Art Museum Terrace Transformed into a Programmable Community Space

by | Sep 12, 2022 | Architecture, Lighting

Chapel Hill, United States

The Urban Conga

pARC is a series of interconnected arches that form an open-ended programmable space that comes to life through the interactions of its users.

Brooklyn, United States, 2022-06-28

pARC was designed by The Urban Conga to serve as an open-ended programmable space for the community of Chapel Hill and the Ackland Art Museum, located at the University of North Carolina. The Urban Conga studio designed the spatial intervention through a series of participatory design workshops with community stakeholders and museum representatives. Feedback and input from the community and museum representatives led to the final design of the space, as well as input on future public programming. The Ackland Art Museum is a free museum in Chapel Hill that hosts a surplus of diverse programming within its doors, but it seemed many community members were unaware of the museum and what it had to offer. pARC was designed to sit on the open terrace of the museum, serving as a bridge to connect it to the street as a programmable extension of the conversations, events, teachings, and other programming that currently exists within the doors of the Ackland. The design shows how play can be utilized as a tool in the democratization of art institutions, effectively removing art from the pedestal to allow people to take ownership of the work and the space. It invites people from the street into the museum, attracting people who may have previously been uncomfortable entering the space. The installation becomes a transformative communal platform, allowing all users to engage with the museum, university, and each other in new ways.

pARC utilizes light during both the day and at night as a way to spark various playful interactions.
Photo credit: Tom Waldenberg

The design of pARC both mimics and contrasts the Georgian-style architecture of the museum. The design takes the symmetrical colonial composition and breaks it into a series of interconnected arcs. These series of arcs appear to grow up from the ground to frame the various social spaces that allow users to put their own identity onto the work, the museum, and the surrounding space. pARC becomes a flexible communal space evoking endless ways to play, gather, perform, teach, converse, or even take a nap. The spatial gesture takes on its users’ identities and utilizes its playable design to break down social barriers and spark communal connection within the space. The color of the work was designed in coordination with the rebranding of the Ackland, helping to draw people into the museum and serving as a connector to their new brand and mission. The work utilizes universal design standards to make it an inclusive space that anyone can use. Underneath the grass sits a sustainable mesh system that allows for wheelchair accessibility within the space, while still allowing the grass to grow up through it.

A group can be seen striking a series of poses within the panels filling the archways.
Photo credit: Tom Waldenberg
Museum visitors play with their reflections and shadows in the work.
Photo credit: Tom Waldenberg
A group of students uses the space as a place to hang out and have lunch.
Photo credit: Tom Waldenberg

Each archway serves as a framed or reflective view of the surrounding context, allowing the user to view the area through a different lens. As one passes the work, they begin to realize that their movement changes the colors of the panels, sparking different filtered views of the context around them. The installation not only responds to the user, but also to the environment by reflecting and refracting the surrounding context through its dichroic lenses, while also casting shadows onto the ground and the panels themselves. The work utilizes light, both during the day and at night, as a tool to evoke play and wonder within the space. During the day, the user can interact with the sun to cast shadows onto the panels, or to shift the colors reflected within the space. This interaction sparks a connection between the person and the sun, and reveals how their actions begin to create a reaction within the space. At night, this same effect is created through the use of red, green, and blue lights that allow the user to color mix with their shadows on the panels. The shadow play on the work becomes another way that the user can begin to play with the work, space, and others.

Performers take over the space engaging with spectators through shadow play.
Photo credit: Tom Waldenberg
A performer creates a series of shadow poses while acting out a scene.
Photo credit: Tom Waldenberg
The colors of the work change based on the angle in which you view the piece both during the day and at night.
Photo credit: Tom Waldenberg

pARC becomes a transformative landmark for all types of play, from physical to fantasy, highlighting how play can be utilized as a critical tool in evoking more inclusive and equitable communal spaces.

Technical sheet

Client: Ackland Art Museum & University of North Carolina
Year: 2022
Location: Chapel Hill, NC – USA
Project Size: 864 sq ft
Designers: The Urban Conga 

About The Urban Conga

The Urban Conga is an international award-winning multidisciplinary design studio based in Brooklyn, NY, comprising a diverse group of creatives focused on sparking social activity and community interaction through open-ended play. They achieve this by working with communities to create inclusive, engaging, and site-specific opportunities that spark creativity, exploration, and free-choice learning for all demographics within the built environment. Their work explores the idea of a “Playable City” as an ecosystem of multi-scale playable opportunities intertwined within the existing urban infrastructure, without disrupting daily life, but rather adding to it. Their work extends to collaborations with communities, organizations, businesses, municipalities, and institutions worldwide, delivering permanent spatial interventions, public art installations, temporary activations, workshops, development plans, and public policy recommendations.

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