Free Zone

Merit Award 2017

The design brief asked the Second Story team to explore the theme of “time” by imagining a future world based on “plausible present technologies, ideas or milieus.” The temporary installation would live in public spaces along a downtown Atlanta block during “Creative Loafing’s Best of Atlanta” annual party.

There’s nothing high-tech or futuristic about South Broad Street, located in a gritty Atlanta neighborhood. The existing municipal signs were scattered throughout the long, wide block. The design team needed to find a way to register attention and communicate a specific story in a party setting where the art was atmosphere, not the main attraction.

With its vacant storefronts, the block also lacked ambient light so they needed to find a low-budget way to imitate the light values of a high-tech future. Second Story’s primary goal in regard to design-fiction was authenticity. They wanted to create a future that felt realistic—familiar, yet evolved—as a way to challenge troubling socio-technological tendencies in our present. If the signs they were designing served as artifacts, offering clues about a future culture, every design choice they made had to reflect a deeply considered decision about what that future was like.

The story established South Broad Street as a “dark” zone in a technologically pervasive, constantly measured society where humans have willingly traded their privacy for gains in security, comfort, and convenience. The block—home to a grassroots resistance group—is one of the last remaining places in the city that hasn’t been anesthetized by the pursuit of clean, comfortable and convenient. What if people abandoned our shared habits, disrupted our learned patterns, changed our collective behaviors? What if we simply went dark?

Using existing environmental signage as a dispersed canvas, Second Story constructed a narrative ecosystem with a single goal: transport visitors to the block into a strange but plausible future world. The team was drawn to signs as a unique storytelling vehicle. Not only do they offer place-making power—helping us to understand where we are, who we are and how we live—but they could also serve as a found canvas, naturally integrated into the block party’s urban surroundings.

At the entrance to the block, the design team built a barricade to make “crossing over” feel visceral for party guests. Bright orange “Czech hedgehogs” and oversized acrylic signs warned people that they were entering a zone beyond the bounds of their current reality. As people walked further into the party, they encountered a new type of interactive sign, a “cache wash” where commercial-style messaging invited them to have their biometric data cleared. Standing under a cone of light and bathing in the cathartic beams of a projection-mapped video, everyone was only one wash away from freedom.

To absorb people in a truly immersive future, every existing municipal sign on the block became part of the story. Six signs incorporated edge-lit etched acrylic that attracted attention and lent the nighttime setting a futuristic glow.

By applying a lenticular technique to the content, the design team achieved a playful, analog visual distortion that provoked guests’ curiosity and invited them to decode the messaging. The signs’ layering capacity also enabled them to tell a story with two sides: government and resistance; they plastered the environment with propaganda posters from both points of view. To achieve maximum density on a limited budget, hoods covered all other municipal signs on the block, indicating that they were “Scheduled for Upgrade” as part of a citywide effort. 

In the end, more than 2,000 people attended the “Creative Loafing Best of Atlanta” event and Second Story’s installation provoked a variety of discussions, online and off. Perhaps the best measure of success was the client’s enthusiasm. Anthony Harper, founder of the Goat Farm Arts Center said, “The installations were damn awesome…Perfect outcome."

Jury Comments: 

"We live in a designed world where technology is ubiquitous and more and more encroaching on our privacy and freedom. This public installation brings awareness to this dependency and the future vision of government control and rebellion against it. Set in the environment of an Atlanta block party this installation created confusion, irritation, questions and discussion on and offline. A truly thought-provoking exhibition in the public space."

"This project is a great example of what can be down in an uncontrolled urban environment. The pervasive encroachment of technology into our personal lives is brought to life in an engaging interpretation of the near future. A clever premise well executed."

Client: 

Goat Farm Arts Center

Open Date: 

September 2015

Photo Credits: 

Second Story, Part of SapientRazorfish

Design Team: 

Joel Krieger (executive creative director), Hunter Spence (director of technology), Emily Fridman (studio director), Scott Hickman (creative director), Pavani Yalla (experience design lead), Matthew Lewis (studio technology manager), Casey Mann (producer), Andy Pruett (technologist), Stephany Gill (art director), Mauricio Talero (senior art director), Matheus Meneghel (art director), Ashton Grosz (senior experience designer), Kathryn Beane (senior content strategist)

Fabricators: 

MASS Collective

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