Five Ideas

Five Ideas for Public Space: Irene Guzman

Irene Guzman

Irene Guzman

This summer, GOOD and the BMW Guggenheim Lab launched a worldwide, online call for ideas, inviting the public to respond to the question, “How would you transform a public space?” Curator Maria Nicanor recently selected five top ideas from the one hundred twenty submissions. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be presenting profiles of the people whose ideas were selected. Follow along here on Lab | Log as they discuss their innovative projects.

In January 2010, the parking lot of a vacant Santa Monica car dealership became home to a host of food trucks, instantly converting it from a monotone, uninviting space to a lively market attracting a wide range of people who were drawn to both the food and the energy. But the city’s zoning laws prohibited food trucks in the area, so the next day the space reverted to an unused square of asphalt.

The Santa Monica lot acted as a case study in Irene Guzman’s class at the Rhode Island School of Design, where she studied architecture. Her studio class was challenged to re-activate the space, this time within the limitations defined by the zoning law. Her response was Public²—an idea that went on to become a finalist in the City Forward call for ideas. Guzman proposed that a set of strings outfitted with shades and lights be hung across the lot with benches placed underneath. Visitors could control the lighting of their environment while creating more private space within a larger setting. Yet any one change would provoke a change in the whole environment. “In a system that uses material as loose as string, if something is moved in one area, it might affect the configuration other people have next to it,” explains Guzman.


By generating a bit of tension between users, Guzman hopes to create a space with Public² that contemporary users will find more exciting than a typical park or pavilion. She sees the process of using Public² as “a microcosm for how we decide to build cities.” But she notes that she would be just as happy to see the project implemented in suburbs, since she believes that, in future, planning will be challenged by the need to create public spaces outside of city centers.

Guzman, who grew up in San Juan, Puerto Rico, is currently working for an architecture firm in Istanbul. In addition, she is a cofounder of OpenUrban, an open-source online map that lets users post current and proposed urban-planning schemes. In effect, OpenUrban is a virtual version of Public², with individuals charting their interventions in their neighborhood. The idea is to witness how those small changes have an impact on communities at large.

Guzman would like to see Public² realized. To date, she has no takers, but as she puts it, “I’d definitely like to take it from being just-an-idea to an actual project!”

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Photos: courtesy Irene Guzman

  • Jorgus

    It’s a great project.  Well done for Ms Irene Guzman.

  • Natacha Colon

    Way to go Irene!! Great idea! Now make it happen!! :) Irene Yo voy a ti!!