Photographs courtesy Bryony Roberts
Community input is a crucial aspect of every project architectural designer Bryony Roberts undertakes. So when Exhibit Columbus (August 24–December 1), the annual design festival in Indiana, chose her eponymous firm as one of five practices to receive the Miller Prize—an honor that goes to international leaders in their fields who connect people to place and community in unexpected ways—the first thing she did was sit down and make a list of organizations that regularly interact with the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill–designed Columbus City Hall, her firm’s assigned project site. “We think about site in an expanded way,” says Roberts, whose installation Soft Civic will be up from August 24 through December 1. “It’s not just about the physical buildings, but also about the social history of a place and the community that uses it. I never come into a space and assume that I know more about it than the people who utilize it regularly.”
After consulting with various political activists, performance troupes, and youth organizations that have used City Hall for events in some capacity, Roberts came up with a plan to activate a semicircular exterior plaza on the northwestern side of the building, where she’ll install custom-fabricated steel structures interwoven with colorful, durable parachute cord to create screens, platforms, and seating areas. Her interest in—or, as she puts it, her “recent obsession” with—textile and fiber art drove the materiality of the piece: the softness and flexibility of the cord is an attention-grabbing contrast to the rigidity of the civic building.
Her aim is that the installation will invite people to interact with the structure in new ways, from using it as a place to deliver an impromptu public speech to simply hanging out. “Creating structures with textiles produces different types of movements and social interactions that are a bit more playful and childlike,” Roberts says. “I hope this pushes people to rethink what is possible in a civic space.”