The Urban Art of Social Distancing

Being in confinement has produced unconventional means of exploring architectural spaces and installations. Instead of putting everything on hold until life goes back to normal, designers and curators found inspiration from practices like performance arts and theatre, breaking down the walls between the subject and viewers but from a distance.

Ashley Bigham and Erik Herrmann of Outpost Office reimagined the theme of "mobility" by creating 1:1 scale drawings on the Ragdale campus using GPS-controlled field marking robots. Their unique urban installation, which addressed modern-day concerns such as public spaces, how we are engaging with them, and physicality, won first place in the 2020 Ragdale Ring competition.

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The designers behind the artwork shared their design process and how a project like this can influence people's behavior. Take a look at their work titled Drawing Fields, filmed by renowned architecture filmographers Spirit of Space, along with an exclusive interview with Archdaily.

Dima Stouhi: May you introduce yourselves and explain to us how you came up with this project?

Outpost Office: We are Outpost Office, a small practice currently based in Columbus, Ohio. We’re a tiny, agile practice that enjoys exploring architecture’s limits through speculative work.

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© Erik Herrmann

DS: You mentioned in the video that architecture has the ability to influence people’s behavior. How does this happen?

OO: In the case of Drawing Fields, we worked to calibrate the relationship between individuals in response to the physical distancing protocols that are now part of all of our lives. The pattern is complex from above but can be navigated intuitively from the ground to ensure adequate spacing between groups. It’s important to note that our work doesn’t force or coerce behaviors; in fact, it does the opposite. The experimental nature of our work prompts people to make new decisions about how they will interact with the work that are simultaneously individual and collective in nature.  

We consider each Drawing Field an ensemble of marks, collections of inscriptions which should be used and viewed as a whole rather than individually. In our work, we prefer an ambiguity of both use and ownership, employing elements that must be shared and their use negotiated. The works are assertive, even occasionally aggressive with exaggerated scales, crude forms, and rough methods. The designs employ low-resolution shapes, not as a geometric idealization, but to ensure the qualities of the individual parts are ancillary to the collective coherence of the environment.

We have a chapter in a forthcoming book, Digital Fabrication in Interior Design: Body, Object, Enclosure edited by Jonathan Anderson and Lois Weinthal that elaborates further on these themes in our work.

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© Erik Herrmann

DS: What are the tools that you used to create this project?

OO: Like any act of architecture, some of the most interesting tools go unseen in the final product. The primary tool for this project is a GPS marking robot, which is typically used for marking sports fields with small crews. For us, the robot was the perfect solution at a moment when we needed to maintain strict physical distancing on the site. Another important tool was our drone, which we used to develop photogrammetry scans of the site and document each event with video for segments cut into live broadcasts.

DS: How important are installations in your opinion and how do they influence society?

OO: Installations are important to allow designers to practice, to test and to take risks. We won’t speculate on their meaningfulness to society per se, but they produce a space where the question of what architecture is can be boldly challenged and we feel that’s important. 

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© Erik Herrmann

DS: What are your future projects?

OO: We have some small-scale ground-up construction we’re really excited about including a small duplex in Columbus, Ohio, and a tiny house prototype in rural Tennessee. We’re attracted to projects that offer us the opportunity to explore alternative housing models for the Midwest and American South. We are interested in designing typologies of housing that look beyond the single-family home. Many of those themes will also be explored in a forthcoming exhibition at Woodbury University in Los Angeles about our Long House research project.

DS: What do you see for the future of architecture and design?  

OO: We’re not sure what the future holds for architecture, but we’re confident the future of architecture and design will not be possible without anti-rascist models of design education and practice. We are excited and inspired by current movements which aim to increase the diversity of architectural pedagogy and radically reimagine our institutions.

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Photogrammetry. Image © Erik Herrmann

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Cite: Dima Stouhi. "The Urban Art of Social Distancing " 22 Oct 2020. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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