Photo of three people smiling holding a framed poster

Written by Rachel Scott on November 18, 2013

From pilots to products: How urban prototyping can help your city

Urban Prototyping: From Pilots to Products. Sounds impressive, but what on earth does it mean? Josette Melchor, the Founder and Executive Director of GAFFTA and George Zisiadis, an artist who recently installed the interactive “Pulse of the City” in Boston, explained all that and more at Kennedy Library’s most recent Cal Poly Science Cafe on Thursday, October 24.

Urban Prototyping

One last look at the slides

One last look at the slides

Josette created Gray Area Foundation for the Arts (GAFFTA) as a way to fix problems she saw happening  in urban environments. Specifically inspired by the city of San Francisco, she created GAFFTA to unite artists, engineers, civic leaders and creative thinkers to solve urban problems in a unique and efficient way.

Inherent in urban prototyping are a few core ideas: prototypes are designed so that all projects can be replicated, are at a low cost and will fix an urban problem through digital and physical means.

Josette showed us a ton of inspiring examples during her presentation, including the P Planter. Its creator, Brent Bucknum, created the P Planter as a place for people to relieve themselves so that they don’t use city streets. It’s essentially a planter around a tree or other greenery that has a filtration system.

Pulse of the City

Another example of an urban prototyping project is Pulse of the City. George created this project as a way for residents of a busy city to pause for a moment and connect with themselves.

“Among the chaotic rhythms of the city, I wanted to give people a chance  to connect with the rhythms of their bodies,” George said.

George recognizes that the urban life is a busy one, and that people don’t stop to take a moment to relax and get in tune with their body’s unique rhythm. So he started his Pulse of the City project.

Your heartbeat is a song

We learned how George and a team of interdisciplinary collaborators designed an aluminum red heart that matches your heartbeat to a song. Every song was created specifically for this project and is unique to your heartbeat in that moment. The cool thing about Pulse of the City is that every time you go to hear a song, it will be different because your heartbeat will be different. For example, your song would be different if you were jogging than if you were just strolling by.

Photo of heart installation from Pulse of the City in Boston, by George Zisiadis

Photo from Pulse of the City in Boston, by George Zisiadis

Public art and wireless data collection

The heart also sends data wirelessly through email so that George can see how many people have interacted with it. This is one of the first public art pieces that both collects data and send its wirelessly.

This unique, interactive public art piece is now installed in five places in Boston.

Simple ideas can turn into big things

George’s project is an example of how a unique, simple idea can turn into a creative solution that affects thousands of people. This is a core aspect of the urban prototyping model. Anyone who sees a problem in their city can go and create an innovative and inexpensive solution that can be shared with everyone.

Photos from this Cal Poly Science Cafe are on Flickr. Featured photo is of student Emily Wang, who designed the image to promote the urban prototyping event, presenting a framed poster to Josette and George.

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