In the summer of 2019, the AIA Redwood Empire launched the PSr1 Design-Build Competition to engage the community and enhance public space in Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse Square. The competition required that design submissions provide shade, seating, and social interaction, while fitting into a 10’x10’ space. The Social Seesaw was designed and constructed as one of three winning installations.
The Social Seesaw creates a shaded seating area that is also a playful catalyst for community interaction. Up to twelve visitors can occupy the structure and, when seated directly across from each other, they can gently rock the form in three independent units. The resulting movement of the piece and its shadows draws the attention of those passing by. Not only does this installation provide a shaded place to socialize, but it also adds dynamic visual interest to the Square.
The design evolved from the abstraction of the familiar seesaw, which requires two users and can therefore encourage group activity. The vertical ribs generate the form, and the horizontal slats enclose the space, spreading further apart in key locations. The slats simultaneously allow visual contact with the features and occupants of the Square while still providing partial shade. While studying the seating and degree of movement, it became clear that designing to a human scale would be essential for the concept to work. We wanted to create an intimate space for friends to gather and talk, but also large enough for strangers to interact comfortably for the first time. We determined that a 6-foot distance between the seats across from each other would be ideal and achieve our goals of creating and intimate yet comfortable space. While the seesaw was installed in the square, we observed many positive interactions between a variety of groups including colleagues, friends, and strangers. The popularity of the seesaw confirms that the seating distance is appropriate, and the design is a success. Overall, the Social Seesaw is an engaging object that rejuvenates a large, relatively featureless urban landscape.