Life is a Series of Moments

Spacesmith and the multidisciplinary collective Shared_Studious prove that great design is sometimes one that takes a back seat with Portals

09/01/2015 By AnnMarie Martin

Design has become the ultimate common denominator. This issue teaches us that more than ever and it’s not illustrated better than here, in our September Collaborative.

Amar C. Bakshi, creator of Shared_Studios and more importantly Portals—an amazing initiative that connects two people between time and space—was inspired when he wanted to help his grandmother remember what it was like in her hometown of Lahore, Pakistan.

“Out of college I spent some time traveling around the world reporting on how people see America for The Washington Post. I had some of the most moving experiences of my life when I was on a bus ride from one city to another, sitting next to somebody I didn’t know, without an iPhone or a laptop, talking to another person just in the interest of getting to know them, curiosity, and passing the time.”

He returned home missing these types of encounters and reflected on when he’d send video clips back to his grandmother in Maryland, who wanted to know what had become of her local bakery and her neighbors
in Lahore since she’d left when she was just 10.

“She passed away a couple years ago and she never re-engaged with the town, partially because there wasn’t that moment or physical location to help someone like my grandmother to connect in some coherent context with that distant space.” And while such tools as Skype, Google, and the Internet in general do offer people those opportunities, it still makes those moments somehow less meaningful—especially less so than those unfiltered moments for Bakshi on a bus or a train traveling during his reporting days.

“In those moments when we didn’t know one another and there wasn’t a purpose to our encounter, we were able to have conversations on a pretty deep level.”

He decided to give those intense moments of communication another avenue with Portals. These gold standard shipping containers are placed in various institutional domains and geographies all over the world, where one person can enter, and come face-to-face with someone in another container and converse as if in the same room, uninhibited or distracted by the interior or even the technology that is making it possible.

The first two were installed in December of last year at the Lu Magnus Art Gallery in New York City and the M-40 Arts Studio in Tehran. This month there will be four conversations up and running at the same time. “Our setup is the same everywhere,” explained Bakshi. Each portal is a simple, lightweight kit of parts that can be shipped anywhere from Afghanistan to Liberia, and the Shared_Spaces team works to make sure the experience is the same in both low- and high-bandwidth areas.

Julia Molloy Gallagher (architectural designer and project manager with Rockwell Group) helped bring Portals to life while working at architecture and design firm Spacesmith, when she got connected with Bakshi and brought him in for a meeting. “We brainstormed on how this idea could be easy to implement and easy to deploy anywhere in the world. We didn’t want the users to be distracted by the materials they’d be surrounded by,” she said.

All containers are grey boxes of drywall on the inside, with indoor/outdoor carpeting and one white wall at the end that houses all the needed technology behind it.

“At the end of the day, it wasn’t about the beauty of the design. It was about making it invisible so you just have a connection from one person to another,” Gallagher said.

And that connection has proved more important than they’d ever imagined, with people exiting the portals sometimes weeping, sometimes giddy with excitement and joy.

To find out about more Shared_Studios initiatives and how you can bring a Portal to your city, visit www.sharedstudios.com.

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