Columbus, Indiana — Soft Civic, a site-specific architectural installation by Bryony Roberts Studio, responds to both the architectural geometry of the historic Columbus City Hall building and its symbolic role as the center of civic leadership in the community. Through the insertion of the custom-fabricated structures with colorful woven surfaces, Roberts activates the public space surrounding the building’s main entrance as a destination for play, performance and participation.
Project Name: Soft Civic’ at Exhibit Columbus
Architect Name: Bryony Roberts Studio
These new structures enhance existing activity at City Hall, and additionally will host a series of community-driven events on the themes of democracy and leadership as part of the 2019 Exhibit Columbus program. Roberts is a winner of this year’s J. Irwin and Xenia S. Miller Prize Recipient, honoring international leaders for their commitment of the transformative power that architecture, art, and design has to improve people’s lives and make cities better places to live.
Addressing the monumental architecture of the City Hall building, designed in 1981 by Edward Charles Bassett of SOM, Soft Civic turns its monumental geometry into soft, pliable structures. The existing building is a tight geometric puzzle of circles and triangles organized along the grand public steps. The installation echoes and breaks open the geometry of the building, forming other circles and lines—through curved seating structures and platforms that emerge from the design—that connect with the building and suggest different points of attention. Says Roberts, “When I approach a site, I think about the longtime cycles of that site, the way that social, political, economic forces have changed it over time, and how I’m entering into that process.”
The softness of Soft Civic refers to the function of the space—a combination of relaxation and political participation—as well as its material quality. Constructed out of woven panels and steel frames, the new structures explore the softness of textiles at a large scale. Made through the macramé knotting of nylon rope, the woven panels bring the textures of domestic space into the public sphere, encouraging playfulness and interaction at a site of governance. The red-orange color of the rope riffs on the brick of City Hall, transforming the colors of the building into a textile landscape. Created in collaboration with Powerhouse Arts, a textile workshop in Brooklyn, the knots of the weaving represent a communal effort and echo the project’s programming around collective participation.
Soft Civic invites a range of impromptu activities, such as lunchtime lounging, seating for performances, or political meetings, and also hosts a series of events created in partnership with community organizations. “The design is hopefully going to make the possibility of using this as a public space, either for play or for protest or for performance, more inviting and more accessible,” says Roberts. Bartholomew County Indivisible has organized multiple events around the theme of democracy to take place at Soft Civic, including a We The People Day and Meet the Candidates event, and the Council for Youth Development is organizing a youth summit including musical performances.
BRYONY ROBERTS STUDIO
Bryony Roberts Studio is an award-winning design and research practice based in New York, led by designer and scholar Bryony Roberts. The studio approaches design as a social practice — creating immersive environments and community-based collaborations that prompt alternative forms of inhabitation. Creating transformative design projects at international sites such as the Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome, the Dubai Design District in Dubai, the Federal Plaza in Chicago, and the Neutra VDL House in Los Angeles, the practice works with local creators and community groups to respond to complex cultural histories and urban conditions. Bryony Roberts Studio has received support from the Graham Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the American Academy in Rome, and has exhibited with the Chicago Architecture Biennial of 2015 and Performa 17, as well as in venues in Rome, New York, Houston, Boston and Los Angeles.
Roberts earned her B.A. from Yale University and her M.Arch from the Princeton School of Architecture, and teaches at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation in New York. She has been awarded the 2018 Architectural League Prize, the 2018 Miller Prize, the MacDowell Colony Fellowship in Architecture for Summer 2018, and the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome for 2015-2016. She has published her research in the Harvard Design Magazine, Log, Future Anterior, and Architectural Record, co-edited the volume Log 31: New Ancients, and recently edited a book titled Tabula Plena: Forms of Urban Preservation published by Lars Müller Publishers. She will be the guest editor of the forthcoming publication Log 48: Expanding Modes of Practice.