Ripple was designed with local community members, to serve as an ever-changing communal landmark that responds to the people, the surrounding landscape, and the interactions between them. It was created as a part of an ecosystem of multi-scaled playable interventions being implemented within the city that connects the river with the city center. Showcasing the value of play in everyday spaces and its impact on creating more social, healthier, safer, and inclusive cities. The design was developed through a series of participatory design workshops that utilized play methodologies to ensure the quiet person in the back had as much of a voice as the loud ones in the front. Attendees at these workshops ranged from city stakeholders, local community advocates, and after-school youth programs that were all main drivers in the design of Ripple. Within this process, our design practice becomes a tool for the community to create the work they feel represents them and their neighborhood. Our engagement with the community throughout the process isn’t about checking a box; it is about developing a relationship and understanding of what the community wants to see and discuss within their built environment. Throughout this process, the community brought up wanting the opportunity to act as a playful catalyst for breaking down social barriers and connecting people within the public realm. The work was going into a space that was usually passive and lacked communal connection, and the community wanted it to become an opportunity that got people to stop and interact not only with the work but with each other.
The design of Ripple was inspired by the flowing movement of the river, the main artery running through the center of the city and an integral part of the city’s history. Like the river, Ripple has a flowing motion that encourages people to engage with the work, the space, and each other while walking along the pedestrian pathway into the park. The iridescence of the piece mimics the effects of rippling water while reflecting the surrounding context and each person’s individual identity onto the work itself. The reflection and refraction of the surrounding context make the work come alive as people move through the space. The piece contains 1200 custom-made units, which were influenced by the form and clustering of the Lilac, a local flower well known and identified in connection with the area. This design element also relates to the history of the city branding shifting from the “flour city” to “flower city” and what that meant to different local residents. These units act as reflective pixels that individuals can rotate, becoming a message board for the community. The enlarged pixels allow for distorted messages and symbols to be left without the work becoming obtrusive or distracting to drivers or others passing by. The spatial intervention becomes a timeless open-ended playable platform for the community to put their own individual identity onto the work and surrounding space. The piece constantly changes and adapts to the people using it, the changing seasons, and the shifting landscape around it, creating new experiences and memories each time someone passes by. The work becomes less about itself and more about the relationships, conversations, and connections it sparks through these moments of play. Ripple’s open-ended nature allows each person to put their own individual identity onto the work and leave something behind.
Every component of the design from the connection to the river to creating an ever-changing, engaging, photogenic moment was driven by the discussions and feedback from the community during and after these workshops. In order to create inclusive work that generates communal ownership, it is vital to have the community as a part of the process from the beginning and throughout the project.