A Shared State of Emergency

An interactive installation during the Seattle Design Festival about the impact of change on the unhoused population of Seattle.

Context

This year’s Design Festival Theme is Change. Change happens via design, and has intentional and unintentional effects. In Seattle we’ve seen that those unintentional effects disproportionately impact the unhoused population. During this year’s One Night count, over 4500 people were counted outside. Many of them, out of necessity, have made their homes in the interstitial spaces throughout the city, as you likely know, these communities are routinely subject to eviction. Occupants have called their evictions inhumane. And, data demonstrates that they are ineffective.

Response

This interactive installation aims to provide insightful data about how change in Seattle has disproportionately impacted its unhoused population. By inviting visitors to navigate various layers of data, an abstract problem and its impacts become visible.

In collaboration with

Aubree Ball

Initial Explorations

It was important for us to establish that this interactive installation won’t provide any solutions for solving homelessness and that our intention was to inform the public about sweeps and why they are ineffective.

In order to influence people one must make strong arguments, and communicate them using compelling data. But homelessness has a complex discourse and to ask people, who believe to have no affiliation with homelessness, to acquire a holistic view of the problem is difficult.

By providing this information in an engaging but non forceful way we aimed to make an abstract problem and its impact visible, while leaving room for interpretation and reflection.

This physical environment tells the story of this enormous group of people that have been displaced by rising rents, intolerance, and the criminalization of their daily needs. By informing the viewer about the discriminative laws, concerning our unhoused population, imposed by the City of Seattle we hope to encourage empathy, and show people small but significant ways in which we can all make an impact

When a passerby comes within the range of the installation facts start showing. By moving closer or farther away the user can ‘scroll’ through these bite-sized facts. For example, 87% of the homeless population in King County are locals.

The second interaction invites the participant to record their most treasured personal possession, which falls outside the belongings worth saving as defined by MDAR. The Multi Departmental Administrative Rules, which is a document that contains all the rules regarding sweeps.

Finally there is an opportunity for people to take what they’ve seen with them, and opportunities to make an impact through advocacy, volunteering, and donation by referring them to local advocates.

Production

We used the guts of a receipt printer to hand out information to the users. By combining the receipt printer with Arduino, we programmed four buttons in order to give the user a choice on which topic the installation should print information.

A second Arduino was connected to Processing through a proximity meter, which would allow the user to scroll through a slide deck containing data depending on their proximity to the installation.

The frame on which the installation would rest was built first, we had a small victory when it stood on its own for the first time.

Due to limited resources as graduate students, we had to get creative with production solutions. The type was etched into the MDF with a lasercutter and painted. This way we would avoid the high cost of vinyl lettering.

Seattle Design Festival

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