head frame. The swing can be interchanged with a community message board. We met some great folks in the neighborhood and are excited about how the pieces turned out!

Our Swing on the corner of 14th and Crittenden.

Testing out the swing!

See our flickr for more photographs of the event.

After our event, I took a tour of Dupont Underground with Julian Hunt (of Hunt Laudi Studio), Monling Lee, and Braulio Agnese.  We met Julian at our first event in DC for 5×5; he was a part of our panel, “Public Art: It’s a Verb!”

Existing conditions of Dupont Underground.

Dupont Underground is a non-profit started by Julian to re-open an abandoned tunnel just beneath Dupont Circle. This amazing underground space was in use as a trolly station for just over twenty years before it was closed in 1975. The 75,000 square feet of space is ripe with opportunities for exhibitions and events. We’re excited to hear how the story unfolds of bringing Dupont Underground back into the public realm.

Written by Rebar

July 24th, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Bubbleware Invade Austin

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Bubbleware stacked and waiting for activation outside of Austin City Hall

Bubbleware stacked and waiting for activation outside of Austin City Hall

On April 14th Rebar landed in Austin as part of Art City Austin, a half art festival half block party put on by Art Alliance Austin.  The festival marked Bubbleware’s first stateside deployment outside of San Francisco.  Art City Austin closed two main  thoroughfares for one weekend, allowing artists and festival goers to experience the streets sans cars. For two days, Bubbleware were spread out over the 6 block spread creating hot spots of improvised lounge space.

Bubbleware and Swing Bubbleware playground Bubbleware loves kids

Rebar was invited back to participate in both the Fusebox festival and Plaza Life festival.  Bubbleware was first installed at the Fusebox “hub” before being transferred to Frost Bank Tower’s expansive plaza.  The Bubbleware were quite comfortable in their new high-class digs, softening the austerity of Frost Bank Tower’s plaza and inviting passers-by to participate in the many events happening that weekend.

Plaza goers relax to some latin music in the newly activated Frost Bank Plaza

Plaza goers relax to some Latin music in the newly activated Frost Bank Plaza

002 Bubbleware in Austin Enjoying Bubbleware Adam Green and Josh Berliner of Rebar prep Bubbleware for deployment

Rebar’s last stop in our whirlwind tour was City Hall, where Matthew Passmore spoke as part of the Next Level speaker series.


Matthew Passmore lectures at Austin City Hall

We felt right at home in Austin and hope we contributed to “keepin’ it weird”.

Written by Rebar

May 16th, 2012 at 9:03 pm

Showplace Triangle shows up in a clothing ad

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Rebar’s Showplace Triangle is featured in a recent commercial for LRG Clothing called Letting the Kids Play Part 2. Although it wasn’t designed for skating, the plaza occasionally ‘stacks functions’ as urban oasis and adventure playground.

Screen Shot 2012-05-05 at 11.08.26 AM

Written by Blaine

May 5th, 2012 at 10:00 am

Rebar amps up for Urban Play in Køge, Denmark

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Check out the construction of Rebar’s upcoming installation at  Søndre Havn (South Harbor) in the historic seaport city of Køge, southwest of Copenhagen, Denmark.  As part of the Urban Play exhibition, Rebar is exploring Køge’s history with a constructed landscape of raw industrial materials: Legelandskab af træ og sand (Playscape of wood and sand). Sky-high piles of sand are poured around vertically mounted pine logs, creating a minimalist, man-made forest where site lines are left to be discovered, buried between the sandy dunes. Over the course of the exhibition, we expect that the form of the undulating ground plane will morph based on the exploration patterns of visitors frolicking around the site.


Legelandskab af træ og sand (Playscape of wood and sand) in progress


Vandremark (Wanderfield)

Rebar will also be sowing a nearby vacant lot with wheat grain in the installation, Vandremark (Wanderfield)Over time it will grow in between the concrete grey silos of the industrial landscape, changing colors as it runs its seasonal course.

Urban Play opens next Friday, May 4th.  Principal John Bela will be representing the Rebar posse, so if you find yourself nearby, come say hello. Stay tuned for more pics!

Written by Rebar

April 26th, 2012 at 9:01 am

Nomadic Grove is installed!

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Nomadic Grove was installed last Wednesday followed by a lovely opening reception at the Contemporary Jewish Museum to mark the beginning of the exhibit, Do Not Destroy: Trees, Art, and Jewish Thought. Many thanks to the museum’s security, Rebar’s intrepid staff and volunteers, and the amazing crew from Treemover who stood in the rain all day to make this installation a success. The gems will be in the plaza until May. Come check them out!

image by Molly Fiffer

image by Molly Fiffer

The rainy install day started with a very early morning at our studio. Lawson Drayage secured the gems on 2 flatbeds using a 15,000 lb forklift with 7-foot blades. The gems braved the city streets and headed for the Contemporary Jewish Museum for the install.


Loading the gems on 20th Street


In front of the Rebar studio and fabrication shop


The gems arriving at the Contemporary Jewish Museum

rainy-day install

It was a rainy installation day.

Waiting at the plaza with Fernando from Treemovers were the two olive trees one an oak, ready to be dropped into the planters. As soon as they were unloaded from the truck, we were ready to place the trees using an enormous grade-all brought by the tree nursery.


Our trees, waiting for us in the plaza of the museum



Gems before lids

Gems before lids


Written by Rebar

February 23rd, 2012 at 6:24 pm

Intersection: Public Art for Portland’s Clinton Street Station

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For more than a year, Rebar has been working on a monumental public art piece for Portland Tri-Met’s Clinton Street station, a stop along Portland’s new Portland-Milwaukie light rail line. The design is finalized and we are please to unveil the piece here:

Named “Intersection,” the sculpture comprises repurposed surplus light rail track extracted from a location mere feet from the sculpture site. The intersecting geometry is inspired by the abstract topological subway maps you see on train platforms the world over.  At night, the sculpture will be lit for dynamic views of the piece and to help it become a way finding landmark for folks in the Brooklyn or HAND neighborhoods who are looking to catch the train.

How do you get rail (which is called “light rail” though it weighs well over 100 lbs per foot) to bend at such impossible angles? We’re not giving away any secrets, but suffice it to say Portland fabricator and artist Jim Schmidt and his team at Art & Design Works, are alchemists, and may well be wizards too. We have also been pleased to collaborate on the piece with the excellent structural engineers at Grummel Engineering and the talented designers and engineers at Interface Engineering, who did the lighting design. Look for the piece to be standing tall sometime in 2015!


testCurves-webRail like it’s never been bent before

Written by Rebar

February 16th, 2012 at 11:46 am

Nomadic Grove Construction is Underway

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You can't miss the brightly colored Nomadic Grove at the entrance of San Francisco's Contemporary Jewish Museum on Mission Street between 3rd and 4th Streets.

We are just moments away from installing Nomadic Grove at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in downtown San Francisco, as part of the upcoming exhibition, Do Not Destroy: Trees, Art, and Jewish Thought, opening February 16th. (more)

Our crew has been working around the clock on constructing gigantic planter modules, which are mobile, reconfigurable, gem-shaped islands sited at the museum’s entrance. Many thanks to Kristin Saunders, Noah Brezel, the Rebar family, and friends who have helped out in the shop in the past weeks.

P1000350 P1000757

Take a moment out of your day to sit calmly under a cypress, an oak, or an olive tree to contemplate their stoic demeanor amidst the city’s relentless motion.

Look out for these roving trees in Jessie Plaza at CJM, which will unveil on February 15th.

Written by Rebar

February 10th, 2012 at 2:27 pm

Commission begins for Contemporary Jewish Museum at Jessie Plaza

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Nomadic Grove - perspective copy

New project!

Nomadic Grove, commissioned by the Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM) in downtown San Francisco, is now under construction at the Rebar studio.  The project is an experimental outdoor landscape sited at the museum’s entrance and consisting of an archipelago of gem-like seating islands, each holding a specimen tree at its center.

The installation is a meditation on rootedness in the relentlessly changing city. To sit for a moment, relaxed, while gazing up at a tree that frames the sky is a simple and profound human experience–one that is in short supply in modern cities. This is a rare urban experience because trees resist the city’s constant motion, the city’s ruthlessness, the impatient cosmopolitanism.

The wood-framed islands are suspended low on wheels, floating just above the surface of the plaza as if they were riding on a calm lake. The modules are anchored in one of several compositions at the museum’s entrance, changing formation from week to week. The trees–oak, olive, and cypress–are adapted to the climates of both Israel and the Bay Area, representing the Mediterranean biome that is shared between the two regions.

Nomadic Grove - layout copy

The islands provide a means for visitors to inhabit a familiar urban space in novel ways, creating amphitheaters, seating, lounging decks, informal classrooms, or social spaces, depending on the day and configuration.

Nomadic Grove is open to the public in conjunction with the exhibition, Do Not Destroy: Trees, Art, and Jewish Thought, on view at CJM from February 16th through May 28th, 2012.

Written by Blaine

January 3rd, 2012 at 4:46 pm

Habitat Restoration on Año Nuevo Island

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A group from Rebar, Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge, and habitat restoration experts Go Native headed out to Año Nuevo Island on November 8th & 9th to finish work on the island for the fall 2011 season. We are excited to report that the habitat ridge on the island was finally completed!

habitat ridge

The ridge, which serves as a physical barrier for the California sea lions on the island as well as a blind for biologists studying the birds, now stands at six feet tall. Cormorants and other bird species make use of the ridge as nesting habitat because it provides excellent shade and a solid wind-break. The completed ridge will allow the birds to utilize their habitat without disturbance from the biologists and researchers who occasionally inhabit the island. The ridge is built out of all natural materials with no metal parts. Eucalyptus logs make up the wall and red cedar dowels were used to pin the logs together.

Aerial photo credit: Northern California Aerial Photography

Replanting of several species of native plants took place over the course of the fall and was also finished on the November 9th trip. We were happy to see the survival of several plant species from the previous year including yarrow, salt grass, and many more. We were able to supplement these with more native species including beach bur, salt grass, American dune grass, lizard-tail, coyote brush, beach morning glory, mock heather, beach strawberry, coast buckwheat, and dune tansey. Several species of seeds were also spread, among which were beach bur, yarrow, lizard-tail, coyote brush, mock heather, and Farallon weed.

Año plants

For more information about the Año Nuevo Island Restoration Project please visit the project site.

Written by Rebar

November 16th, 2011 at 11:33 am