A New Community-Designed Space Evokes Hopeful Conversation

Interwoven is an open-ended, communal space providing a place for residents to listen, observe, dream, and reflect. The space resides in Garrett Park and was created by The Urban Conga in collaboration with the Brooklyn neighborhood of South Baltimore, a neighborhood dealing with a lot of traumas based around drug abuse, gun violence, and pollution.

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Two local kids that helped in the design process are playing with the view portals.
Photo credit: Bonnie Newman

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Reflection of downtown Baltimore.
Photo credit: Bonnie Newman

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The open-ended design of the work allows for community members to make the space their own.
Photo credit: Bonnie Newman

During the process, the design team was told by kids that they were scared to walk into the park because they had stepped on used drug needles. People talked about the pollution that plagued the park and neighborhood, making it hard for them to breathe at times. During the conceptual design phase, there was a mass shooting at a community event that took the lives of several community members. With this small footprint, The Urban Conga couldn't solve these massive systemic issues encompassing the neighborhood, but they could work with the community to create a space that sparked inspiration and hope.

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The open-ended design allows for the community to make the space their own.
Photo credit: Bonnie Newman

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Mom and baby play with their reflections in the dichroic lens.
Photo credit: Bonnie Newman

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Photo credit: Bonnie Newman

The community is focused on moving beyond these adversities and showcasing the positivity and strength that exists within this neighborhood, creating a space that could evoke a larger conversation and bring people together to make change. The community was the driver in this project, and the design team was simply a tool to tell their story. The space became a place designed by the community for the community. The project was designed through many workshops around the neighborhood, where community stories and feedback were collected throughout the entire design process to help shape a design the community can call their own. Play methodologies, like play therapy, were utilized during the process to create a safe place for people to share and open up around the traumas. Every component of the space was created, critiqued, and refined by the community.

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A design build workshop at the local community library that sits across the street from the park.
Photo credit: Ryan Swanson

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Co-design workshop in Garrett Park with the community that utilized The Urban Conga's Kit of Imagination as a creative tool.
Photo credit: James McQueen

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Interwoven serves as a place to connect, reflect, and respond.
Photo credit: Bonnie Newman

The work encourages people to explore what they hear, see, feel, and dream while in the space. Interwoven was created as a place for both the community young and old to gather, discuss, and reflect on these issues and the changes that need to be made. Perched at the top of a hill with a view of the entire city of Baltimore, the area becomes a place for people to gather and reflect on the area's goods and bads.

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The space overlooks the entire city of Baltimore.
Photo credit: Bonnie Newman

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A group of local kids take over the space as soon as it was installed.
Photo credit: Bonnie Newman

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At the end of each bench system are portals reflecting different views of the neighborhood.
Photo credit: Bonnie Newman

The work consists of four stepped seating structures that point directionally towards different areas of the neighborhood and city, reflecting those views onto the work itself. On each of the four separate pieces, prompts are in place to provide open discussion, intimate conversation, and private reflection on the issues within the neighborhood and hopes for a better future. These prompts ask the questions of what do you dream, what do you hear, what do you see, and what do you feel. Each serving as a conversation starter in the space.

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Photo credit: Bonnie Newman

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The colors and curved forms of the work were created to evoke a calming feeling within the space..
Photo credit: Bonnie Newman

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Each seating structure responds to one another, the ground mural, and the surrounding context.
Photo credit: Bonnie Newman

Each component of the space was designed to create a calming environment, from the work's color, to the curved forms. Keeping the main space open for programming like community meetings, dance classes, birthday parties, movie nights, and more - the ground mural creates an open-ended game space to spark playful imagination by use of its interweaving geometric shapes. The interweaving pattern of the work creates a safe, playful, and open-ended space for the community to make their own.

The Urban Conga

The Urban Conga is an award-winning Brooklyn, NY-based multidisciplinary design studio focused on sparking community interaction and social activity through open-ended play. The Studio achieves that by utilizing play methodologies as a critical tool implemented not just in the work itself, but also in the participatory design process in which the work is created. Their work explores the concept of creating more playable cities as an ecosystem of inclusive multiscale playable opportunities intertwined within our existing urban fabric. The Studio works with communities to create inclusive spatial opportunities that transform once-overlooked or underutilized situations into stimulating creative outlets that evoke our innate drive to discover, explore, and empathize with others. Their work encourages people to think about the value of play beyond the playground, and how creating more play everywhere can dramatically impact our daily lives.