Freedom Talks by Xiao Wu / Winny Windasari Tan / Chengqi John Wan / Jessica Flore Angel / Luis Enrique Salas Porras
Identify a public space
“Manhattanism is the one urbanistic ideology that has fed, from its conception, on the splendors and miseries of the metropolitan condition—hyper-density—without once losing faith in it as the basis for a desirable modern culture. Manhattan’s architecture is a paradigm for the exploitation of congestion.”
The above quote from architect Rem Koolhaas, along numerous critiques from others, questions the capitalistic nature of Manhattan, an island of consumerism and advertisement. Times Square, as the heart of the city, best represents its characteristics. The hyper-congested Times Square is flooded with billboards, commercials and miscellaneous visual signs, emblematic of consumerism’s economic clout. The common public lacks a platform on which it can be seen as equals to the billboards looming overhead. Thus, the city appears as a ubiquitous spectacle which reinforces the very notion of representation in the public realm. As described by Guy Debord, “The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images.” Pedestrians turn into passive players in an oversaturated urban predicament. Times Square, with its extremely international and diverse crowd, ironically lacks meaningful interaction of a personal scale. We intend to create an opportunity for more meaningful interactions among people in Times Square.
The proposal takes the form of a billboard – a ‘podium’ for the Information Age. Freedom Talks is a tree of screens situated in the middle of Time Square intended to trigger free speech and debates, with the potential to be reproduced in other public places. Specifically, Time Square epitomizes par excellence the saturation of advertisements in Manhattan, and on a daily basis, promotes an infinite number of information absorbed by infinite bodies in a one-way dialogue. Freedom talks aims to re-channel the output of information to the users of the space and activate a multi-directional dialogue. The three screens above the recording booths below are set to broadcast different content at different hours of the day, configured to the different types of audiences that vary accordingly. The recording booths below shoot short videos that project onto screens above, with corresponding audio accessible through a designated number and the Freedom Talks app to which pedestrians may also publish responses. Audiences with no physical access to the booth may also connect with the free speech platform via the Freedom Talks website that transmit uploaded videos onto the screens and onto real space. Additionally, educational programs, debates and talks are also scheduled on screen and around the tower encouraging a cross-platformed flow of information and opinions that is otherwise typically lost in Time Square. Uniquely, this free speech stage is both anonymous and expressive at the same time by bridging digital and physical dialogues, which are often regarded as antithetic.
Although the Podium could (and should) be erected at any conspicuous public space, its ideal site, Times Square, would be granted by Times Square Alliance as a public space initiative, in line with its goal of improving street level experience. An initial production phase would need to be held in order to design the project’s interface and online presence of the setup. The installation is designed to provide maximum adaptability and interchangeability of components, with structure from recycled stage lighting trusses and AV equipment donated for the project. The lightweight structure would be transported to site and bolted securely to the ground, becoming an unmistakable icon within the public consciousness of the city.
Each team member comes from a different place in the world. By working together we realized how much intellectual conversation could be inspired among people with different origins and backgrounds. We saw New York City as a perfect platform to expand upon that idea.
Winny Windasari Tan (Jakarta, Indonesia)
Having lived and worked in New York before, Winny brought great insights about Times Square and how living in New York is being surrounded by people but not interacting with them. Winny had detailed visions of what it should look like on Time Square, and worked with Luis in visualizing its image.
Chengqi John Wan (Singapore)
John raised the initial idea of Freedom Talks and its basic architectural form.
Jessica Flore Angel (Paris, France)
Jessica is always an important conversation initiator in our design discussions. She further developed the central concept.
Luis Enrique Salas Porras (Chihuahua, Mexico)
Luis designed the physical appearance of the installation and production of visual images. Luis convinced everyone not to exercise censorship for the videos, prioritizing freedom over intellectuality.
Xiao Wu (Hangzhou, China)
Xiao suggested that Freedom Talks should not only be something that’s only free, but should be something that is intellectual and meaningful, so that it could inspire conversations amongst people who are watching it collectively.