Exploring the dynamics of social behavior along the Embarcadero
Between Piers 15 and 9
In preparation for the summer of America’s Cup races and final September matches, San Francisco’s Exploratorium and the Rebar Art and Design Studio are creating a public space laboratory called, Experiments in People-Watching, which instruments and enlivens the most popular of urban activities—people watching. Funded by the Port of San Francisco and situated at the marginal wharf between the Exploratorium at Pier 15 and Pier 9, this free public space is structured around reconfigurable and interactive seating that offers visitors an opportunity to view and explore the dynamics of social behavior. Opening July 1, 2013, for six months, the site will also feature a collection of activities that will help people—visitors and locals alike—notice and evaluate the social signals given by the people around them. As they enjoy the parade of passers-by along the Embarcadero, they can discover something about those who live, work, and visit here.
Shawn Lani, Exploratorium studio lead, observes, “People traveling to a new city are particularly primed to notice cultural and social mores of the resident population, in particular, how people are different from the folks back home. Examining the local character is a natural and gratifying part of being a tourist. Of course, people-watching is also part of our everyday life—the way, as social beings, we navigate relationships with others.”
The centerpieces of the space are two different constructions of modular lounging, tied together by a bold, graphic pattern painted on the asphalt. One seating configuration consists of two intersecting “social circles” of benches on tracks, which can be slid around for bay-viewing, people-watching, or interaction among sitters. The other construction is a “social spirograph,” which consists of a long main axis from which users can pull out individual arms of benches for solo or group seating. Each arm moves independently from the others, leaving chalk tracings on the ground — recording the way people have chosen to organize their social interactions, including their proximity from others.
The installation at Pier 15 and 9 is complemented at the east end of the Embarcadero with a companion space at Pier 24-1/2. Directly under the Bay Bridge, it features generous seating, an elevated perch, and greenery to allow better views and appreciation of the Bay and the social life of the Embarcadero.