John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.
Who doesn't want to enjoy some alone time in a shiny polyhedron from outer space?
People who carp that design schools aren't producing anything of value these days should stop to consider the OwnZown, an innovative attempt to give privacy to pedestrians in overstuffed cities.
Recall those street-corner confessionals for noisy urban environments? They seem positively quaint compared against the alienating OwnZown, a wearable piece of camouflage that employs two-way mirrors and looks like it just dropped out of the seventh dimension. Created by students at the Detmolder Schule für Architektur und Innenarchitektur in Detmold, Germany, the OwnZown debuted last month at a Milan design fair, simultaneously baffling and charming audiences with an inhuman design that only a student of Archimedean solids could love.
Here's how its makers describe the "stealth cap" or "magic hood," as they refer to it:
The crystal-formed construction is placed over the head, a strap is attached with the torso. Head and extremities are free to move. The semi-transparent mirror film prevents views into the interior of the cap, vice versa people inside can see everything outside. The construction allows the user to retreat into privacy while staying in the public space of an urban environment.
Critics might point out that a sure way to attract a lot of privacy-destroying attention would be to strap on an imposing polyhedron that blasts passersby with almighty rays of reflected sunlight:
But they're missing the fact that inside the OwnZown, the user is perfectly at peace in an ocean of silence. There's no way for outsiders to establish rapport with an uncommunicative wearer of the device; in fact, its off-putting, metallic carapace provides a good signal that the entity inside is not in the mood for a chat. Try to hug a wearer of the OwnZown and you'll wind up with an armful of painful points and angles.
The design has its shortcomings. The OwnZown would seem to function best in cities with architectural schemes of metal and glass, or perhaps inside an exhibition of Futurist art. Put against the old-timey backgrounds of, say, Venice or New Orleans' French Quarter, and it sticks out like a sore (robot) thumb. This thing would also smudge worse than an iPad screen, so users would be smart to carry around a chamois and bottle of Windex. And should an OwnZown wearer take a spill and wind up at the bottom of a flight of stairs, intervention from a member of the dreaded public might be required to lift him or her back into a standing position.
But for folks with intense Asperger's syndrome, or geeks who've been looking for something like a scramble suit, this is a great technological advance. Here are a few photos of one owner of an OwnZown exploring its natural city environment, followed by a diagram showing all the product's possible uses, including illicit snogging and sneak attacks on bystanders:
All images courtesy of the makers of OwnZown and the Detmold School of Interior Design and Architecture.