In Lake Union Park, just weeks ago, a young girl in summery sandals regarded a single pole in a line of poles. She held a strand of pink hemp, contemplating her next move.
The installation—“What’s Your Balance?” by Ankrom Moisan, part of the Seattle Design Festival Block Party—was asking her response to nine life aspects of “body,” “mind,” “family,” “friends,” “work,” “play,” “cost of living,” “available funds” and “balance overall”. Do you feel very balanced? Neutral? Completely unbalanced? Other participants’ responses, recorded in color-coded strands along each pole, fluttered in the mid-morning breeze. She’d already moved easily through the first three sections, pulling her strings through the highest slot in the pole to respond “very balanced” to “body,” “mind,” and “family,” but halted before the “friends” section.
Finally, she pulled her string through the second-lowest slot in the pole, just above “very unbalanced.”
Later, she rejoined her foster mother, watching her just steps away. The two talked quietly about how she feels about the friends in her life.
In succession, from one person’s response to another’s, the installation’s path became a living graph of data: A 3D representation of how balanced, or unbalanced, a community feels about their daily lives.
“We noticed right away that the installation was spurring these deeper discussions.” said Dave Sheridan, Intern II, Ankrom Moisan. “One woman, when she got to ‘costs’ regarded, ‘I don’t have to worry about this, because I don’t have anywhere to live,’ and pulled her string through the highest slot for ‘very balanced.’ It really struck me in that moment that that’s exactly how this was to be used. It’s all subjective—it’s what people think about themselves. It brings to life whatever’s inside their mind.”
The creation of “What’s Your Balance” began with a call for installations by Design in Public, an initiative of AIA Seattle. Managing Design Principal Jennifer Sobieraj Sanin and Design Principal Casey Scalf challenged our Seattle office staff to submit ideas for a large-scale design in response the Seattle Design Festival theme, BALANCE. By popular vote, the data-driven design of “What’s Your Balance,” was chosen for the city-wide event. Created by Sheridan, Stephanie Baker, Architectural Designer II, and Faramarz Manteghi, Architectural Designer II, the concept for the piece began with the group exploring their own meaning and definition of “balance.”
“We started a conversation about balancing our student loan debt,” said Baker. “That topic bounced to the buzz word of ‘work-life balance.’ From there, we tried finding some of the basic aspects of life that people find challenging to balance, like their health and relationships.”
The categories eventually expanded to include aspects of community (safety, affordability), time (at work/school and in play), health (mentally and physically) and money (ability to save/spend).
Manteghi explained that to achieve the “interactive” design intent, a data-driven approach, in which the construction serves as a platform for showcasing user input, was taken. The team designed a series of wood frames for participants to move along, each representing the “life” categories and bookended by a set of numbered holes to denote the level of balance felt. Strings of hemp served as the medium for “user input,” with 5 different colors to visually represent the variance of responses by age groups—pink for 20-years-old or younger, green for ages 20-29, yellow for ages 30-39, blue for ages 40-60, and red for 60-years-old or more. The design, “allows the user to have a reflective experience and then projects it into a physical display."
Creating that physical display was made possible with the help of Scott Vazquez of PCL and his granddaughter, who built the installation over the course of month using reclaimed wood from jobsites. Sustainable sourcing of materials and waste reduction was an important mission for the team. To meet it, they used only salvaged or donated goods to create the installation, and afterward, donated most of the materials to local gardening organizations, with just a small amount left to be recycled.
People from every generation and from all over the world came to experience and include their responses over the course of two sunny days of the Festival’s Block Party. By the end, over 800 people had woven their externalized reflections through the installation, painting a portrait of the community’s larger sense of balance—but more importantly—sparking dialogues between families, friends, and compete strangers about the shared successes and challenges that each of us face in balancing our daily lives.
“Design is ultimately for people,” says Sheridan. “Each of us interprets our environment differently, and by accounting for these different interpretations, we gain unique perspectives that illuminate our oversights. It helps us understand design better, but more importantly, ourselves.”
Thank you to our hard-working volunteers, sponsors, and everyone who joined us at the Seattle Design Festival Block Party. Below are the averaged responses of the hundreds gathered from the community last month. We look forward to seeing everyone again next year!