Design Notes · · 29 min read

The Impact of Shared Space: Ignacio Ciocchini, Public Furniture Designer

How the built environment expands, constrains, and informs our experiences of life in a city.

The Impact of Shared Space: Ignacio Ciocchini, Public Furniture Designer

Liam speaks with streetscape and public space designer Ignacio Ciocchini, who’s created much of the public furniture that New Yorkers encounter every single day – from benches that provide personal space, to entire built landscapes for Bryant Park, to chargers for electric vehicles and more.

The conversation ranges from the materiality of the built environment, to the ways in which it expands, constrains, and informs our experiences of life and socialization in a city, with a look toward the more human-focused future that Ciocchini envisions.

Liam Spradlin: Okay, Ignacio, welcome to Design Notes.

Ignacio Ciocchini: Thank you for inviting me, Liam. Uh, this is great.

Liam: I wanna know a little bit about your work. So what are the things that you're working on now? What kind of work do you do? What are you creating and what is the path that led you there?

Ignacio: I could talk for two hours, but, uh, long story short, uh, I, I am an industrial designer. I studied in Argentina, in Buenos Aires. And I was always interested in, in toy design, packaging design, and street furniture design. And, uh, so I ended up, uh, specializing in designing products for cities, uh, street furniture, street scapes and public spaces. And I did that, I ended up doing that because one of the jobs I got after taking classes here in the U.S. was with the, uh, business improvement district that they do public space management.

And, uh, so they basically are private public companies are, uh, stores of place and maintain it and improve it over time. And there are thousands of them in the U.S. and some of them have a lot of money. And actually the one where I worked, I, I ended up creating around design department and we would design and construct our own improvements to public space and street furniture. And then over 10 years ago, I started my own design consultancy and I specialize in designing that.

So for example, now I'm in New York, I'm working on an electric charger for electric vehicles for Con Edison at, the first pilot just went out. I'm also working for, um, designing electric chargers for all electric buses, pilot going on here. Um, so those are more site specific projects where are for a city only and they may be replicated somewhere else, but they're not for the market. And I'm also doing projects that are more traditional, um, product design for manufacturers.

Like I'm designing a, a chair for a company in France. I'm designing a, um, system of tables for a U.S. company. Um, so my work is both site specific and for the mass market and, uh, products and spaces. That's where I do most of my work.

Liam: And what is it that motivates you to do this type of work? Or why is this public furniture or product designed? What is it that kind of draws you to that discipline?

Ignacio: I think cities are the biggest in-invention the humankind has come up with, uh, because everything we have ever invented happens within them. And they have been evolving through time, but also in, in not so great ways, you know? And some of the technologies have pushed cities to evolving one way that was maybe advantageous for that technology. For example, with cars, everyone talks about that. Uh, but not so much for human life and human experience.

So my interest is really in being part of the solution. I think we have gotten some of these things great. Then, I mean, some of these things in the city, the overlapping of different economic activities and professionals and culture and interaction between people that works really well. But the things we all talk about pollution and overpopulation and, and, um, over consumption and garbage and all of things, you know? I think there's a lot of work to be done and the perspective of an industrial designer, I feel can help a lot, because of the way we attack a problem and the way we look at a, a problem that is different from the way sometimes urban designers or architects look at it.

Liam: I think you mentioned the aspect of human experience in a city. And that's something that I'm super interested in right now. I've had a conversation recently with anthropologist Tom Boellstoff, who's done a lot of work, uh, anthropologically in virtual space. And I also had a previous episode with Rob Giampietro who talked about the idea that designers of all kinds are kind of responsible for shaping the experience of people's lives through all kinds of different parameters, like how big a book is, how heavy a phone is, what shape a chair might be. And it strikes me as you're talking that public fixtures within a city are shaping the experience of living in that city...

Ignacio: Mm-hmm.

Liam: ... through, like, the way that you interact with them, but also through the way that they create specific actions like disposing of trash, resting, securing your bike, navigating around town. How do you think about those influences when you're doing your own work?

Ignacio: I think it's a key component of, of design. I, I love, uh, of, of serving how people use, uh, public spaces and, and because there's already an experience within the city. And I think it would be, in many ways, would be a lot easier to design a new city from scratch than it is to fix what we already have. So I always try to start with observing how people are behaving out there and what they are doing. Because I'm looking for someone, some, something to latch onto to, to create an improvement.

And uh, let's say a city, if a city doesn't have benches, right, just the mere action of adding a bench, any bench, any urban bench would improve that city. But so, um, if a department transportation is, um, in, it's approaching me to design a bench. What I'm looking at is what is the right bench for this city and what features that they need to have to really create a larger impact on the way people use public spaces.

And the way I arrive to those solutions is through observing, uh, people and their behavior and then asking questions about why. Why did you do that? I noticed you didn't use it, or you did use it, or you did this, you didn't... I think I'm lucky that designing public space has a lot of limitations and from materials and things like that, but from an observational point of view is very cheap because you're not in private property, right?

If we had to observe you and I about how, how do we use the headphones we have on, someone, it's not that easy to catch people in an, and observe them in a natural way. How do people use, um, monitors in a recording studio. With public space, you can do that very cheaply and, and you can do that for an extended period of time. I love that. And I have used it on many of my products, you know? So insight that I have, have seen, or someone on my team has seen then turned into a solution that created a product that was step above what was out there.

Liam: What does it look like for a product to be a step above what exists already?

Ignacio: I'll give you an example of the bench. You know, when I was designing the city bench for the Department of Transportation, um, so the first thing I did was to, to go, and of course New York has lots of benches, you know, in parks and places. But they were n-, they had no benches on the sidewalk. So when I was observing New Yorkers, I noticed that many of the seats on these benches were empty.

And then you would assume, "Okay, people don't want to seat, right? Don't give them benches." But when you observe, what happens is you see one person sitting, another one walks by, looks at the other person. You can kind of tell they want to sit, but they don't. They just keep walking, right? Or maybe you have four seats and only two are taken, and two seats are left in between.

So based on that, I asked the question to this, the ones that were willing to talk to me, uh, I said, "Why, why did you do that?" And the answer to that question gave me a solution. They said, "Well, the seat is too narrow. I can't, my body doesn't fit in that seat." Or, "I don't want to rub elbows with a stranger." Or, "That person has a large bag and is taking up a seat. I don't want to ask them to move it." Or, you know, they have it all. "Oh, that person is on the computer and I'm going to bother them." Um, or, "I have to be on the computer and to have space."

So now I realized there was a social component about social space. So, and it goes beyond ergonomics. It doesn't matter what shape or size your body has, right? What matters is that you feel comfortable and you have your social space. So I, I made these, uh, seats that are very, uh, wide, uh, at 27 inches wide. And have armrests and are separated from the other seats. So you can sit on an angle and talk to a friend. You can put your bag on your own seat, you can be on your cell phone, on the computer.

And so there's a lot of things you can do. So just this minor change made it so that these benches are highly used. A lot of people sit on these benches and it is because of that insight that came from observing. I didn't know this. And in fact, the longest bench allowed in New York was six feet. And my bench is seven feet, right, and, and two inches.

So we had to sort of work within the regulation, say, "Look, if you really want a three seater and you want people to use them, then this is what you need." And we, we tested prototypes and it worked beautifully on the prototypes.

Liam: This is something I would love to talk about is the, interaction between you and your practice as designers and an organization like a city who has this rule that a bench can only be six feet. And maybe that rule has gone unexamined for a long time. I'm sure that those conversations can be kind of difficult, right? They must be a very complicated stakeholder.

Ignacio: Yes. I have to say cities are very different now than they were even 15 years ago. You know, Department of Transportations now, they have lots of urban planners, urban designers, and even public policy people that are, are, are well informed when it comes to public transport and all of that. It used to be very difficult because you wouldn't interact with engineers that came only from highway design and that kind of area, you know, that is needed. But they, they did not have the human element because it's not what they, what they look at.

So, uh, the bench, when I designed the bench was under Jeanette Sadik-Khan. And her, as a commissioner, she was very open to new ideas. She wanted new ideas. So when I mentioned this and because it was going to trigger, uh, higher use, and they were after that, they said yes right away. I mean, but you are correct. A different transportation department would have said no, maybe. Um, but it wasn't a problem to get this one approved from the size point of view. I mean, there were other things that, like, cost and other functional features that were more tricky to work on. But, um, that one was not a problem in this case.

Liam: I think I'm also curious because I, I think a significant part of our audience is probably younger designers, I think, often who are going into interaction design or some other discipline like that. But I'm curious, um, going back to your journey for just a second, how you ended up being exposed to these kinds of stakeholders and organizations to get into this space that you're in now. Because it, it feels like something quite specialized and maybe very difficult to break into.

Ignacio: My advice to someone younger would, would just say, would be to, you know, you need a plan. You need to know what you like and what, what will make you happy. But also be open. Don't assume you, you know everything and, and that you know everywhere where you will fit because something might exist out there that you will love doing and you may not be aware that this position exists, especially now where so many people they have dual degrees. Uh, you know, like architecture and medicine, you know? All, all these things are happening now that are very, and it changes in technology in the next 10 years will be incredible.

Uh, so more so than the last 20. So, um, I would say stay open. And I think that's why I am where I am, because when I was a student in, in New York and I still couldn't speak English very well, and um, I didn't know what to do and I was also working at the restaurant while, while taking classes and this part-time position became open in a business improvement district, I really had no idea what it was.

And when I went to the interview, I interviewed really to design, um, redesign facades for building. Because they had a program to, um, redesign the facade of, um, businesses for free to improve the downtown area, right? So I was the designer and the design director designing these storefronts and signs that they were then offered for free and the company would pay half of the cost. So it wasn't really something I had too much experience on. It wasn't what I wanted to do. But I was lucky that this design director and others, you know, explained to me the, the vision of the company and what the company wanted to do. And that's when I saw things and say, "Wait, if I stay here, I can do these things and, and I have ideas of what other things I could do."

So, and I ended up staying there for a long time. I started as, as a draft person, as a designer, and then I became the, the be-, I went all the way to being Vice President of, of design there, and I had, at one point, I had 10 people under me. And we were working for three different companies at the same time. So, uh, because we were not hiring any consultants. Basically I created an in-house design team to tackle everything in-house.

Um, now with the pandemic that, that has been severely reduced. So I would say do plan ahead, but stay open minded and ask questions. Never assume you know everything. Never. That's the biggest mistake you can make, is that, "I know everything. I know myself. I know the market, I know where I fit," you know? It's okay to know the market, but allow yourself to think that there may be something out there you're not aware of.

Liam: Yeah. I think that's also in the same spirit of what you said about kind of observing people and figuring out what it is that they want to do with the products that you want to create. It makes a lot of sense. Going back to that, back to the example of the seven foot two inch bench, the design of this bench seems to, like, open up a lot of possibilities for folks to have a seat and do what they need to do in a way that wasn't there before. But I'm also curious if the design of public furniture or other kind of fixtures that you've worked on have the capability to either encourage or discourage, like, more specific behaviors. Like what are the ways in which these things could change what people are choosing to do in the first place?

Ignacio: Yeah, I mean, um, benches are very controversial because of the, uh, you know, the urban camping and all of that. And, um, I think that, at least in my case, I think some of the, some of those designs have been misinterpreted. You know, some of the, the bench, um... So the first target audience that a bench like that will service is the third age, right? Someone who is older, uh, that lives in a city that maybe they don't have a park nearby, and the only exercise they can get is to walk around.

But if you are of a certain age, you know, over 70, 65, 70, depending on your, on your physical, uh, fitness, you have to rest. You can't walk three blocks or five or 10 blocks and then come back home. You need to walk one block and rest then another one and rest, then two and rest. And if you don't have benches on the sidewalk, you can't do that. So what, what we figure is, so also an elderly person, they don't have the back strength and the arm strength that someone your age or even my age would have, right?

I'm, I'm guessing I'm probably 20 years older than you, so they need arm rests to hold themselves onto while they're sitting because otherwise the full body weight goes down onto the bench and they can get hurt. And then they also need the armrest to push themselves up from a seating position to a standing position. So that is very important that they have those two armrests. And if you have three seats, then you're going to have four armrests out there dividing up the seat.

So unfortunately those armrests are going to make it so that if someone wants to sleep on the bench, they will not be able to but it's not why those are there. It's really not. And I'm, I'm talking about in my case and for, for that product. So I, I know that, uh, some people find benches with too many divisions offensive and I understand. But what I would say is think about the elderly and think about the elderly in urban areas. And they really need that. Then other interactions that could be, that are happening, you know, like, including obstructions on street furniture to make sure that, uh, skateboarders don't damage things, you know?

That, that's very controversial too, and you can look at it from all sides. I worked for a long time for companies that had not only designed and built, but also have to maintain these public spaces. So I understand the frustration of installing, you know, 100 $3,000 benches out there that are made out of IPE and, and you have your beautiful park, and then in a month, a good 10% or 15% of them are scratched.

And I don't, I don't think people realize how expensive it is to fix that. Once you have a $3,000 bench out there that is damaged, it's maybe more expensive to fix it. So I also see the other, the other side of the story is, is the youth that doesn't have access to public space, uh, that doesn't have access to a proper, uh, playground or, or play space or skateboarding place where they can do their tricks.

So it's a tough one. I, I, what I do is I look at each project individually and I try to make the right decision for that project, right? Not making a blanket statement in a case like that, I don't think is the right approach.

Liam: Right. I'm also thinking about the ways in which these can influence some of the things that you were discussing earlier that cities have struggled from in the past or are struggling with now. Things like over consumption, traffic, pollution, things like that. Because I have also seen examples of public furniture that says, like, it will help to reduce littering or something like that. I'm curious, like, how these pieces can have those kinds of impacts as well on solving, like, problems that the city as an organism has itself?

Ignacio: Well, the problem of trash collection is very, um, New York has one and you know, trash bags are, um, stored on the sidewalk. It blocks the sidewalk and it, it looks really bad. When we talk about taking some of that space away from cars and giving it to people and balancing that. Mind you, no one is talking about getting rid of cars completely. When we talk about balancing that space is, um, giving that space back to people. Uh, doesn't mean always tables and chairs.

What that may mean is that may mean a bike rack that instead being on the sidewalk is, is a probably bi-bike rack on the parking lane. It may be that we have a larger trash container on a parking lane rather than the sidewalk. The same with an electric vehicle charger. So, um, and that technology is moving in a way that, you know, sensors will allow a city to, to monitor these improvements in a way that wasn't previously possible as to whether a parking lot is taken or not, whether an EV charger is charging or is empty, whether a trash can is full or not.

And so, um, I think a lot of those things will, will, will change as we balance out the space for cars. You know, everyone talks about electric cars and, and with, with the policies that, uh, the federal government is implementing and everyone is looking at that, you know? It, it's, it's a business opportunity for a lot of people and I, I've done quite a bit of work with electric chargers and I am still doing.

I don't think that electric vehicles or autonomous vehicles are the solution, the only solution for people, for cities. They are part of the solution, but the problem we have is a problem of quantity. We are trying to fit 20 gallons of water in a five gallon bucket, if not more. So, uh, it's an impossibility. So we can compress the size of cars, but to what point? So the solution is to reduce the number of cars in cities severely and make them smaller, make, make them more practical, making sure that it's not only one person traveling in them. And then making sure they don't pollute, right? And then making sure we reduce the accidents and the people that unfortunately lose their lives on a bike or on a scooter or, uh, in a car.

So I think all of these solutions need to work together. And I think the problem I see is that cities are getting overly excited about electrification, right? Thinking that, that's the solution. But if you electrify all the cars you have now, and you still have the same number of electric cars out there, whether they are autonomous or not, we are still going to have the traffic problems we have now in any city.

So I think we need to think about this holistically and see how all these technologies can interact. And then when these technologies do become a product that is in the public space, that it is the right product for that city. And I'm working now on electric chargers for ell- all electric buses. And yes, who wouldn't want to have all electric buses in the city?

But, you know, electric charging equipment for buses is, is really big. Is, uh, we are talking about switch gear and compressors and chargers that are 10 feet by eight feet by nine feet. So where, where do you put it? And are you going to block a public space or a sidewalk because you want your electric bus? So I think there needs to be a, a connection between city agencies, right?

Because if the city agency that is doing the electric buses only cares about electric buses and doesn't care about where these things go, then we have a problem. If there is interaction between city agencies, then the right decisions can be made. So I think the case of the electric charger for buses I'm working on is a case where there is interaction between the Parks department, the Department of Transportation, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, New York City Transit, and um, New York Power Authority, Con Edison.

So everyone is involved to make sure that, yes, we, we will get electric buses, but the chargers will be, the chargers that are installed in public space will be designed correctly and we'll have functions that will serve the public also if they need to take up space.

Liam: And speaking of that, I'm really curious, um, as I talk to folks who work in different creative disciplines, I always want to know, like, what is the stuff that you're working with? Like, um, and by that I mean kind of the practical constraints or the parameters that you have to work with. Like, you talk about the bus charging infrastructure being comprised of, like, this huge amount of machinery, but what are the things that you're thinking about in your work in terms of materials, physics, shapes, dimensions? Even maybe manufacturing or replication. How did those factor in as you're designing something?

Ignacio: When it comes to materials for street furniture, we are very limited, you know? Designers that work in this space, we, we know this very well. There are not that many, um, materials out there that will fit the bill as far as how long things need to last and the cost associated with it. So I, I do work a lot with, uh, stainless steel, you know, type 316, type 304. I work a lot with, uh, carbon steel that is electro coated and polyester powder coated plastics too, polyethylene, um, plotationally molded, rod molded and glass, you know, aluminum, um, aluminum extrusions, you know?

But it's wood also, but it's not that varied, the materials that I, I can really work with and be confident that it will last. Uh, if I know that the bench or the trash can will be out there for 10 years and will get no maintenance, I really need to be careful about the choices I make with materials. And often cost is, is, um, is limiting when, when working with with city agencies.

Um, you know, I've been in situations where you know that stainless steel is the right material but, um, the city agency can't afford it. So, and you have to lower the cost or the project doesn't happen. Uh, so you have to make compromises, right? And yes, you may be saving, um, money going with the lesser material in the beginning but, um, 7, 8, 9, 10 years into the project, you may, you may be having problems, uh, that you wouldn't otherwise have if you, if you chose the right material, the most, the more expensive material.

And when I say more expensive, you know, this means, it could mean double the cost, right? So it could mean, um, do we want to pay 1,500 uh, dollars for each bench or do we want to pay $3,000 for each bench? So that's a tough decision to, to make. So it's challenging. Material choices for street furniture is very challenging and, um, there are thousands of materials out there, but very few that, um, we can feel confident, uh, about using out there.

Liam: Throwing another kind of access of creation into the mix. I'm curious about how you take all of those requirements and begin to create an aesthetic with these products. Particularly, like, a lot of the work that has been done in Bryant Park, there seems to be a very distinct kind of visual aesthetic to those products, and I'm curious how that balances out with the materials that you have to use and also the usefulness that the products have to have for people in public space?

Ignacio: Yes. Well, you know, Bryant Park is a special case. It's incredibly well run and, uh, you know, the, the park funds itself, um, basically with all, all the events and activities that they generate there, um, sponsorships. So, um, you know, in a case that is site specific like that, you work to a budget. So if you know that, for example, the, the trash cans I designed for Bryant Park, um, the park had trash cans out there already. They were getting old. And, uh, uh, you know, the, the level of maintenance Bryant Park has, it's, it's really unbelievable. And those trash cans are emptied, you know, six, seven times a day and there are about 120 trashcans in the park.

So, um, the, the park is pristine. So, um, what I wanted to do with that design is not only design a trash can that looks good, and that performs its function properly, but also that communicated. That communicated the, the, the level of attention and maintenance that the client was putting into the park. I wanted the, the product to communicate that.

And so the, the trashcan itself became a branding vehicle in a sense, not in a sense of carrying a logo or anything like that, but the design has a connection, a connection with, uh, with nature. Uh, they basically look like little flowers in the park. And, um, they also communicate the value of recycling and doing it properly and the connection that, that has with the planet. So that was the thinking for, for the product.

And then of course it had to be going into this park that already existed. So it had to relate to the park itself, to its history and some of the other elements in the park that I had already designed myself. So I think that it's a very interesting case to look into. You know, trashcans are really the unsung heroes of public spaces along with, uh, with the sanitation workers. Um, because you ca-, you cannot have a well run public space without having a properly run sanitation effort. And without this trashcans and, you know, in a, in a small park like Brian Park to have 120 of them, that's a lot.

So having them, the right design in the right locations, and in this case, um, expanding the message of the company, you know, becoming part of the message of the communications, um, I think that, I thought that was important. And I think the trashcans are working really well for the park.

Liam: Thinking about the type of work that you do and the materials that you're working with, and especially like all the cost considerations and logistics of creating and installing and maintaining all of these things. It strikes me that my own practice, which is interaction design, has a really serious luxury in the sense that we are able to iterate on things really quickly because we're working with software. So our materials are pixels, processing power, like, server space, things like that.

Ignacio: Mm-hmm.

Liam: We can ship something really quickly, see how it works, and change it really easily compared to something that's built of metal, wood, glass, those sorts of things. So I, I heard you earlier in the conversation mention using prototypes, but I'm really interested in how this process of iteration, like, leads up to what you would consider a finished product.

Ignacio: I think prototyping is, is key. You know, prototyping is, is part of the design project because you, you have to, uh, process. You have to assume you will make mistakes and you will make mistakes. And you have to get those mistakes out of the way early in the process to make sure that users and people that are trying to enjoy the park don't pay the price of your mistake.

So, uh, in the case of the bench for, uh, New York and the trashcans for Brian Park, we did build, uh, prototypes. In the case of the bench, I think we built, um, about seven of them. So once the design was approved, we built prototypes. We installed them on the sidewalks without promoting it, without saying anything. And then now you get to observe how people are using the new design, the new product. And you get to see what's working and what is not working.

And if, uh, if you have the luxury to have the budget to do that, that's key. Because testing, I mean, you can do all your 3D modeling and check your structure in Solid Works and build a prototype in the factory and destroy it and see where it breaks, you know, all those things we did and, you know, the, the, the structure, the structural side of checking, that you have to do. But that can happen in a factory.

I think testing, um, in the public realm and just letting people use it and see what's going on, it gives you invaluable insight into the design and what you can do to improve it. And it could be a trash can, it could be a ping pong area, it could be a carousel, it could be, uh, a bench. Uh, it could be an electric vehicle charger. It doesn't matter. I see that as part of the design process, and I usually try to convince my clients to, to really include that in the scope of work when they hire me.

My work doesn't finish when the final fabrication drawings are, uh, are approved and we are ready to go. Uh, or when I approve the first prototype at the factory, which I do, but I'm always interested in going beyond that and really seeing the product in action and, and see what can be done better. So, um, and also prototyping if you are, uh, if you're in public space, you know, sometimes prototyping can be done with mock-ups. If you are, if you are not sure about the idea you can try out a concept instead of going all the way and fully developing it.

And it could be, you're not sure whether that's the right position for a bike rack or, um, for a city bike station or for a, an informational sign or maybe a parklet or an extension of the sidewalk. You can create those with temporary materials and observe and desi-design after that, which is something we have done quite a bit too before finalizing the design. It's just to do something, uh, temporary quickly and then observe.

Liam: As we start to wrap up, I think something that I notice among my fellow designers is the impulse to want to improve things. I mean, I guess that's why we are in the business that we're in. You started the conversation by saying, like, "We want to create public furniture that is one step ahead of, or one step above, more useful, better for the people out there than what is currently available." And I'm just curious, like, I lived in New York for six years and had my own relationship to the city. And I'm curious what you might change about the environment or the experience of being in New York from the work that you do?

Ignacio: I think that, um, you know, as a user, if I take my, my designer hat off, right, and I just think of myself as one more user of the city. And I think the city is working on this, is the improving bike lanes. And, of course, creating more, uh, fully protected and divided bike lanes so that you feel safer when, when biking in the city. Uh, see, I am a biker, but I am very, I am a very careful biker and very fearful of going into... You know there are many bike lanes that I'd see people use that I would never, I would never go there myself. I would feel unsafe. Um, and, and perhaps I have too much information about what's going on in the city with alternative modes of transportation.

So I would like to see that, you know, because, uh, I think my level of fear, uh, when it comes to biking is higher than, than other users, right? So if the city gets to a point where I don't feel as fearful about using my bike on bike lanes or crossing over a bridge, then I think a lot of other users may, may be feeling like me. I mean, the city just, um, included a fully protected bike lane on the Brooklyn Bridge, for example. The bike lane was separated from traffic, car traffic, but was mixed up with pedestrians. And with the number of tourists and pedestrians walking there, that didn't work very well.

It's now it's fully protected, fully separated from cars and from pedestrians and I believe it's working very well. So, a-and as a designer, I would like to see more, you know, I would like to see more public spaces and, and fewer cars in New York. Um, I think that I still see too many cars out there that only have one person. Uh, and, uh, you kinda wonder was it really necessary for, for that person to get into their car. You know, I use public transportation as much as I can. I use the subway a lot, even through the pandemic. I use the sidewalk, uh, the subway and I followed all the guidelines and I never, I never got COVID.

So as I said, there's a lot to be done and a lot to improve. But in general terms, I would say, a-adding more public spaces, improving the ones that are out there. I think New York has added a lot of, um, that became larger and larger over time, and that is great. Um, but some of them, I feel, need to become permanent now and need to, the design needs to improve because I think some of the, some of these temporary, uh, spaces are starting to show their age. And, and as we mentioned it before, right, public spaces are, they need to be managed properly.

So if you create a public space and you just leave it, um, leave it out there to, to see what happens, it could go in the wrong direction, right? So I look at public spaces as, as really products, right? Like, I'm not sure if other people think about them this way. But, you know, if you, if you're a product designer and you design the consumer product or an app and no one is using it, you know, no one. It's not selling. It's not, um, no one is downloading it. Um, you, you probably made a mistake. It's probably the wrong design, the wrong service.

And you can say, "Oh, people are misunderstanding my design. That's why they're not using it." But that's not the, that's not the reason. The reason is it may be a good design, but it's the wrong design for that situation. So I think we need to put a little more effort into public spaces. And, and New York has done a lot. But, uh, now I think we need to go to the next level, you know? Because when someone decides to go into the, into a public space or a park, they don't have to pay for it, right? You don't pay to enter a park, uh, Central Park or Washington Square Park. Um, it's a public space. You enter, you enjoy it.

And sometimes I think, um, um, we forget that, you know, time is very valuable. I believe that we do pay. When people decide to go into a public space, they are deciding to spend their time there. So if I'm deciding to spend two hours in Madison Square Park, that's time is very valuable to me. So I may not be paying it with, um, money, but I am paying with my time. And that is a conscious decision people make because you have choices. You have choice. I can go to this park, I can go into this store, I can go back home, I can go to the gym.

So what makes that person decide, "I will go into this park?" It's because the park has the features that that person needs to feel comfortable. You know, a bathroom, a place to eat, a seat. You have moveable sitting that allows you to sit in the shadow or, you know, have a comfortable sitting position to talk to friends or just be on your own and work. So I think that if we start thinking about public spaces that way, then the second you see a space and you see that no one is using it, you, you realize right away why. It doesn't have the features that would make someone comfortable. So why would someone sit there, you know? It looks unsafe or it smells. It's not clean. It's not designed properly. Um, it doesn't have any shade or so.

Um, I think it's important to think about it that way, you know, to take it seriously and, and say, you know, people have choices. If I want them to use this public space or this park, I need to, I need to compete. I need to compete with other things that they can do.

Liam: Right. So to close, I'm also interested in where you see your discipline specifically moving in the future or the work that you are doing? Especially, you know, we've talked a lot about reducing cars on the roads. I know that before I left New York, there were kind of indefinite street closures that started popping up during the pandemic for just mixed use public space. Again, probably going back to your point about the design is not really optimized for what this, what the space could do. But, um, and also as people start to talk about things like consumer AR and things like that, like, where do you see the discipline going? How will it interact with these possible futures?

Ignacio: Well, I think that it's already going there. If I look at the type of projects I've been working on in the last five years, most of the products I've been working on have technology in them. That was not the case, um, even 10 years ago or 15 years ago. So I think all these technologies will start appearing in public space. And like, um, 5G, um, sensors. Modes of transportation that have technology attached to them, um, like virtual parking spaces or, um, you know, like in the case of scooters and electric chargers that will be integrated with existing infrastructure.

So I, I think that all these technologies will have an impact on the city. And some of them you will see, some of them you will not, but I see a lot of work, uh, for urban designers and product designers and engineers adapting this technology to the city in a, in a human way. I think we need to do it. Uh, we need to prioritize us people, humans. And, and as, as long as we do that, we will be able to adapt these technologies, uh, in, in a, in a human way. Because, because it's a lot, right? It's a lot, uh, between cameras and sensors and, and radios and antennas and all these technologies that have a lot of advantages for the people that live in the city and for the agencies that have to manage the city.

But if those are not integrated properly, they, they will have a negative impact on the quality of life, on how urban spaces look and function. So that's what, what I'm interested in doing. Is to help those companies out there, help those tech companies integrate their products with the city in a way that works for the public. And I think in the next 10 years we will see a lot, a lot more of that coming in, starting with, uh, 5G radios and antennas and other technologies.

Liam: Well, thank you again for joining me, Ignacio.

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