Selected Work
creative systems thinking as it relates to architecture, urban design, and technologies

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Public Gratification Palace:

An Applied Framework for Increased Civic Engagement

0 Preface

If the Fun Palace (1960-1976) –initiated by British theater director, Joan Littlewood (1914-2002), designed by British architect Cedric Price (1934-2003) and British cybernetician Gordon Pask (1928-1996) –is understood as a muse for physical public infrastructure through Cybernetic System thinking, then the parameters of this cybernetic system could undoubtedly be incorporated in your smartphone today, such that the Palace would be the intersection between your smartphone and the neighborhood park, that unshaded plaza a few blocks away, or that train stop with a single bench. The Palace is the public at play; it is the natural derivative between Public Space and Instant Gratification methods used in social media platforms. The Public Gratification Palace can be wherever one may seek an instant gratifying, dopamine filled improvement on the public environment with their ever-engaging local community!

It is in this search for the Public at Play that ignited my motivations to explore how intimate and close we can, as urban residents, contribute and manifest the public places we go and experience.

How to bring a more intuitive and practical experience to civic engagement and participatory design processes,
nested in the comfort and familiarity of our daily technological interactions?

The Public Gratification Palace Framework comes from historical literature reviews, and contemporary methods and precedents studies (Chapters 1 to 4) >>  Jiang, J., Spencer, L., Werner L.C.: Public Gratification Palace: A Framework for Increased Civic Engagement. In: Proceedings Media Architecture Biennale 2021

︎︎︎ Link to Conference Paper

1 Status Quo and the Rational for Method

More recently, with growing grassroot movements, under multiple names like, tactical urbanism, DIY urbanism and more, there is a willingness from local community stakeholders to participate more actively in city making. The dichotomy between bottom-up and top-down discourses informs initiatives to de-hierarchize the roles between the two poles of this binary, with the understanding that collaboration is necessary for a more conscious and harmonious design approach.

    The prevalence of technology informs such civic engagement approaches, where the combination of both physical and digital mechanisms has the potential to be the catalyst for smart collaborations amongst stakeholders on both ends of the planning spectrum. The use of situated technologies and media architecture have creatively contributed to enhanced co-creative processes, to the extent that the technologies themselves hold agency in becoming architecture and communication tools.

    The ‘why me?’ question is oftentimes a barrier to participation. Certain communities might feel unconcerned, unbothered or lacking in trust; others might not see themselves as valuable agencies for placemaking because of their non-expert perspectives; or simply they are not aware of the opportunities to voice opinions. Local inputs are only as diverse as the citizens who are engaged enough who decide to participate, and as widespread as the passers-by being at the right place at the right time.

2 Beginnings for Conversation as Design Method

As technology becomes less of a commodity and more of a ubiquitous tool, the presence and accessibility of media and social media drastically change the perception of the public domain. The presence of media in architecture continues to challenge designers, planners, and local authorities to think about urban issues through the lens of technology and media to enhance the urban, public environment. Though the relevance and tangibility of this thinking is more present than ever, it historicizes itself in the development of cybernetics.

    Derived from the Greek word kubernetes, meaning ‘steersman,’ cybernetics was coined by Norbert Wiener (1894-1964), an American mathematician and professor at MIT, to describe the “science dedicated towards understanding communication in both humans and machines, and how the transmission of messages shapes behaviour.” It seeks to reveal how communication can govern human behaviours, and further impact our social interactions and societal culture.

    The chosen projects -Cybernetic Theatre, Fun Palace, Flatwriter, and YONA Experiment- relates to open-system and methodologies, user-centric perspectives through the varying technological interfaces for the purpose of more engaged citizen participation.

3 Contemporary Methods

Presently, other contemporaries in this modality, place the user, at the center of an “open system” to broaden the adaptability and growth of end-user models. Similar to cybernetic system thinking, Meta-Design acknowledges the complexity of co-creative processes and the unpredictable nature of public engagement, allowing a more creative and collaborative design process instead of a prescriptive methodology. Meta-Design is a framework that integrates the user into designer through training, defining, and creating social and technical infrastructures, enabling one to (re)-structure existing urban planning and design processes to become a co-creator in their community.

    Recently, there have been a few prolific studies that explore past the situatedness of embedded technologies in public spaces, but positioning civic engagement into ubiquitous computing platforms, making the participatory conversations more accessible. Whether it is a self-standing platform, like the City Bug Report media façade, or an integration onto an existing platform advocated by “augmenting public participation,” the mechanism can only be as appealing as the willingness to participate continually. Consequently, understanding what motivation factors influence continual user engagement is critical for the viability and the effectiveness of any participatory co-creative methodologies. This brought us to expand our research into Uses and Gratification theory (U&G) and how it is articulated successfully in the usage and structure of social media platforms.

4 Framework

A framework that emphasizes civic engagement and participatory design processes through the perpetuation of the audiences' participation and the audiences' intuitive digital literacy.

The objectives are elaborated as follows:

(1) spatialisation and the effect of geo-tagging and sharing
(2) real-time feedback loops between all stakeholders
(3) prototyping and future interventions
(4) the gratification of continued use and community building

(1) Spatialisation and the Effect
of Geo-tagging and Sharing

(for in-person and online civic engagement)

The residents have the capacity to digitally “comment”, “like,” “share,” and post content (i.e., photo or video)-a GFS (geo-located feedback seed)-  as is the case with current social media platforms, on public space, such as existing urban issues or in-progress and upcoming design and planning projects.

    This rule is taking advantage of geo-tagging, a parameter already embedded within the meta data of most social media platforms

    Therefore, as a rule within this framework, the user must be physically present in order to submit the feedback. Adding a location-based parameter encourages the users to have a direct relationship with their commentary and its implications as it relates to its physical and social environment around them. This spatialisation of information allows the citizens to visually interact with the different on-going feedbacks, in creating a sense of virtual community engraved on near-by inputs and local solidarities, and in creating a social condition where users are brought together and encouraged to interact with one another in public space.

(2) Real-time Feedback Loops between All Stakeholders

(a cybernetic process)

Community engagement between the local communities, and top-down stakeholders is prompted when a conversation is opened as a consequence of a GFS(s) receiving a determined amount of attention, where each thread have different numbers of inputs depending on the on-going popularity and relevance of that particular GFS.

    This methodology encourages direct participation between the different stakeholding entities who receive direct feedback from the local users on the “like,” “comment,” “share,” of public space or design proposals for the public space. The Public Gratification Palace framework supports an environment for real-time collaboration components inherent to contemporary social media platforms. The immediacy at which this process takes place allows for greater collaboration and sense of agency from the local community.

(3) Prototyping and
Future Interventions

(an understanding of Meta-Design)

In the example of a local resident who wished to have a playground in the neighborhood park, the GFS that was first implemented by that user was (1) received attention by the local community through “likes,” “comments,” and “shares,” (2) acknowledged by city governments and investors, designers and planners (3) consulted and co-designed through iterative prototypes proposed through the Public Gratification Palace, (4) and finally, realized as a physical intervention.

    The Public Gratification Palace framework can be conceived as enabling temporary micro-interventions in public spaces, taking on the role of pilot projects for future transformations, and for collecting feedback and opinions of its users

    In other words, this becomes the means through which digital, or temporary or permanent interventions will be realized in the public space. When realized, regardless of the degree of physicality or permanence, the intervention is introduced to the public space and becomes content through which future GFS(s) can be instituted.

(4) The Gratification of Continued Use and Community Building

(supported by the Uses and Gratification Theory)

The usage and structure of social media platforms can offer effective community building, knowledge sharing, and continued engagement. By basing the framework off a structure that is familiar and already marked as feasible, there is a transferable knowledge and cross-pollination in terms of making the city more accessible, enjoyable, spontaneous, dopamine plentiful and so on. This familiarity breaks down the participation barrier, so local residents can take ownership through an interactive process of edification.

    This method of inciting community engagement has an enormous amount of potential when recognizing: (a) the number of smartphone users, (b) the growing prevalence of social media users, and (c) the motivational factors for media sharing and community building. When urbanism is incentivized in this way, it creates a cloud of information for designers and stakeholders all of which is easily organized through their meta-data.

© Jennifer Jiang 2023