F.A.B. | The NYC Free Assembly Box by Matthew Beall / Daniel Irvine
Identify a public space
The site of this project is the NYC public realm — but a specific repeated social and physical condition that occurs within it. Most frequently, this condition is found in public parks, pedestrian thoroughfares, and attached to foot travel-oriented infrastructure. It is a space that has long held a proud place as a social site but whose role and reputation has faded in recent decades. This proposal seeks to restore this site as a place of exchange and serendipity, of debate and expression, of association and assembly. It aims to be a public demonstration of the intrinsic rights that underpin Free Speech, and as such, to become a (small) stage for civic performance.
It is the public bench.
Whether in the park, on the subway, or on a street corner, the bench is ubiquitous and universal. As a site of engagement, it no longer possesses the same qualities of gathering, meeting, happenstance, and connection that it once did. More, in an era of extraordinary dragnet surveillance and suspicion by association, where the promises of the digital commons — of privacy, community, and free exchange — are being systematically subverted by governments, it is more important than ever that we pursue the right to engage meaningfully and freely in the public realm.
The Free Assembly Box (FAB) is a small space for social and political engagement where any two people can participate in the free exchange of ideas with privacy and anonymity. It is also a stage for the public performance of those freedoms.
Free Speech is a platform. It is a collective right supported by an array of individual rights, without any one of which Freedom of Speech is compromised. These rights are:
– Freedom of assembly
– Freedom of association
– The open exchange of ideas
– Anonymous consumption and production of speech
The Free Assembly Box is designed to support those rights on the scale of two people; it is:
– Private + anonymous public space
– A site of social + political exchange
– A challenge to mass surveillance
– A reproducible installation
– A performance stage and practical tool
– An installation and a template
The basic design calls for a two-person weather resistant hood to be installed over an existing public bench. This enclosure will have privacy screens on both ends, a sound dampening foam lining, and a vision blocking screen between the occupants.
FABs could be made of any number of materials. They are conceived of as generic, repeatable, and adaptable to various physical and social contexts. It is a base design that encourages site specificity and customization.
The Free Assembly Box is conceived as an inexpensive and simple-to-build installation. It is intended to be a prototype and an instruction kit for its reproduction across NYC (and perhaps beyond).
The execution of this project would involve creating a FAB design manual and the construction and installation of a prototype.
A FAB can be a permanent installation by a group or institution or a temporary piece installed to augment a planned event. Partners in the prototype phase might include social issue groups, NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, NYC Public Library, and/or the MTA.
Matthew Beall works in architecture and design in Vancouver, Canada. He came to design via the non-profit sector and has a particular interest in urban research and city making, especially as related to issues of social and economic justice.
Daniel Irvine is Vancouver-based designer, with a background in theatre and literary theory. He currently works in architecture, graphic media, and film.