© Nathan William Smith

Columbia University GSAPP, 2011, Speaker's Corner, c. Joshua Prince Ramus

a mobile space for the spoken word with Alok Shetty and Shea Sabino


If the TEDx objective is to “unleash TED to the world and continue the TED mission of ideas worth spreading”. . . Is it able to do so while maintaining the quality of TED?

1 Spatial Quality

By quality, what we mean is spatial quality. What we’re comparing is the main TED event and a sample TEDx event. This is being evaluated using 5 essential components: Structure, Stage, Seating, Services, and Audio/Visual. If we look at two events: The main TED event held annually in Long Beach, CA and a sample TEDx event, we can notice a difference in their spatial quality.Why is this so? Because of ELECTRICITY, EQUITY, and ESTATE. Without one of these elements, the quality of the TEDx experience lessens. What happens in the places of the world without one or more of these elements?

2 TEDx In A Box

One of the most recent endeavors of TED is TEDx-in-a-box, which is an ingenious idea where a phone loaded with TED talks and a micro-projector are packaged, ready to be shipped to any place in the world. Using this great idea as a base, we thought, why not go bigger with this idea? What if TEDx-in-a-box could supply all of the necessary elements for a high-quality event around the world?

3 Position

What we propose is something that is DEPLOYABLE, LOW-COST, ALL-INCLUSIVE, and FLEXIBLE.

4 Shipping Container Logistics

If we look at all of the TEDx Events that have happened around the world nd we overlay that data with world population density, we can see that there are many realms of future potential to spread the ideas of TED. What has the ability to go to each and every one of these places? Well, if we look at that same map with all of the world’s shipping routes, we can see that there is a huge existing potential using such routes. But, still, what has the ability to utilize the world’s current shipping routes as well as have the ability to move across the land? Shipping Containers! Shipping containers are currently being used in transport from sea, land, and even air. Shipping containers become a perfect candidate for other reasons as well. They’re relatively low-cost. They are pre-fabricated and made in bulk, driving cost of production down and production quality up. There are annually 300,000 excess shipping containers in the United States alone. There is also the potential for sponsorship. This could come in the form of container donation or even using the container as a moving billboard.

5 Manifestation

Alright, so now we’ve figured out the ability to physically move TED ideas around the world, reaching anyplace imaginable in a low-cost manor, but once it gets to these places, how do we assure that a high-quality TEDx event will happen, especially inside a shipping container? This diagram [fig 05]shows the stages of the container being unfolded to be an all-inclusive event space, charged with the ability to hold high-quality talks. The all-inclusivity allows the space to be created using little to no tools and is constructed through the help of 3-4 individuals. Once fully deployed and unfolded, the event space comfortably holds 250 people via raked seating. Another container can be added for a 500-person event space with arena-style seating. The whole exterior of the container becomes draped and is used as projected simulcast areas, allowing those in close vicinity to watch the talks. The event container is then partially covered with a tensile shade structure. This fabric structure has solar panels embedded within it, powering all needed electricity for the event with energy being stored in batteries which are also provided within the container. An added benefit of the tensile shade structure is its flexibility with the ability to be pulled down at any point, providing shade, sheltering from the elements. The shade sail also acts as the projection surface for the event. Included within the container is also technical equipment for recording, lighting, and projecting. The projectors for the simulcast zones are located inside the outer skin of the container. This allows the container to act as a hype-generator, projecting TED Talks on surrounding environments before and after the main event. Once the event has ended, people exit the event and the shade structure is removed. The shade structure is re-installed next to the container to become the after-event space. While the after-party is going on, the container is folded back up, ready to move onto its next site.

6 Flexibility - Spatial Typologies

Yet, this is just one example of the possibility of the container. In fact, it was shown in its fullest position, installed on an area with flat ground. But, we cannot assume that any place in the world has such ideal conditions. In order to postulate how the container would react globally, we can simplify most places in the world as fitting into one of these categories: FLAT, SLOPED, SEMI-ENCLOSED, ENCLOSED, and ENCLOSED + RAKE. Thus far, we have looked at how the container space would be installed on a flat plane, but what if the container was floating on a barge down the Ganges and it took advantage of the existing steps by only opening partially to provide an acoustical projection surface. Then, while the container was being packed up, the shade sail was used as an after-event space, or what if it were installed in a town square, or in the armory building on 67th and Park, or if it were taken to a space with existing auditorium characteristics, that it could be re-programmed to act as a simulcast room.

7 Seed

Essentially, our proposal acts much like a seed. This seed is then planted in local soil and what is grown is something uniquely beautiful depending on the nutrients of the soil.

8 TEDxBOx Toolkit

The basis for the manifestation is rooted in a exerpt from the TEDxToolkit: “Use as little or as much of this Toolkit as you need.” Imagining how someone might actually set up our proposal, we have created a Toolkit [SEE APPENDIX]. This Toolkit not only becomes a way to explain a person’s involvement in the process of creation, but also as an internal design tool.

8 Conclusion

The group decided to focus on a very technical aspect of the premise: how to deploy a 500-seat theater in a global manor. Because of this, almost all critique was centered around the technical: how long will it take to build such an object, how much would it cost, where would you put cameras and projectors and how would they be powered, attached, etc. What this meant is that our focus was even more pointed at figuring out a completely technical object and less about architectural characteristics like thinking about spatial design, curating an environment, or focussing on larger abstract tones. In the end, our critique was simple, as if we had “figured it all out” and was somewhat of a depressing way to end a great project. The truth is that we got lucky very early in the semester by developing an interesting idea: a container transformer. This solidified our architectural path for the studio and became an object which was constantly being detailed and more-closely defined. The benefit of this is that we were able to create an instruction booklet on how one might employ our structure as well as talk with TED developers as though this is a fully buildable project. One huge benefit of the studio was using TED as a faux client. What this forced was clear representation of the project, sometimes not through traditional means of representing an architectural project, like plans and sections, but more aptly into animations, renderings, and diagrams. Feedback, for the most part, was positive and always focussed of the potential instead of failure. The success of the project became more about how well you could explain it as much as it was about the design itself. This brought up an interesting polemic: the object paired with its explanation. In the TED world, the only thing that exists is the explanation, the record, or the story of the object. The legitimacy of the object itself is never brought into question, but representation is held at utmost importance. Although this is a great tool for clearly communicating ideas, its hard to decipher at what point the ideas are more important, or just vocal style. This act of representation, in the case of architecture, poises the creation as a closed-object as if a review becomes more of a session for selling an idea. By closed-object I’m referring to the way this turns architecture in a finished entity as its more difficult to sell the process compared to selling the thing itself. And architects are typically more interested in the making of the object rather than the object itself. The creation of a Toolkit, as exhaustive as it was, was a great way to really think about all things in-play in the creation of an object which claims to not only be universal, but easy to assemble. In a way, it acted as a test of our ideals and a constant simplifying of our concepts. But, we also used the toolkit as a way to force ourselves to continually design each and every component and not rely on a typical hinge, fastener, or truss. Technically, one of the greatest difficulties is working on an object which acts as multiple things, each having a different property than the next. As a container, the object must be structurally sound in order to be used as a typical container. It also must comply to certain standards in order to utilize current systems of container transportation. Yet, at the same time, it also needs to successfully act as a theater which can be easily set up without any tools and a small number of people. This leads to the question of whether or not these two entities need to be considered as one. Another version of this design could be a theater that gets packaged inside a container, but which is removed and then installed instead of the container and the theater being one and the same. This would allow for a simpler differentiation between entities and could potentially produce a similar result, but might require the use of tools or more physical energy. The premise to this studio is interesting as the typology of a theater for the spoken word does not currently exist. Our understanding of theaters is now based on grand performance, massive sets, and a complicated series of acoustics. Shakespearean Theater comes closest to such a typology, but is still focussed on the physical drama and body movement as a means of communication where the spoken word is all about the verbal words themselves as well as eye contact and intimacy.
Working as a group of 3 allowed for each stage of the project to be extremely critical. Although it was difficult to split-up work evenly amongst the group, it proved to be a vital number in creating a team which was able to make effective decisions as a certain decision was always weighted unevenly (meaning there is always a 3rd party which could sway decisions in particular ways).

9 References


10 Software

Rhinoceros 3D [Vray]
Maya [Mental Ray]
Adobe Creative Suite [incl. Flash]