We All Share the Same Skies

Client: Creative Cities Challenge Competition

Location: Minneapolis Convention Center Plaza, Minneapolis, MN

Status:  Finalist

"Mortals dwell in that they receive the sky as sky.  They leave to the sun and the moon their journey, to the stars their courses, to the seasons their blessing and their inclemency; they do not turn night into day nor day into a harassed unrest” 

-Martin Heidegger, Building Dwelling Thinking

We are a society that has been trained to look down to engage.  Walk around downtown Minneapolis, and the downward gaze into our phones - our social media platform - is pervasive.  As an architectural typology, the convention center is a place that strives to bring people together. All too often, however, this attempt to create community is trumped by the insatiable and magnetic desire to focus our attention towards our mobile devices.  

The sky was perhaps the first social engagement platform.  We organized our daily lives around the path of the sun and stars.  Their movements dictated social gatherings, harvest cycles, aided individual navigation and group migrations.  Cloud types provided clues to approaching weather, rustling leaves announced the approach of a thunderstorm or the changing direction of inclement weather.

The understanding of the sky, historically, was hyper-local, bounded on all sides by the horizon. Our interest in the Creative City Challenge is as a vehicle to rekindle our community’s relationship with the sky, to extend the notion of community, collapsing the familiar concept of place and time, and conflating wilderness and urban conditions to create a new understanding – and appreciation – of our larger community’s connection with the sky and dwelling within the landscape.  

We All Share the Same Skies will provide visitors to Convention Center Plaza, whether Minnesotans, outside visitors or new community members, an opportunity to introduce or reacquaint themselves to or with our sky.  We are inherently social creatures, and yet, we often neglect the aspect of our world that has united us through the ages.

Our access to the sky in Minneapolis has been progressively obfuscated throughout history.  The night sky fell victim to light pollution.  Access to the daytime sky has narrowed as structures are built up.  Social media and the internet have replaced the need to look up for navigation, time telling, weather forecasting, story-telling.  

Urban parks provide a welcome respite for the urban dweller, to remind us to recast our gaze upward, but often fall short of carving out mental space for reflection and consideration of one’s relationship with our natural world.  Minnesota can proudly boast world-class cities, an unadulterated wild natural environment and breathtaking skies.  We All Share the Same Skies will temporarily bring those skies to the Convention Center Plaza, introducing our skies to Convention Center Plaza visitors and providing residents the space for solace and contemplation that the Minnesotan wilderness provides while challenging traditional notions of place, space and time.  

We are proposing an intervention in the Convention Center Plaza consisting of three separate enclosed structures, joined by a common central canopy element.  An economy of easily recyclable materials, consisting of dimensional lumber, plywood and plastic boat wrap will be used.  One structure will preference community, one will be dedicated to a solitary experience, while the third is designed for two people. The common canopy element compresses and focuses one’s spatial perception prior to entering the structures, and creates a covered community gathering and waiting area outside of the enclosures.

Within each structure, benches or stools allow visitors to recline and experience live feeds of the northern sky projected on a stretched projection screen on the ceiling of each structure: constellations at night, the whispering sound of wind racing through pines, the quaking of a birch stand, lazy clouds drifting across a humid summer sky, or thunderclouds unleashing a downpour.  Speakers located in the walls and behind the benches will provide auditory sensations to augment the live feeds - the crackle of a bonfire, the call of the Loon or the chatter of the Pine Squirrel.  Juxtaposing the northern Minnesota and urban Convention Center Plaza environments will create a hyper-awareness of and dialogue between the urban condition and the natural environment, between individual and community.

In The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World, David Abram discusses the groundbreaking work performed by three phenomenologists, Husserl, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty, and their struggle to “articulate a more immediate modality of awareness, a more primordial dimension whose characteristics are neither strictly spatial nor strictly temporal, but are…both at once” (206).  By collapsing the spatial separation of Minneapolis with the wild sky of greater Minnesota and providing an opportunity to understand this experience alone or with a group of friends or passersby, We All Share the Same Skies seeks to understand this “more immediate modality of awareness” and to reposition the sky, the common denominator to us all, as our primary vehicle to engage our community

Abram, David.  The Spell of the Sensuous.  New York: Pantheon Books, 1996.  Print.