Social Seesaw

Project Description

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.

Design Challenge

The PSr1 2019 Design-Build Competition aimed to promote social activity in downtown Santa Rosa by challenging participants to design and create an installation that provided seating, shade and encouraged community interaction. Sparking social interaction in the often uninhabited landscape of Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse Square was particularly daunting. The Social Seesaw overcame this challenge by incorporating the element of playful movement that requires multiple people to activate. The seesaw structure rocks when two or more people are seated, making it a fun installation for small groups of people to enjoy. Thus, the Social Seesaw encouraged the users to interact with the physical environment and created opportunities for socialization.

Physical Context

The Social Seesaw was designed to enhance the Old Courthouse Square in downtown Santa Rosa, California. The square is a central gathering space for a variety of events and activities, such as the Santa Rosa Wednesday Night Market. It consists of a large grassy area surrounded by concrete, with trees and permanent seating around the perimeter. Since the site is very open, the square can feel overwhelmingly large and is not particularly inviting for individuals or small groups. This is unfortunate because the square was intended to be a social hub that encourages activity in the downtown area. The Social Seesaw addressed these issues and, during its time on display in the square, created a popular space designed for human comfort. Both the scale of the seesaw and arrangement of the wooden slats were thoughtfully considered during the design process, resulting in a space that feels comfortable for occupants, while also maintaining visibility and a connection to the rest of the square.