The Social Cave is an ongoing project developed by the research Lab, Non Linear
Solution Unit at Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation in New
York. The project explores how the relation between digital and physical connectivity
affects socialization in US public environment.
The digital age has dissolved traditional conceptions of space. Whereas socialization
once existed entirely within the physical realm, the virtual world has invited new rules
and interaction within a previously unavailable dimension.
Growing virtual connectivity has certainly created a network of unlimited communication
pathways. Yet while our social reach has extended, relationships spawned by
the web often remain confined to the digital space in which they were initiated. The
protection of that dematerialization is seductive; intimacy must no longer be defined by
physicality. Emboldened by the blanket of physical anonymity, we may assert a redefined
sense of privacy and closeness.
By merging physical and virtual space, how can design affect the changing vista of
socialization? Can design encourage a new platform for interaction in public space?
The first prototype of the Social Cave was developed in occasion of the 50th anniversary
of the Milan Furniture Fair. It was invited as honor guest of the exhibit 50 + 50
Designing the Future by Marva Griffin, the curator of the non-profit organization Salone
With a group of 24 international students and the interaction designers BCAA, the
project consisted to design a small, interactive installation that would be encountered
by hundreds of thousands of people, most of whom are strangers to each other. In
response, the Social Cave, a typology that returns to the beginnings of our civilization.
The Cave blended the frenzied excitement of virtual connectivity’s power and speed
with the calm of its form and materiality, an aggregation of 100% recycled and 100%
recyclable foam cubes.
The barrier wall separating the two enclosures within the Cave ensures that visitors
inhabiting each of those spaces are initially concealed from each other. The presence
of a visitor in the opposite space was revealed only through an abstracted projection
capturing his movements.
The physical anonymity created by the enclosure allows each visitor to feel comfortable
engaging in a digital and visual conversation with the projected “shadow” or “ghost”
of the visitor opposite him. Gestures and personalities are therefore made familiar to
each other before the initial physical meeting. Thus, the Social Cave first hides and
then exposes the proximity and identity of its visitors, allowing a conversation to begin
that transcends traditional digital physical boundaries.
The experimentation in Milan was extremely successful. More than 450.000 visitors
stopped, start to play and socialize with other visitors. The presence or absence of
the cubes permitted to constantly challenge the relation between physical and digital
environment between individual and collective playfulness.