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Best of ATL Block Party: Meet Second Story

Their concept “Free Zone” is a series of environmental signage that raises questions about the human costs of technological evolution

To celebrate CL's annual Best of Atlanta issue, and our forthcoming Block Party, the Goat Farm Arts Center curated a physical manifestation of the best the city has to offer. The six chosen installations will imagine a future world based on plausible present technologies, ideas, or milieus. Expect an ambitious cyberpunk-inspired future Atlanta presented in a way that has never been done before. The installations for BOA do not deal with the past, but rather what is on the horizon. We'll be posting interviews with the participating artists leading up to the event. Previous: "Meet Rebecca Makus."
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Second Story is an innovative design studio full of imagineers actively working towards a more experiential future. By day they work with major brands to design high tech environments and experiences, and by moonlight they take on fun projects like the BOA block party to grace us with their expertise and application.
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? They had a lot to say about their concept “Free Zone,” a series of environmental signage that raises questions about the human costs of technological evolution. Using municipal signs as a canvas and speculative sci-fi as their inspiration, this installation will have you pondering about the imminent possibilities of our not-so-far-off-future:
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? Tell me more about Second Story. Who are you and what do you all do?
Second Story is a design studio focused on creating responsive environments — we augment physical spaces to automatically (and delightfully) respond to human behavior. We design these bespoke interactive installations for clients in both cultural and brand spaces. In Atlanta, you can see some of our work at the World of Coca-Cola, the Porsche Experience Center, Whole Foods Avalon, and the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Our studio is highly collaborative and interdisciplinary, comprised of many creative disciplines — visual and experience designers, animators, writers, coders, architects and industrial designers. We are highly experimental and prototype driven, with a lab-based approach to design.
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? What is the title of your piece and please describe it.
As we began to contemplate the themes of time and tech, we saw environmental signage as a really potent vehicle to convey the behavior of our future society and it’s underlying technologies. In the urban environment signs are omnipresent — they help us to find our way around, warn us of danger, tell us what (and what not) to do. But signs also provide insight into the social norms of a particular time and place (example: “whites only" signs from the ’50s), and offer clues to the technologies in use (example: surveillance camera signs). You could infer a lot about our future world based on it’s signs.
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? Our piece, “Free Zone,” uses the format of signs to raise questions about the human costs of technological evolution. As we embrace new technologies meant to minimize discomfort, distress, and inconvenience, do we risk losing the very things that make us human? Using municipal signs as a canvas, this exercise in immersive design fiction will establish South Broad Street as a "dark" zone in a technologically pervasive, constantly measured society where we have traded privacy for gains in security, comfort, and convenience. We imagine what might happen to a city block in a surveillance society where grassroots hackers repurpose city signs to inform people about electronic freedom. The Free Zone is a place to the enjoy the liberties we might crave in the near future—an era ruled by the quantified self.
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? How did South Broad Street inspire your concept?
In most people’s minds, South Broad Street is a gritty, neglected part of town where the left-behind congregate, and human vice abounds. We were inspired to embrace and champion this outcast status — turning it into something triumphantly flawed. A sort of red-light district of the future, where it’s only because of the bad that you can experience the good. We imagined South Broad as one of the last remaining places in the city that hasn’t been anesthetized by our pursuit of clean, comfortable, and convenient. It’s messy, chaotic, and redemptively human.
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? Going off the loose theme of time — a future or passage of time from present toward the future — what does your installation have to do with the future of Atlanta?
The installation projects the future of all technology-driven societies, not just Atlanta. But the way infrastructure is janked nods to Atlanta’s mischievous side. It echoes our tendency to make progress on our own terms rather than accepted standards.
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? Atlanta has always been an enterprising city, eager to embrace change and commerce in pursuit of progress and growth. While the desire to evolve and improve is overwhelmingly positive, it also raises the specter of unchecked development. With Atlanta on course to experience continued population growth, many decisions lay before us that will chart our city’s future. How will we define “progress,” and at what cost? Because there is always a cost.
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? What is the best thing about Atlanta?
Unlike saturated markets like New York and Los Angeles, Atlanta feels wide open for thoughtful, ambitious, impassioned souls to make their mark. It’s a young and impressionable city in a lot of ways. You get the sense that you can really make an impact here. It’s also more affordable than larger markets for those in creative fields, so hopefully the city will continue to find a way to attract and retain top creative talent who will apply innovative thinking to a wide range of city issues.
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? Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about yourselves? Anything in particular that was sparked working with this project?

? Early on when we were tossing around this concept, we talked a lot about how power and resistance would operate in the future. We asked questions like, “What does it mean to work for the greater good?” The piece doesn’t take sides—quite the opposite. It celebrates the chaos of competing voices and values—the things that make people and places interesting—keeps them evolving, moving, unresolved, uncontrollable.
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? When it came to fabrication, our team was really keen on creating the fixtures and elements of the installation in a credible, authentic way. By partnering with The Goat Farm and MASS Collective, we’re living up to our goal of creating an experience for a fictional narrative using strictly non-fictional processes. A big part of how we see this future involves heavy use of digital design tools and desktop small-scale fabrication. High-low tech in a future where people are coping with their relationship to information technology.
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? We also really enjoyed playing upon event attendees’ existing perceptions of South Broad Street — as a forsaken zone that lies beyond the limits of city consciousness — to create an unsettling "border crossing" experience as you enter the party/Free Zone. In our distributed narrative approach each interaction stands alone, but you can experience the entire narrative arc by engaging with each individual sign. We wanted to create a future that felt realistic and possible but still fantastical and speculative. To walk that line, we needed to create a fiction that was developed enough to feel authentic, while allowing for the casual interaction of party-goers.
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?CL's Best of Atlanta 2015 Block Party. Free. Fri., Sep. 25, from 6-11 p.m. South Broad Street, between Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and and Mitchell Street.



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