Aarian Marshall is a transportation reporter at WIRED and former CityLab contributor. She lives in San Francisco.
A project in a Portuguese city asked residents to sit down and stay a while.
“DomestiCITY,” the art installation that won a Portuguese television channel’s “urban intervention competition” earlier this year, gently prompted the residents of Abrantes to slow down and take a load off.
“We really liked this idea of transforming the domestic into public, and also the possibilities of interaction and dialogue between people,“ creator Maria Mazzanti said in a video made by the media arts organization that organized the competition. That’s why she and her collaborator, Martin Ramirez, decided to put a living room on an Abrantes street.
First, the Columbian artists asked the older people who usually sat on Abrantes’ streets for a little help—they wanted their furniture. Then the team repaired, sanded, and repainted the 60-odd pieces to fit their multi-hued palette, and arranged them on the streets.
In the 1980s, the sociologist William H. Whyte noted the transformative power of (movable) urban furniture, which he argued could be used to create inviting public spaces. Since Mazzanti and Ramirez wanted to create an urban living room, they had to find a way to stimulate conversation. So they posted encouraging words on the sides of buildings, and created a mailbox where residents could slip suggested discussion topics.
“Many people said that they felt at home, in their living room,” said Mazzanti. “This the best thing.”