EMPACITY: Empathy & connection through urban narratives

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EMPACITY empathy & connection through urban narratives

EMPACITY empathy & connection through urban narratives

Beatriz Mickle Griesi MA Narrative Environments Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London

2. the experience 3. the narrative 1. context


contents 4. the environment 5. conclusion



EMPACITY is a pop-up hair salon experience at Euston Station courtyard, London. It aims to catalyse social interaction and raise awareness of the current disconnection between people who, while physically sharing public spaces, are essentially ‘alone together’. EMPACITY also explores the question of what the role of public spaces should be today.


The fictitious ‘Hair & Tales’ salon offers weekday travellers waiting on their own a quick hair styling service, to be experienced in pairs. The bespoke design of a mirror that pivots to become a table transforms an individual experience into a shared one, creating a café-like environment that invites visitors to engage in conversation.




Inspired by the hair salon that was housed in Euston Station in the early 20th century, this urban intervention re-imagines the social typology of a salon by opening it up in public. EMPACITY aims to demonstrate how everyday public spaces can offer out-of-the ordinary, convivial experiences.


context dramatic conflict research question social & political context project aims site context & project insertion historical context the proposal

are public spaces becoming the space of being

‘alone together’?




“it’s a paradox of modern times that the more we engage with social media in our virtual lives, the more antisocial we become in reality� (Macdonald, 2016, p. 58)



can urban & spatial interventions help us experience greater connectedness with others?


Empathy between strangers The experience proposed in EMPACITY’s urban intervention enabled moments of empathy between people who didn’t know each other.


social context In the current context of metropolis like London, it is not unusual to find yourself in a public space surrounded by many others, but being in a situation where everyone is ultimately ‘alone together’: doing their own things, communicating remotely with people who are not present, engaged with virtual content unrelated to the space where they are and even completely unaware of who is around.

People may be physically together, but actually isolated from each other in public spaces. And if this situation can happen at the dinner table of a family house, the impact on public spaces is much deeper. According to Montgomery (2013, p. 158), prosperity and technology play a large part in such phenomenon, in which “we have got so good at privatizing our comforts, our leisure time and our communication that urban life gets scoured of time with people who are not already colleagues, family or close friends”. This lack of human contact can have severe consequences for our health and well-being, as we become increasingly lonely (Macdonald, 2016, p. 58). Even contact with people we don’t know cannot be underestimated: it is crucial for social capital, engendering values of trust and cooperation within a community (Siegler, 2014); it opens opportunities for other contacts and is ultimately a source of vitality in our experience of the city (Gehl, 2011, pp.15-21).


In a context of communication concentrated on the virtual world and of the public realm being largely privatised, strictly controlled and devoted primarily to retail,


where are the opportunities for social interaction and for learning through difference in the city?


1- to encourage reflection about our behaviour towards fellow citizens

2- by offering a convivial e to argue that the role of p opportunities for human in


project aims Given the exposed context, I believe it is important to raise awareness of such disconnection between people sharing urban settings and to question what the role of public spaces nowadays is. Through EMPACITY project I aim to develop and implement an urban intervention that catalyses social interaction in a public space – namely the courtyard outside Euston Station, London. By doing so in a way that emotionally engages people into empathising with strangers, my intended impact is two-fold:

experience through the intervention, public spaces should include increased nteraction


Euston’s original hair salon

Industry & Progress








as the uses, space & conviviality of Euston Station change over time, what opportunities could inform its future? 28


site context & project insertion 1968






Retail-led & Sculptural


Crowded Clone Town


Modernist & Sterile

? 2040


other possible uses


historical context Euston Station has undergone numerous transformations throughout time in terms of physical space, uses and, consequently, levels of conviviality experienced in its public spaces. Further drastic transformations are about to take place with its redevelopment and expansion to accommodate High Speed 2 (HS2) railway. With this context in mind, questioning what kind of public spaces we envisage for the future becomes even more relevant.

The Doric Arch Euston Station’s former grand entrance, photographed in the early 20th century. What does future hold for the upcoming transformations of that public space?


An Edwardian hairstyle Step-by-step guide to up-dos of the 1900s: the ‘Soft Pompadour’ and ‘Psyche Knot’.


The proposal for EMPACITY’s urban intervention draws inspiration from the history of Euston Station, that used to accommodate an in-house hair salon for travellers in the early 20th century. At the same time, it can be seen as a ‘signpost’ for a series of other convivial uses to animate the construction hoardings in the transient period — and potentially even inform the future regeneration of the station’s public courtyard.

Euston Station’s original hair salon, 1911 The main rail and underground terminal was one of the first to offer convenient services to travellers, such a hair salon and telegraph facilities.



the proposal Quick hairstyling (with no requirements for scissors or electrical equipment) is a convenient service to be offered for travellers potentially disengaged at the station and attractive as an experience in itself. The experience is free and takes about 10-15 min. While historically inspired, the proposed experience creatively re-interprets the ritual of a hair salon as a communal activity by inviting participants in pairs. The strong social aspects of the hair salon typology are explored in a creative and playful tone, opening up the experience in a public outdoor space and therefore enabling different levels of engagement. The idea is to offer an opportunity for convivial social interaction, which can then be contrasted with the current reality of Euston Station’s courtyard. This is aimed to evoke reflections of visitors both about the way we behave in public spaces and about what the role of such spaces should be.

pop-up hair salon experience at Euston Station courtyard to catalyse social interaction 35

the experience event at Euston Station emotional map the experience in images


event at Euston EMPACITY came to fruition in the format of the pop-up salon ‘Hair & Tales’ on the 7th of April 2017, at Euston Station courtyard. The urban intervention was facilitated by a purposely designed piece of furniture (pivoting mirror/ table, built in a prototype form), accompanied by graphics of the salon (leaflet, hairstyling menu, poster) and feedback sheet. The experience was documented through photography and video shared online. The public waiting at the courtyard engaged at different levels: from the spectators on surrounding benches and those that stopped by to watch, to those who actively participated in the entire hairstyling experience. Facilitators of the event engaged with the public to invite them to take part. Even those who did not go through the whole interactive experience had a chance to get to know about the project through conversation or getting a leaflet with more information. Participants were asked by the end to fill out a feedback slip that prompted reflection: how do we behave in public spaces? Should there be more invitations for social interaction in the city?

Euston Station courtyard, 7April 2017 39


MIRROR reveal



0 min


3 min

2 min


9 min

waiting / seeing hair menu

hairstyle / chat

intrigued/ excited

engaged / delighted

2 40


emotional map

10 min

15 min


result reveal

photo / FEEDBACK

surprised/ empathetic

rewarded/ reflective

6 41


Engagement Participants are engaged by event facilitators and invited to take part in the experience, using the hairstyle menu and salon leaflet.

What is the role of public spaces for you? Even members of the public who did not participate in the hairstyling experience had a chance to get to know about the project and reflect. The pop-up installation function as the initiator of conversations by calling attention, and opens the chance to discuss how people envisage public spaces now and for the future.



Choosing hairstyle The visitor is paired with another participant and both are asked to take a seat. They discuss their choice of hairdo with the hairstylist and the aid of an unusual menu, which gives rise to some comments.


Mirror reveal Once the hairdos are chosen, the hairstylists reiterate that, to enhance the surprise effect, participants will not be seing the result until the end of the experience. The mirror is then pivoted horizontally, surprisingly revealing the other participant and opening up a space for conversation.


pivoting the mirror



Hairstyle & Chat Participants are introduced to each other and animated conversations unfold between them while their hair is getting done.


Laughs, stories & smiles Shared with someone new while getting a complimentary hair spruce-up!




Result reveal Participants hold a mirror for each other by the end of the experience to reveal the end result — a moment of empathetic recognition.

Interactive experience Playful interaction as one of the participants tries to show the back of his head and encourages the other to do so as well.


Photograph At the end, participants are offered a photo together, as a takeaway of their experience. The photos are then uploaded to the project’s website.


Feedback & reflection Finally, participants are asked to fill out a feedback sheet which also prompts reflections about how we behave in public spaces and the role of such spaces nowadays.


the narrative hair & tales hairstyle menu graphic language salon leaflet material palette


hair & tales Welcome to Hair & Tales, a salon with a twist. The narrative adopted for the proposed experience is that of a fictitious hair salon where every person is seen as a travelling story. ‘Hair & Tales’ is a ‘storytelling salon’ where visitors are invited to share their experiences in a friendly conversation while getting their hair done. Elements of 2 storyworlds are combined here to unfold the narrative: those of a hair salon and those of the train traveller. The illustration used for the salon’s menu clearly represents this: a typical scene depicting people minding their own things inside a train carriage, then overlayed by the hairstyles named according to each person’s traits. Both storyworlds come together at Euston Station through the historical link of the station’s original salon.

Welcome to Euston’s storytelling salon 59

glass half full

forever young oh, messy messy me

Every hair has a story to tell


the adventurer

on top sti of it not sh

late nights

the dreamer

irred, haken

friends in high places

from boho to soho

proper lady

green fingers

Hairstyling menu Of Hair & Tales pop-up salon



graphic language In graphic terms, the language adopted combines branding elements of the hair salon (such as the traditional logotype template and hair menu) with an artistic and narrative layer. Hand-drawn illustrations are used along with playful descriptions. Inspired by scientific / anatomic prints with precise descriptions of the human body, this typology is then twisted to insert people’s personalities and individual traits.

2017 eUSToN STATIoN pop-up

hair & tales storytelling salon

Hair &Tales salon logotype The ‘branded’ language of the salon utilises engraved letterpress and Art-Deco typefaces as a link to the original hair salon at Euston and graphic language at the station in between 1900-1920s.

Inspiration on anatomic prints Images of etched anatomic prints, such as the one on the right, served as inspiration for the concept of the hair menu - with a twist.


hair & tales

the experience

storytelling salon

UP TO 10 minutes

we offer quick hairstyling servic so you can still get your train time!

Every person is a travelling story.... Fancy doing something totally different? Well, you’ve come to the right place! Welcome to Hair & Tales, a salon with a twist.

2 at a time

We love people & just for one day, we’re going to provide an opportunity for people to talk to each other, share a smile, tell a story, ¯ all whilst getting pampered by a professional hair stylist. What’s there not to love?

slots are run every 15 minu taking two people at a time

Human interaction is often lost in the city.... Each & every one of us is a rich, & unique tapestry of experience.

surprise, surprise

to enhance the surprise, you will g to see your fabulous new hairst only by the end

To cut a long story short (but don’t worry, not your hair!), we’re passionate about people & fascinated to hear tales ¯ and we style your hair. So why not give it a go? You never know who you’ll meet, what stories you’ll hear. Flip the coin & go for Hair & Tales!


who doesn’t like some pamperin and isn’t it even better when free? go on ¯ take this little tr on us

for more info, visit our website: www.hairandtales.wordpress.com

‘Hair & Tales’ leaflet Spread 1


he experience

from the past, to the present

UP TO 10 minutes we offer quick hairstyling services, so you can still get your train on time!

2 at a time slots are run every 15 minutes, taking two people at a time

surprise, surprise to enhance the surprise, you will get to see your fabulous new hairstyle only by the end

Did you know that in early 20th century, Euston Station used to have an in-house hair salon? It was one of the first to offer convenient hairstyling services to travellers waiting for their trains or a spruce up after a long journey.


Our pop-up draws inspiration from the heritage of this site, while providing an updated salon experience. With a creative twist, of course.

who doesn’t like some pampering? and isn’t it even better when it’s free? go on ¯ take this little treat on us ‘Hair & Tales’ leaflet Spread 3

Euston Station’s original hair salon, 1911. © National Railway Museum and SSPL



air & tales

the experience

storytelling salon

UP TO 10 minutes

y person is a travelling story....

we offer quick hairstyling services, so you can still get your train on time!

y doing something totally different? you’ve come to the right place! Welcome air & Tales, a salon with a twist.

ve people & just for one day, we’re going ovide an opportunity for people to talk ch other, share a smile, tell a story, ¯ all t getting pampered by a professional stylist. What’s there not to love?

an interaction is often lost in the city.... & every one of us is a rich, & unique try of experience.

t a long story short (but don’t worry, not hair!), we’re passionate about people & nated to hear tales ¯ and we style your So why not give it a go? You never know you’ll meet, what stories you’ll hear. he coin & go for Hair & Tales!

2 at a time slots are run every 15 minutes, taking two people at a time

surprise, surprise to enhance the surprise, you will get to see your fabulous new hairstyle only by the end

free! who doesn’t like some pampering? and isn’t it even better when it’s free? go on ¯ take this little treat on us ‘Hair & Tales’ leaflet

for more info, visit our website: Spread 2 www.hairandtales.wordpress.com 67

2017 eUSToN STATIoN pop-up

hair & tales storytelling salon


material palette The material palette adopted is mostly based on light-couloured plywood as a natural material to ‘soften’ the very dark space of Euston’s courtyard. Along the same lines, vibrant colours are explored as to lift up the space in an eye-catching way.



the environment Euston station prototype installation the installation: full design


Euston Station NW1 2DU



Euston station Located in central London, the chosen site to develop the projects’ aims is Euston Station, in Camden. Despite being the 5th busiest station in Great Britain (ORR, 2016), the site provides an outdoor courtyard where the public lingers for an average of 20 min during weekdays, waiting for someone or waiting to catch their trains. These weekday travellers, potentially disengaged, comprise the target audience for the intervention.

Target audience: weekday travellers waiting at the station’s courtyard 73

Euston Train & Underground Station

new plan of E

Euston Station Courtyard Plan Key Main circulation Secondary circulation Pop up installation


Euston 1:50 Detail on following page

Bus Terminal

Towards Euston Road


The installation is located close to one of the main entrances to the station and adjacent to a raised building, without disruption to the major circulation axis of the courtyard.

Entrance to Euston Station

People standing watching

People watching from surrounding tables

Towards Bus Terminal & Euston Road

People leaning against short wall watching

Detail of installation in situ


prototype installation The installation to support the experience consists of a compact hair salon environment in plywood designed based on the basic elements of a hairdressing salon (mirror, chairs, support for tools). The bespoke element consists of the ability to pivot the mirror horizontally, which then becomes a table. By doing so, the aim is to create a cafe-like, convivial atmosphere between the visitors while introducing a surprise element which is essential to the experience. For the event at Euston, the structure was build in its prototype form as shown below.

Space for hanging hairstyling tools (both functional and decorative props) & plants

Design of prototype installation


Double-sided aluminium composite mirror 3mm on plywood surface, with central metal pivoting axis


Hair salon swivel chairs with adjustable height up to 60cm


Metal handle fits onto slots support table and lock it into vertical / horizontal position Double plywood frame



Visualisation of spatial design for intervention The pop-up salon Hair & Tales took place at Euston Station on the 7th of April 2017, with the structure built in its prototype form.



the installation: full design In Central Saint Martins’ Degree Show the installation exhibited has been executed in its full design. The complete concept has the same principle of its prototype version: a pivoting mirror that becomes a table. The ornamentation of the frame is what differentiates the full version. An intricate pattern was designed based on hair salon tools of the early 20th century. This pattern was then cut out using a CNC router: a historical reference to Euston’s original salon in a contemporary interpretation. The cut outs add an extra layer of visual appeal and can create an interesting effect of dappled light — suitable to blend in an open-door public space.

Material research Exploration of antique hair salon artifacts and tools for the creation of the pattern cut out from the timber installation.

Visualisation of installation Built in its full design for CSM’s Degree Show.


conclusion project impact feedback collaborators special thanks & support bibliography image credits


project impact As a spatial designer that sees the potential of urban spaces to create invitations for social interaction, my aim was to demonstrate so in EMPACITY project by means of an urban intervention. The form of the hair salon, with the embedded layers of social significance and historic links to Euston Station, was the theme explored for this convivial urban experience that took place in the 5th busiest station of Great Britain (ORR, 2016). The experience enabled travellers waiting at Euston, who would otherwise unlikely interact, not only to engage in conversation but also to actively acknowledge each other in a playful way.‘Reveal’ moments when pivoting the mirror down and showing the hairstyling results to each other functioned as ‘ice-breakers’ and contributed to a fun and convivial atmosphere, as evidenced in the project’s video. The urban intervention with ‘Hair & Tales’ salon has also initiated a reflection about how we behave towards each other in the city and what the role of public spaces should be in that sense. This is expressed through conversations between participants and answers collected from feedback sheets. EMPACITY has successfully intervened in the dynamics of Euston Station courtyard towards a more convivial experience of that public space. Active participation of the public, positive feedback and (most importantly) the conversations and playful interactions unfolded during the event point to the direction that the design of urban interventions can be used as a tool to create convivial invitations in the city realm. Encountering difference Hair & Tales salon enabled people from diverse backgrounds to come together.



exchange of ideas

empathising with someone you didn’t know before 87


encountering and learning from difference 89





feedback Feedback was collected from participants by the end of the experience by means of a feedback sheet. 88% of participants have rated the experience with the top mark of 5 – and one visitor even rated it 6! It revealed not only how people enjoyed taking part in ‘Hair & Tales’ but also prompted further reflection as shown below. EMPACITY project has made a significant step in demonstrating other possibilities to re-imagine more inviting and convivial urban spaces.

Example of feedback sheet Filled out by participant. The importance of having a reflective moment immediately after the experience was to contrast it with the current reality of that very same public space.


WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE WAY PEOPLE BEHAVE IN PUBLIC SPACES NOWADAYS? “people seem too busy, running around all the time” “we should talk to each other more often and learn about our differences & common ground we share”

WHAT ASPECT OF THE EXPERIENCE CAUGHT THE ATTENTION THE MOST? “set up of the booth. opportunity to talk with people” “opportunity to be part of something unique & fun” “the social aspect of speaking to a stranger + having your hair done” 94

SHOULD THERE BE MORE INVITATIONS FOR SOCIAL INTERACTION IN THE CITY? “yes, definitely, people should acknowledge each other more & stop to talk” “actually no, if I want to interact with strangers I get drunk & go out” “yes, people sadly live in their own technological world these days!” “invitations are great as you can always decline, but it’s harder to ask yourself”

Reflection from feedback Examples of answers given by participants of the experience.



“[..] a small intervention in public space is a great way to realise we could get so much from people around� visitor feedback



collaborators Nozomi Koseki, Project Management Shanshan Liu, Graphic Design Eve Jiratchaya and Will Sandy, Spatial Design Consultancy Robert Tang, Product Design Consultancy Pinyu Chen, Tongyao Guan and Lucas Lu, Video & Photography Ronnie Chou, Film Editing Natasha Mickle and Mak Gilchrist, Logistics Rob Beckett, Building Expertise Diandra Ferreira and Yolanda Aldridge, Hairstyling





special thanks & supporters I would like to express my profound gratitude to all of those who made this project possible, especially Natasha Mickle, Tim Irish, Alan St Luce & Network Rail. Without your vital support, none of this would have been possible. Special thanks also to The Edible Bus Stop Studio members for your continuous support (even hands-on!) and understanding. To LVMH, my profound gratitude for making the conclusion of my studies and implementation of this project possible. Finally, I would like to thank David Chambers for his guidance and Tricia Austin for encouraging us into exploring Narrative Environments. Thank you!


bibliography ARTS Admin - CUT FESTIVAL (2017). Available at: <http://www. cutfestival.com/> [Acessed 25 February 2017]. GEHL, J. (2011) Life between buildings: using public space. 6th edn. Washington: Island Press. GOFFMAN, E. (1966) Behavior in public places: notes on the social organization of gatherings. New York: The Free Press. LS:N GLOBAL (2011) ‘Conviviality culture’. Available at: <http:// hannahnewbalanceblog.blogspot.co.uk/2011/03/conviviality-culture. html> [Accessed: 26 July 2016]. MACDONALD, H. (2016) How to live in the city. London: Macmillan. MONTGOMERY, C. (2013) Happy city: transforming our lives through urban design. London: Penguin Books. NEWELL, H. (2011) ‘Time to get a haircut before ‘The Party’’, Arts Admin Blog, 7 November. Available at: <https://www.artsadmin. co.uk/blog/126/time-to-get-a-haircut-before-the-party> [Accessed: 17 December 2016]. ORR – Office for Rail and Road (2016) ‘Top 10 stations in Great Britain 2015-16’. Available at: <http://orr.gov.uk/__data/assets/pdf_ file/0003/23358/estimates-of-station-usage-2015-16-infographic-top-10. pdf> [Accessed: 16 December 2016]. SIEGLER, V. (2014) ‘Measuring social capital’. Office for National Statistics. Available at: <http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov. uk/20160105160709/http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171766_371693. pdf> [Accessed: 16 October 2016]. WHYTE, W. (2001) The social life of small urban spaces. 4th edn. New York: Project for Public Spaces.


image credits All images in this book are © EMPACITY project and photographs taken by Pinyu Chen, Lucas Lu and Tongyao Guan, during EMPACITY event at Euston Station, with exception of:

Euston Station Doric Arch, © National Railway Museum and SSPL Edwardian hairstyle: The ‘Soft Pompadour’ and ‘Psyche Knot’ - fom Girls Own Paper and Woman’s Magazine, 1911 Euston Station hair salon, 1911 - © National Railway Museum and SSPL


Beatriz Mickle Griesi b.micklegriesi1@arts.ac.uk www.bmickleportfolio.wordpress.com

2017 eUSToN STATIoN pop-up

hair & tales storytelling salon