Communications + Experience Designer

Oakland Project • Artifact Intervention x Environments

Environments • Oakland Project

Collaboration with Maggie Banks & Bettina Chou

Created in 2015 - Adobe Creative Suite, wooden dowels, PVC pipe, epoxy glue, faux apple, paint, wood veneer, wood, plastic, spray paint, gray wood stain

Project Process - Download here


This project was centered around finding connections in different places and how to effectively communicate information to a community.  We were tasked with coming up with something that would be an addition to Oakland, a neighborhood in Pittsburgh, without disrupting or re-inventing the meaning of the area.

We created a centerpiece that could encourage the connection that students to connect with the rich presence of cultural arts in Oakland. 

Below are some studio shots and closer images of the details of our artifact.


The Prompt & Exploration

We were looking to see if there was a problem socially that we need to solve. We wanted to know if being associated with the other schools in Pittsburgh/Oakland was important to the atmosphere and going to school in this city.  We thought that it might be important for collaboration, ideas, conjoining the campus cultures, exploring Pittsburgh, sharing academics and breaking barriers.  Through the expansion of your social network, we believed that it would create a more meaningful college experience. 

After exploring the idea of a historically informative artifact, we decided to move forward with some of the ideas and scrap others. We needed to understand the location and placement of our artifact and why we were placing it. We wanted to know whether the connections we were making for people needed to be implicit or explicit. We wanted to know if there was a different way we could imply the parts of history and elements of Oakland to the students.

We went out into Oakland and walked around the majority of its perimeter. Since the neighborhood is focused around the North, West and Central portions, we walked through these areas. We discovered that Oakland is very diverse, with each street representing a different ethinicity and industry. Additionally, we found hidden gems, or street art along each of these streets.

This led us to reevaluate our artifact and our idea. We knew we wanted to be creating a space and something the students could benefit from. It could establish some type of socialization, academics, stress relief, information or art. Our decision was to create a space or artifact that would inform students. 

poster 2a.jpg


We struggled with the idea that we needed to be creating something with a purpose. After a lot of reflection and analyzation of our neighborhood, we came to the conclusion that there really was not anything missing from Oakland but there were things that could be improved. We wanted to place an emphasis on what was already there: the cultural background.

We moved forward by trying to implement an artifact into an environment. The artifact would be informing something about the neighborhood, could only fit in this neighborhood, and was something specifc to the neighborhood. We chose to enhance Schenley Plaza because it met all this criteria. Plus, it was a natural gathering space, allowed for other events and had easy access to food. We would be designing a statue/monument/table (which led to a centerpiece) for the curved benches in Schenley. 

Our goal for this was to find a way to tie the existing elements of a neighborhood back to the people who define it. The final artifact is a representation of what is happening at the Carneige Museum of Art. It is a type of branding and information that can be provided to people who go and sit within the curved benches at Schenley Plaza. It encourages, but does not force, a new idea of how to understand the neighborhood of Oakland. We were able to demonstrate and represent the knowledge about a place and its diverse elements through our explorations and observations.  

The decision of using Van Gogh's apple was informed through visiting the Carnegie Museum of Art. We decided to use the idea of color and communication as a our representational element, and focused on the “Visiting Van Gogh” exhibit. At the time of the project, there was an exhibition running with four pieces centered around the impressionist painter. His work delves into the understanding of color and brushstrokes. To implicitly and abstractly imply this event, we created an apple that focused on Van Gogh’s style.

We chose to focus on Van Gogh’s color theory and brushstrokes because the exhibit examined the artist’s methods. The museum created displays with color swatches for little kids to play with. There was a light box to show the mixing of the colors using transparent sheets. They included a color wheel and balls of yarn to represent the way Van Gogh used to compare to mix his colors. 

ARTS CONNECT is the digital counterpart of our artifact placed in Schenley Plaza. While the physical component serves to reel in interest, the app allows users to access in depth information about events, hours and locations.

poster 2b.jpg

Final Iteration & Reflection

For the final iteration of the digital component, the colors were explored between white and cream. The colors were finalized and the elements that we wanted to feature were decided on. This evolution from beginning to this result established the ideas that our project was cohesive and would work to create the urge from students to explore the cultural arts. 

This project taught us how to effectively work as a team, communicate our ideas, and delegate our work. We enjoyed this project and how it allowed us to use what we have learned about products and communications to inform designing for an environment. Our team feels that we were able to come together and design an effective physical and digital artifact for the neighborhood of Oakland.