A drizzly Monday afternoon is perhaps not the best time to run the outdoor test of an installation that enables civic participation. Still, a couple of curious souls came along to look. “We had a handful of people come over in the first ninety minutes,” says Tjeu van Bussel, one of the four minds behind the installation. Denk een Eindje mee is designed to encourage citizens to share their ideas about construction plans in the municipality.
“Until now this has happened mainly at public consultation evenings, which are often felt to be boring and inaccessible,” tells Van Bussel. “Coffee, cake and everyone watches a PowerPoint presentation. This needs to change. The city council asked TU/e whether a goup of Industrial Design students might be willing to come up with an alternative. We designed an installation that enables us to strike up a conversation with residents at the proposed construction site, and that enables them to share with us their wishes and needs.
The installation consists of a large interactive mirror that participants can use to express in a playful, abstract way, how they want to experience the location - in this case Stadhuisplein - in the future. Standing on the red dot, you notice the interaction at once: move your body from left to right, move backwards, rise up or down - it all has an immediate effect on the shapes in the mirror.
You are asked questions. In my case, these were 'What do you hope Stadhuisplein will look like in the future?' and 'What do you need to feel safe at Stadhuisplein?’ Next, you have to try and express this using your body, and the result is immediately visible in the mirror. It is a challenge that requires some creativity and imagination, but you soon get the hang of it. My hope is that the square stays an open space and so I push the blocks on the screen as close to the bottom edge of the mirror as I can. There are multiple topics and you can choose how long you want to participate.
Once the test period is over, the students will evaluate the results. “It's a nice way of starting a conversation with people at the site itself. In this case, the users of this square. There's a skatepark here, for example,” says Van Bussel. “These skaters may well have very good ideas about the design and use of the square, but we aren't likely to see them at a public consultation evening anytime soon. We hope our installation will enable us to involve more people in city planning issues.”
The tool does not work independently: it needs an operator. “And that's as we want it; we hope the installation will be used to start a conversation. It isn't some sort of 'mirror mirror on the wall' that asks you questions,” says Van Bussel.
Would you like to take a look for yourself? There will be another chance to see the installation on the afternoon of Wednesday December 9th between 13.00 and 17.00 hrs.