Doxa Orange right arrow Pop-Up Plazas open on San Francisco’s Embarcadero

"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