Introducing “Labyrinth”: A textural landscape to explore emotions

November 2021 / By Candon Murphy, Willie Mak, Abbie Drake

This year for the Seattle Design Festival Block Party event, a small team of MG2 architects, designers, and graphic designers banded together to create MG2’s submission of Labyrinth: a textural landscape to explore emotions.

Each year, the Seattle Design Festival issues a theme for that iteration’s festivities, a subject matter for teams to explore that sets the stage for all events and submissions. 2021 focused on EMERGE: to examine how we, as a community, are emerging as humanity heals, as we navigate changed perspectives, and as we think about new ways to leverage design.

With this theme driving our perspective, the team was fascinated by the idea of exploring data already received from users of the Seattle Design Festival’s digital platform for the 2020 festival. As a result, MG2 created an interactive survey entitled “How Do We Want To Live” that provided fascinating insights into the user pool’s changed behaviors and preferences in the pandemic world. Exploration of concept began around this data and informed the overarching idea of this installation.

As brainstorming sessions ensued, the idea of giving the user an emotional journey and a space to contemplate and reconcile primary emotions from the last year became the focus of the physical space. We played with a few ways to achieve this, but our research around healing spaces resulted in the concept of a Labyrinth: a meditative walking path. Although a traditional Labyrinth is generally etched or painted on the ground, MG2 sought to push for a dimensional build that also provided retreat areas and spaces to ponder in solitude during the bustling experience of Block Party.

We landed on three specific emotions to guide the users through: Isolated, Perplexed, and Exposed. These emotions came up repeatedly in our data sifting and felt essential to the act of emerging. Next came the process of how to tie these with our design. The team experimented with multiple colors and materials but ultimately created a combination of texture and pattern to convey each emotion.

The form and layout were created by working through encouraging people to get lost in the space. Initially, we had pushed forward with a closed space but opted to change to a collection of repeating forms in various scales that would combine to form a mountainous landscape within Lake Union Park. We came upon a simple geometric form through sketch-modeling that could highlight our emotional textures while providing for the meandering path and nooks to stop, ponder, and allow opportunities for mindfulness.

The forms also housed subtle phrases on the frames to encourage thoughtfulness and give users clues to the emotions that we were trying to evoke. Finally, a QR code took people to an online space where they could share their thoughts and takeaways anonymously. By creating a space for contemplation, we hoped to have people look inwards and beyond their own experience to remember that everyone has a wholly unique way of processing and navigating their emergence.

The resulting installation became exactly our intent, creating an eye-catching conceptual sculpture with Lake Union in the background that allowed for users to experience more detail as they approached. Textures layered upon one another, cast shadows added to the depth, and the winds off the lake made for subtle swaying.

The feedback from the attendees of the Block Party was overwhelmingly positive. Because of the variety in scales and levels of engagement available, the way the installation was experienced varied widely. Young children felt welcome to come and play hide and seek, while older children found joy in discovering the phrases etched onto the frames, walking their parents around to see them all. Young adults engaged immediately in the QR codes, while some older adults found sanctuary among the forms, savoring a quiet space to look out over the lake.

MG2 finds great satisfaction in creating spaces for all humans and exploring transforming the world through design. Every year, it is our joy to participate in this festival and engage the community in new and unique ways. If you have not had a chance to stop by and say hello in years past, we encourage you to take time to come by in 2022 and experience everything the Seattle Design Festival and Block Party have to offer.

The structures that formed Labyrinth now reside in MG2’s Seattle office, greeting any curious visitors who walk through our doors. Learn more by reaching out to our team.