aSOCIALinteraction, Design VII-Design Build

  • Abstract
    For this project, I was to design a table for the Women of Change homeless shelter in center city Philadelphia. In addition, the table design would be entered into the annual Philadelphia Museum of Art Collab table competition, a competition drawing student participation from schools from Pennsylvania and New York.
  • Quick Design Exercise
    The first day of the project, however, I was assigned to start by simply designing a table, knowing nothing yet about the program for the women's homeless shelter. The model and sketch below show this design. Lacking any program or specific requirements at this point, I drew inspiration from my pioneering experience I gained as a Boy Scout. This outdoor desk is made from two timber X-frames. All connections are made with rope and lashings. Rope stays keep the table upright as well.
  • Second Design Exercise
    Next, my professor said to design a new version of our table, this time knowing that the table would be used at the women’s homeless shelter, and also that it should be a social table of some form. In answer to this prompt, I stuck with the outdoor design and tensile structure, but created a table that could serve as a social tool. A round table in the middle, with only two permanent seats, encourages others to come gather around and brew a conversation. Also, two end seats, made of a tensile fabric that depress when one sits on them, may be attractive for those who are shy and prefer to be alone; but, as a conversation begins behind them, they may find themselves drawn to the social activity.
  • Visit with the Womens’ Shelter
    After those two exercises, my class visited the women’s homeless shelter that we would be working with in Philadelphia. While visiting, I learned from the staff that there was a need for both community and individual type tables. They wanted things for their community rooms that could provide for group activities, or allow for private work spaces. Also, while I was at the homeless shelter, I noticed that there were some women who gathered and were social with each other, but other women preferred to keep to themselves. Furthermore, many women do not consider the shelter they live in to be a home, and don’t like being there. I thought that by making a large table that could be used for a variety of group activities, but used sliding dividers that could break the space up into smaller spaces if necessary, that it would solve the need for community tables, but also provide a place for people who are more shy to feel comfortable working. Then, those who are shy might passively pick up on the social activity happening in the community room, they might feel more comfortable with the women they live around, and they might, at some point, be able to call the place they live at a home after all. Below is a diagram done early in the design process, and below that is a diagram from the final presentation.
  • Formal Goals
    In addition to the programmatic needs, I felt it was important to design a table that would aesthetically appeal to the ladies. I did not want the table’s form to be generated strictly from its function. I found through precedents that motifs of curves were recurrent in designs with a more feminine feel. Also, the design of the tabl,e I believed, should associate itself with connotations of home. So the table took on a form reminiscent of traditional homestyle tables as well. Below are a sample of sketches, and below that is an image of the final table design.
  • Technical Goals
    The table needed to be designed in a way that bugs would not be able to infest it because the homeless shelter had a previous bug infetastion. So, the table would be made of acrylic. In addition, simple mechanics in the sliding mechanism were important for usability and affordabilty. So, the dividers track on each of their ends, and are kept in the "up" position by inserting a few steel dowels into slots along the botto of the divider. To keep the dividers lightweight, they are made with perforated aluminum, which also allows light to pass through them. To keep the acrylic table from developing scratch marks over time, the surface is sanded. Lastly, the table needed to make efficient use of material, and, for that reason, the table pieces can be cut from a sheet of acrylic in a way that minimizes as much waste as possible.
  • Project Reflections and Final Board
    My table did not receive recognition at the Collab competition. I was disappointed, because I think the programmatic issues that the design addressed, combined with the technical and formal issues, made the design very unique and perhaps even unprecedented.
    I think, however, that I sold myself short in the way I titled the competition board, because it fails to explain why the table looks the way it does, only touching on the social issues with the table. I think a powerful name will begin to explain and help critics immediately understand why the design is the way it is. Without it, the design may be misunderstood and overlooked, because no one will read the read of the board unless they first see something special in the design right away.
  • Second Phase
    After completing the Collab competition, however, this project entered another phase. I was partnered with one of my classmates to design another table for the women’s homeless shelter. Using our combined skills, we needed to create a design that we both agreed would work well for the shelter. After that, we created a set of construction documents so that the homeless shelter staff could have the table fabricated if they chose.
  • Program
    My partner and I agreed that we should continue working with the program that I had defined for my Collab competition entry: group and individual space intermingled within each other. However, this time this the table took on a new form to satisfy that program. Reconfiguring the table surface into more of a square shape with a near equivalent surface area to my Collab entry, allows two more people to potentially sit around the table than before. In addition, dividing the space into four individual work spaces could improve the table’s overall utility compared to the first table. Furthermore, the table top now incorporated a cutout on each of its four sides, allowing users to niche themselves into their work space. 
  • Form
    Although my partner and I held that it was important to make the design aesthetically pleasing to the ladies at the shelter, we decided that it was not necessary to allude to traditional, home-style tables—a change from my Collad entry design—because the women may not even have those connotations of home. However, the use of curves in the design we still decided to use, in hopes that it would make the table look more appealing, setting itself apart from designs that are strictly function-driven and un-relatable to the women.
  • Technology
    This table design makes improvements to the way I handled technical issues for the Collab entry. Now, having eliminated the use of acrylic, to just steel and wood, the table is more affordable; but, clean, crevice-free connections between the steel legs and the plywood table top (sheet A7) mean that the design will not become a place that could be infested by bugs
  • Technology Continued
    The design of the dividers was improved, too. Shortening the width of the dividers and putting the tracks in the middle of the dividers allows them to slide smoother without catching laterally. Additionally, a weighted pulley system, similar to the way residential windows work, makes the perforated dividers, now steel instead of aluminum, feel lightweight, and allows them to be set at any height without the need for extra loose parts—like the dowels in the Collab entry. 
  • Final Reflections
    Partnering up to design another table proved to be beneficial to the project. The design became more affordable, more usable, and sharing ideas on form and program with another person helped provide insight on different ways to do things that I would not have thought of before, and it helped show me that the way I see things isn’t always the only or the best way.
    Also, for my first time making a set of construction document sheets, I don’t know if we have done it according to convention. But, we strove to make the construction instructions clear based on learning what we could from precedents.