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S. U. N. Y. Fashion Institute of Technology

Semicolon; the ability to pause in an ever-going urban setting Submitted to the faculty of the division of Exhibition and Experience Design in candidacy for the Degree of Master of Arts in Exhibition and Experience Design Department of Graduate Exhibition and Experience Design Christina Lyons, Chairperson by Tina Columbus 2019

Š Copyright 2019 by Tina Columbus All rights reserved


This Qualifying Paper was submitted by Tina Columbus In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Exhibition and Experience Design 2019

Brenda Cowan, Professor Christina Ferwerda, Advisor Christina Lyons, Chairperson Mary E. Davis, Dean, School of Graduate Studies


Table of Contents Thesis +Exhibition Project Document Introduction _________________________________ 5 Thesis +Exhibition Project Overview ____________________________________________ 6 Thesis +Exhibition Project Summation___________________________________________ 7 Part I – Exhibition Thesis______________________________________________________ 8 Thesis Introduction __________________________________________________________ 9 Thesis Statement ___________________________________________________________ 11 Argument_________________________________________________________________ 12 Thesis Research of Prior Work ________________________________________________ 19 Case Study 1 ______________________________________________________________ 19 Case Study 2 ______________________________________________________________ 20 Interview _________________________________________________________________ 23 Thesis Testing + Verification Methods __________________________________________ 25 Thesis Testing+Verification Results ____________________________________________ 27 Thesis Conclusion __________________________________________________________ 33 Thesis Bibliography ________________________________________________________ 34 Part II - Exhibition Project ___________________________________________________ 36 Exhibit Project Introduction #belonghere ________________________________________ 37 Project Development ________________________________________________________ 38 Exhibition Development _____________________________________________________ 43 Exhibition Project Final Documentation _________________________________________ 48 Exhibition Project Model Photo Survey _________________________________________ 84 Exhibition Project Conclusion ________________________________________________ 87 Exhibition Project Bibliography _______________________________________________ 88 Thesis +Exhibition Project Conclusion __________________________________________ 89 Student Biography __________________________________________________________ 90


Thesis +Exhibition Project Document Introduction This research is part of the thesis project for the Master of Arts in Exhibition and Experience Design and it consists of two sections. The first section explores the impact of New York City and its stressors on its inhabitants. Then it also suggests an antidote for modern urban living: the intersection of mindfulness practices and theater techniques. This approach emphasizes ways to practice urban mindfulness, reduce stress and encourage empathy. The second section of this research is the design approach for the #belonghere experiential marketing campaign by Airbnb Experiences, which introduces the neighbors of Flatiron District to the audience. The goal of this campaign is to promote Airbnb Experiences while catalyzing the human bond and strengthening the feeling of the neighborhood.


Thesis +Exhibition Project Overview Urban centers have a negative impact on their inhabitants’ wellbeing. As human nature is not designed to live in high stimulating environments, often people isolate themselves and exclude any human interaction that may occur spontaneously and unexpectedly on their urban routine. Modern people often seek to escape from their mundane everyday life, by dreaming the past or anticipating the future. The result is to be absent from the present moment. Mindfulness is the practice of being present with a non-judgmental attitude. It brings huge benefits to the individuals who practice it. On the other hand, theater has been used since ancient times as an educational tool. It is a tool for social change and it can provide transformative moments for the audience. How can the two disciplines be combined in order to provide a solution to the unhealthy way of modern urban living? This paper explores the ways in which Experience Design can provide a fresh perspective to New Yorkers who are struggling.


Thesis +Exhibition Project Summation It was fulfilling to have the opportunity to design and realize a thought that I had been reflecting on for many years. Building the theoretical basis for this project made me realize my personal design interest in building social spaces. The fact that the project was designed around a real-world client, orientated many of the decisions throughout the process. However, the controversial opinion people have about the client required a lot of thinking on how to handle the concept and deliver the content. Particularly challenging was the venue and the fact that the experience was a free exploration rather than a controlled space with a defined start, middle and end. A major consideration when designing were the ways in which design can draw the audience’s attention, without interrupting their urban routine. Through this project I realized the importance of prototyping testing when design solutions are both innovative and experimental. The #belonghere experiential marketing campaign showed that successful concepts are a result of research, analytical and consequential thinking, that is always confirming a theory or a concept.


Part I – Exhibition Thesis


Thesis Introduction New York City Growing up in Athens, the capital and biggest city in Greece, I am a proper “city-kid”; I get bored easily and want to be always on the move, I have no patience, and I am used to a fast pace. Or so I thought. Even though over the past ten years I lived in four different cities, I moved to New York with some enthusiasm, but more so with concern; how will a city that “never sleeps” impact a person who never wants to sleep? As a frequent tourist, I would observe the madness of New York from a safe distance. However, moving here I was worried that the ambulance noise, flashing lights, and fast rhythm wouldn’t have a positive impact on my peace of mind… Living in NYC, I observed common behavioral patterns amongst New Yorkers, such as fast-paced walking and impatience as well as eye contact avoidance. I wondered whether one must change to keep up with the city. I became curious about the mechanism that succeeds in equalizing individual behaviors of people with different mentalities and values. I found out that the stress caused by NYC, both subconscious and perceived, is slowly altering how people experience their everyday life. People tolerate their everyday life and look forward to a moment of distraction to disrupt their routine and to rejuvenate them. What if they could find interest and excitement in those moments perceived as dull? If life is a matter of perception, how can design help them to expand their view of reality? Theater As a kid I had the best summer naps during Ancient Greek Tragedy plays. However, this changed at the age of fourteen, when I had to learn ancient Greek excerpts by heart as a part of the middle school curriculum. I started going to Greek plays and managing to stay up throughout the play. The feeling of being fully immersed in the play and the topics that were brought up made me think about the way in which Greek Theater succeeds in engaging the audience. During my undergraduate thesis I explored how this mechanism can be applied to engage museum visitors. “I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theater to be engaged. Yet when we talk about theater this is not quite what we mean. Red curtains, spotlights, blank verse, laughter, darkness, these are all confusedly superimposed in a messy image covered by one all-purpose word.”1 While I was living in Germany, Peter Brook’s book, inspired me to see tram wagons as boxes of theater, moving around the city. The commuters were the audience and they were fortunate to observe two kinds of theater: the one happening outside the box, in the city, and the one happening inside the box. Even though this thought was very exciting to me, I didn’t dive deeper at the time to explore how this idea could have been translated into design.


Peter Brook, The Empty Space (Markham, Ont.: Penguin Books, 1968), 9.


Theater in Experience Design I have always found a connection between scenography and experience design. In the theater the tool is the stage, and traditionally the audience is emotionally, rather than physically, active. On the other hand, experience design utilizes space, where visitors can be physically involved and emotionally as well. As a theater lover, I started thinking the form in which theater mechanisms can transfer to real life, beyond the stage. Using theater to engage busy, fast-paced New Yorkers can enrich their routine, widen their perspective on every day, and overall provide them an immersive experience. These traditional theater techniques can be re-interpreted to provide new tools that Experience Designers can use to create both holistic and emotional experiences for their audiences.


Thesis Statement New York City (NYC.) is a highly stimulating environment challenged by light pollution, constant noise, long commuting hours and high living costs. Research shows that the exposure to NYC, both permanent and temporary, can be fatal. In response to urban stress, people subconsciously shut down and isolate themselves. Mindfulness, the practice of controlling one’s own attention through the attitude of curiosity, openness, and acceptance, can offer transformative moments and enable stressed New Yorkers to improve their everyday life. My research will focus on specific drama mechanisms, such as voice projection, thought tracking, tableaux vivant, role play, and object theater that create opportunities to practice urban mindfulness in NYC.


Argument People used to refer to New York as “the city that never sleeps.” This highly stimulating environment has negative impacts on its residents, as light pollution, constant noise, and high population density are constant sources of stress. In a medical or biological context, stress is a physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension. Stress can be external, caused by environmental, psychological, or social situations, or internal, produced by illness or a medical procedure, and it can hyperactivate the neurologic and endocrinologic systems. 2 The human body reacts immediately to stress by intensifying the heartbeat and breath, slowing down the digestion process, inhibiting the lacrimal gland that results in tear production, and more. According to a research by the American Psychological Association, it is hard for New Yorkers to manage their stress. 3 New York offers an intense mode of life, demanding from its residents constant alertness, from competitive professional environments to the lack of personal space in a subway car. The city encourages them to exercise a consistent and uninterrupted daily sensorial subconscious multitasking, as they are always on the lookout. As Georg Simmel further explains, in order to survive and deal with the environmental overstimulation, metropolitan people isolate themselves. The constant and long exposure to urban stimuli agitates the nerves of metropolitan people, who, after a while, are unable to react further and instead develop a “blasé” attitude. Simmel further states, “An incapacity thus emerges to react to new sensations with the appropriate energy. This constitutes that blasé attitude which, in fact, every metropolitan child shows when compared with children of quieter and less changeable milieus.” 4 The study “Exposure to New York City as a Risk Factor for Heart Attack Mortality” proves that the stress of New York City is linked to the high rate of Ischemic Heart Disease (IHD). The research team examined death certificates of NYC residents, non-NYC residents visiting the city, and NYC residents traveling out of the city for the decade 1984-1994. The research shows that the percentage of heart attacks in both New York residents and visitors is significantly higher than the national average. However, when New Yorkers travel to other parts of the country, their rates drop below the city’s norm by 20%.5 Georg Simmel explains that the metropolitan human is a “differentiating creature”; their mind works by comparing sequences of impressions. However, the rapid crowding of changing images and information overload in the metropolis, creating a situation of onrushing impressions which demand people to use more consciousness. Due to this overstimulating urban setting, the city resident “develops an organ protecting him against the threatening currents and William C. Shiel, “Medical Definition of Stress,” MedicineNet, Accessed July 31, 2019,


American Psychological Association, Stress in America. Stress in New York City Report, prepared by Harris Interactive Inc., Public Affairs and Policy (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2012).



Georg Simmel, The Metropolis and Mental Life (Dresden: Stimuli Publications, 1903), 31.

Nicholas J. Christenfeld, Laura M. Glynn, David P. Phillips, Ilan Shrira, “Exposure to New York City as a Risk Factor for Heart Attack Mortality,” Psychosomatic Medicine 61, no. 6. (1999): 740. 5


discrepancies of his external environment which would uproot him. He reacts with his head instead of his heart.” 6 He develops the intellectual side as the emotional atrophies. Simmel continues, “The intellectually sophisticated person is indifferent to all genuine individuality, because relationships and reactions result from it which cannot be exhausted with logical operations. … Only the objective measurable achievement is of interest.” 7 New York is considered one of the biggest economic hubs in the United States. According to a study of the American Psychological Association, New Yorkers identify financial and professional matters to be their top stressors. 8

Figure 1. Graph that shows the tight relationship between New Yorkers and financial and professional matters. Source: American Psychological Association, Stress in America. Stress in New York City Report (prepared by Harris Interactive Inc., Public Affairs and Policy (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2012).


Simmel, The Metropolis, 33.


Simmel, The Metropolis, 33.


American Psychological Association, Stress in America.


Figure 2. This graph shows the ways in which New Yorkers manage their stress. They engage mostly in individual activities, such as listening to music, exercise, reading, and eating. Source: American Psychological Association, Stress in America. Stress in New York City Report (prepared by Harris Interactive Inc., Public Affairs and Policy (Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2012).

If NYC is a highly stimulating environment that requires multi-tasking, then how can its residents develop their emotional side and enhance their well-being? “Mindfulness is an umbrella term used to characterize a large number of practices, processes, and characteristics, largely defined in relation to the capacities of attention, awareness, memory/retention, and acceptance/ discernment. While the term has its historical footing in Buddhism (cf. Bodhi, 2011; Dreyfus, 2011; Dunne, 2011; Gethin, 2011; Kabat-Zinn, 2011), it has achieved wide-ranging popularity in psychology, psychiatry, medicine, neuroscience, and beyond, initially through its central role in mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR; KabatZinn, 1990)—an intervention/training ‘package’ introduced in the late 1970s as a complementary therapy for medically ailing individuals (Kabat-Zinn, 2011).”9 Research shows that mindfulness, in the form of meditation and body-relaxation, can improve the multitasking performance in a high-stress information environment. 10 Mindfulness, as the practice of controlling attention with an attitude of curiosity, openness, and acceptance, can enable stressed New Yorkers to combat their isolation and disconnection from their surroundings and improve their everyday life.

Nicholas Van Dam, Marieke K van Vugt, David R. Vago, Laura Schmalzl, Clifford Saron, Andrew Olendzki, . . . and David E. Meyer, “Mind the Hype: A Critical Evaluation and Prescriptive Agenda for Research on Mindfulness and Meditation,” Perspectives on Psychological Science 13 no. 1 (2018): 37 9

David M. Levy, Jacob O. Wobbrock, Alfred W. Kaszniak, and Marilyn Ostergren, “The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation Training on Multitasking in a High-Stress Information Environment,” Proceedings of Graphics Interface (Toronto, Ontario: Canadian Information Processing Society, 2012). 10


According to the Center for Mindfulness (UMASS), MBSR is based on systematic and intensive training in mindfulness meditation and mindful hatha yoga.11 Among the mindfulness techniques that are commonly used in various MBSR programs is standing yoga stretches, body scan meditation and sitting meditation, but also mindful breathing, and mindfulness of routine activities (eating, brushing teeth, washing dishes, taking a shower). To be mindful is to be aware and present in the moment. Specifically, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn states, “It is about stopping and being present, that is all. … Are you able to come to a stop in your life, even for one moment? … There is nothing passive about it.”12 Potentially every act of everyday life, performed in a conscious way, is an act of mindfulness. It is about the alignment of the mind and the body; it happens when one stops the unrelated thoughts and pays attention to the situation he is experiencing. “And when you decide to go, it’s a different kind of going because you stopped. The stopping actually makes the going more vivid, richer, more textured. It helps keep all the things we worry about and feel inadequate about in perspective.” However, a great part of mindfulness is realizing that about surrender to the present situation. As a way of cultivating mindfulness, this project investigates how theater and drama techniques create a collective experience that encourages the audience to be emotionally involved with both the actors/subject matter and their fellow audience members/surroundings. Theater was selected as an element in alignment with the western lifestyle that can alleviate the stress of skeptical New Yorkers in a spontaneous and natural way, without the risk of being seen as “forced spirituality.” Theater benefits the audience in various ways, as a theatrical act conceptually relates to the cognitive science and affective neuroscience. Since the second half of the last century, a number of innovative performance groups have involved social, anthropological, and psychological approaches in their practices. In the ‘70s, the Theatre of the Oppressed was created by Augusto Boal, a Brazilian theater visionary. His idea was to use theater as a tool of social change, a way to motivate participants, inspire dialogue, and provide a stage, where people would rehearse taking action. Boal stated, “The purpose of Theatre of the Oppressed is to rehumanize humanity.”13 Richard Schechner, a performance theorist, theater director, and author explored the similarities of performance, ceremony/ritual, and the nature of play through an anthropological lens to address the “communal sickness.” 14 In 1967, he founded the Performance Group (T.P.G), an experimental project that courageously challenged the audience experience: “Each member of the audience was separated from his escort and made to enter the environment alone. Actors then

11 Jon Kabat-Zinn, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Authorized Curriculum Guide, rev. and ed. Saki F. Santorelli, Florence Meleo-Meyer, and Lynn Koerbel, (Shrewsbury, MA: Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society, University of Massachusetts Medical School, 2017), accessed October 20, 2019,

Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life, Standard ed. (New York, NY: Hyperion, 1994), 11. 13 Mandala Center for Change, accessed October 3, 2019, 12

John Lahr, “Experiments in theater‐going Environmental Theater,” The New York Times, March 3, 1974. 14


carried the viewer to a place in the theater. ‘Spectators were literally kidnapped,’ Schechner says.” 15 In 2001, Abraham Burickson and Matthew Purdon founded Odyssey Works, unique performances for an audience of one. The performances involve unexpected, surprising moments that are staged for one person and blur the borders of his life and theater. While preparing the performances, the team studies their audience and identifies completely with him. The team highlights the importance of incorporating empathy for their audience. “We are able to engage our audience with a new level of directness, a clarity that allows for deeper meaning.”16 According to Abraham Burickson, the transformative performances deeply move the audience and result in dramatic changes in their lives. The team states, “We have found that people long to be asked about their favorite sounds, their most cherished mentors, their deep-seated fears, their attractions, the histories of their nicknames. They hunger to be seen, to be known intimately, and to be appreciated for their own specificity. … Vulnerability and curiosity are the two essential leaps of faith that help create trust, a key component of falling in love.” 17 In a world where most people crave to be seen, while often a minority pays attention, how can the synergy of drama and mindfulness catalyze the human bond?


Lahr, “Experiments.”

Abraham Burickson and Ayden Leroux, Odyssey Works: Transformative Experiences for an Audience of One (New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press, 2016), 31. 16


Burickson and Leroux, Odyssey Works, 27.


Figure 3. This Venn diagram highlights the areas where theater techniques and mindfulness overlap. For the purpose of this research, the findings were organized under five categories. Source: Tina Columbus


Figure 4. This diagram shows the ingredients of each one of the main themes. Source: Tina Columbus.


Thesis Research of Prior Work Case Studies The following research suggests that mindfulness techniques can provide opportunities for pausing and enhancing the well-being of stressed New Yorkers. The elements of New York that are perceived as stressors for its residents are clarified by the report of the American Psychological Association (APA). Research proves that the consequences of stress can be both individual and social.18 Stress influences top-down regulatory processes, in which an individual uses his background knowledge to influence perception on a subject matter. Top-down processes are theory-driven, based on preconceived cognitive constructs and promote negative effect and biased behaviors. 19 “Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally. This kind of attention nurtures greater awareness, clarity and acceptance of the present-moment reality.”20 In 1979, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn started the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program to train his patients to respond more effectively to stress, anxiety, and pain. 21 Nowadays, Mindfulness is applied even more in scientific, medical, and psychological settings.

Case Study 1 The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation Training on Multitasking in a High-Stress Information Environment22 Multitasking is a common phenomenon today. However, it has negative consequences on personal health and productivity. This study attempts to solve some of the problems associated with multitasking by training the human attention. “Human attention is a trainable capacity, and recent work in cognitive psychology and neuroscience provides strong suggestions that certain

Candace M. Raio, Catherine A. Hartley, Temidayo A. Orederu, Jian Li, and Elizabeth A. Phelps. “Stress Attenuates the Flexible Updating of Aversive Value.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114 no. 42 (2017). 18

Matthew J. Hirshberg, Simon B. Goldberg, Stacey M. Schaefer, Lisa Flook, David Findley, and Richard J. Davidson, “Divergent Effects of Brief Contemplative Practices in Response to an Acute Stressor: A Randomized Controlled Trial of Brief Breath Awareness, Loving-Kindness, Gratitude or an Attention Control Practice,” PLoS ONE 13 no. 12 (2018), e0207765. 19


Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, 4.

21 Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society, accessed September 20, 2019, 22

Levy, Wobbrock, Kaszniak, and Ostergren, The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation Training.


forms of meditation are capable of enhancing attentional skills, permitting people both to concentrate more deeply and to switch between objects of attention more fluidly.”23 The subjects participating in the study were human resources managers, and they were divided into three groups of twelve to fifteen people: Group 1 (G1) received training in mindfulness meditation, Group 2 (G2) received relaxation training, and Group 3 (G3) served as a waitlist control group, receiving no training. The training of G1 and G2 included an instructorled session two hours per week, as well as home exercises. Prior to and after the eight-week-long training, the subjects were tested on their multitasking performance by facing a realistic and stressful situation. The research team measured multitasking performance, memory for task, and positive and negative affect. According to the findings, the meditation and relaxation training groups selfreported improved memory of details during the multitasking test. G1, rather than jumping from task to task, were able to focus more efficiently on a single task without changing the overall completion time. Furthermore, G1 stated that they experienced less negative emotion than the rest of the groups. The research underlines that G1, practicing daily mindfulness for eight weeks, reported significantly greater mindful awareness after meditation training. The study concludes that meditation training may have positive effects on multitasking practices of “computer-based knowledge workers,” when handling information overload. It is impressive to read that mindfulness techniques have such a direct impact on a person’s everyday life and multitasking performance, even when they are practiced daily for a relatively short period of time.

Case Study 2 Divergent effects of brief contemplative practices in response to an acute stressor: A randomized controlled trial of brief breath awareness, loving-kindness, gratitude or an attention control practice.24 The study explored how different brief contemplative practices might differently affect the reactivity of the subjects to an acute stressor.


Levy, Wobbrock, Kaszniak, and Ostergren, The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation Training, 45.

Matthew J. Hirshberg, Simon B. Goldberg, Stacey M. Schaefer, Lisa Flook, David Findley, and Richard J. Davidson, “Divergent Effects of Brief Contemplative Practices in Response to an Acute Stressor: A Randomized Controlled Trial of Brief Breath Awareness, Loving-Kindness, Gratitude or an Attention Control Practice,” PLoS ONE 13 no. 12 (2018), e0207765. 24


Figure 5. Process of the experiment

The research team used three brief contemplative practices—breath awareness (BA), loving-kindness (LK), and gratitude (GT)—and a mental exercise (attention control) to measure and compare the reaction of the subjects to a laboratory-initiated acute stress experience. The stressor used for the purpose of the study was a Cold Pressor Test (CPT), which evokes responses similar to other social stressors of everyday life. The subjects were asked to submerge their non-dominant hand into iced water, while a researcher in a white laboratory coat observed them with an expressionless face. The 166 undergraduate students that were participating were divided into groups, and each one practiced one of the four brief techniques for approximately 12 minutes through guided audio instructions. Breath awareness (BA) is an essential mindfulness practice, where the person focuses their attention to the physical sensation of the movement of the breath. Loving-kindness (LK) meditation is primarily directed outward to others, and it is the practice of one wishing well for self, strangers, and opponents. It includes phrases such as “May they be safe,” and through the LK practice one can develop feelings of kindness and reduce self-focus and anger. The BA and LK used for the study are consistent with the MBSR guide. Gratitude (GT) is orientated inward to self, and it is practiced by recalling events and people that one is thankful for. In the attention control condition (CT), subjects were asked to visualize and write in detail the process of entering their home, moving in the space, and describing the content of their favorite room. After completing the CPT, the research team announced to the participants that the study was conducted, and they were free to go. Then they asked the participants if they were willing to provide ratings to a new face set that the researchers were testing (time donation). According to the results, brief practice of GT appeared unsuitable for coping with the CPT, and participants were unlikely to donate time. The LK and BA group participants were tolerant to the CPT and came first and second in time donation respectively. The study proves that specific practices that belong to a group (e.g., mindfulness or contemplative practices) can have different results under different circumstances.


Figure 6

This case study provides the scripts from the audio instructions and helps in understanding exactly the techniques that are proven to work under a limited time frame. The findings from the research can be used during the activity design of my Thesis Design Project. It is interesting to know that mindfulness practices that fall under the same category have different effects on the subjects. The duration of the practice also affects the benefits that one receives. For example, GT improves well-being when practiced long term, but it is not that effective when practiced briefly. Furthermore, the time donation test proves that the behavior of the participants was immediately affected by the stressor. If the stressor had a subconscious negative impact on the participants, what is the scale of the damage in an urban setting, and how do those stressors affect the social experience? The results show that the LK and BA techniques were the most effective in developing tolerance toward the stress, and I wonder if the specific techniques help the participants to adjust easily in the circumstances by maintaining their emotional balance.


Interview This interview was conducted in person with Dr. Jonathan S. Kaplan, a clinical psychologist and founder of For over 15 years, Dr. Kaplan has specialized in the treatment of New York City professionals, couples, and young adults. His healing approach includes cognitive behavioral therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy, and mindfulness and meditation. He is a clinical supervisor, professor, and author of Urban Mindfulness: Cultivating Peace, Presence, and Purpose in the Middle of It All, a book that provides practical stress relief tips for New Yorkers by taking advantage of the stressors and opportunities that are found specifically in NYC. The goal of the interview was to gain a better understanding of mindfulness and the ways that urban stimuli can facilitate opportunities for mindfulness. I was eager to know whether the concept of Urban Mindfulness can be translated through design with the goal of reaching a broad urban audience that has subconsciously shut down and seeks to escape from the present. Dr. Kaplan and I discussed brief meditation and mindfulness techniques that he finds more effective for many of his students. He further explained how specific elements of NYC, such as stop lights can be used as prompts for mindfulness practice. Specifically, he mentioned that practicing mindfulness in a confined space, such as a subway car, is often very effective for his patients. We talked in detail about the visualization techniques used in mindfulness, as well as the connection between mindfulness, art, and drama. According Dr. Kaplan, mindfulness is a state of mind and it works better as an adverb: “Doing whatever you do, mindfully.” Recalling Kabat-Zinn’s definition of mindfulness he continued. “It is about one’s ability to notice their surroundings with an attitude of openness and curiosity.” According to Buddhists, there is a building of attention. Dr. Kaplan emphasized that, “We can attend to any object. In fact, we can maintain attention just by focusing on anything, and we can dial up the focus there.” It is like holding a spotlight on an object and zooming in, rather than using an ambient light. Various techniques can be used to reach this state. However, the success of mindfulness practice depends on one’s willingness to engage. When asked about the connection of mindfulness and drama, Dr. Kaplan stated that often his actor students tell him “I know that, we do this in drama and we call it differently.” Many drama and mindfulness techniques do overlap, but the intentions and purpose behind them are different. He continued, “I have not much knowledge of theater techniques, but they feature movement and interpersonal interaction. On the other hand, mindfulness comes from meditation which is usually practiced while sitting. However, yoga is a practice that combines mindfulness and movement.” Mindfulness can be applied to relationships to examine implicit bias, thoughts and judgements that are based on society and influence what we can do next. Towards the end of the interview, Dr. Kaplan stated that, “We, as New Yorkers, are in desperate need of human interaction, but we never engage with other people.” He continued, “Folks here are able to engage once you pass this initial resistance and indifference.”


Interview Questions 1. What made you shift from Cultural studies to Mindfulness and Psychology? When and how was the idea of “Urban Mindfulness” born? 2. What are the most successful mindfulness techniques in terms of how easily participants approach and adapt them daily, in an urban setting? 3. On your website, you mention that some people may resist the benefits of mindfulness, such as perspective-taking, emotion regulation, impulsivity, so mindfulness can be frustrating or even counter-productive. Online you state that, “It is necessary for the person to adopt a concentration-based practice prior to mindfulness training. Brief meditations based on word repetition, visual perception, or visualization are a great place to start.” Can you talk more about the brief meditation techniques? Is it easier for cynics to approach the brief meditation techniques? 4. Often, in modern living it is easy to neglect the practice of mindfulness. How do you think we can use elements of the city as stimuli that initiate the mindfulness process? 5. Dr. Miles Neale in the interview on “the increasing popularity of Buddhism in psychotherapy,” mentions that after the search for compassion, self-compassion and mindfulness, powerful visualization techniques follow. What forms can the visualization techniques take (text, light, color, audio, app)? Can design and technology augment specific visualization techniques to make mindfulness more accessible to a bigger audience? 6. In your opinion how would mindfulness manifest in painting, design or any other visual arts? Do you find any connection between mindfulness and theater? 7. Usually, immersive, technology-based art pieces are more engaging for the audience, when compared to traditional paintings. If immersive installations are more likely to draw attention to the moment, do you see any way that those can be used in cultivating mindfulness? 8. Most people practice mindfulness to be present and keep a clear mind. Does this process work in reverse? Can these benefits be found by doing different tasks even if one does not intend to practice mindfulness? 9. Do you have any additional resources to recommend, that are relevant to my thesis and project? (other experts to contact, books, written materials, places to visit)


Thesis Testing + Verification Methods Objectives and Goals The primary goal of this prototype was to test how voice projection and specifically voice resonance, which is both a drama and mindfulness technique, can provide an opportunity for urban mindfulness and collective experience. However, this prototype also offers the chance to test overarching goals that the #belonghere campaign aims to reach. I want to explore how an activity attracts and binds one’s attention, regardless of the highly stimulating urban environment in which it is placed, challenged by light pollution and constant noise. Will individuals react when encouraged to do an unusual activity? How can an individual activity change a place’s vibe, by creating moments of collective experience? Can a digital, life-size portrait, interactive visuals, and a rewards system challenge and influence peoples’ behavior, and work as a tool for socializing? How can design condition people to control their body by practicing anti-stress techniques, particularly when those are disguised in a playful costume? Specifically, I wanted to test: • How can questions tempt people to stop when they are on a predefined urban route? Can graphics augment this trigger? • How likely is it for people to engage with an activity that they haven’t encountered before? • How easily will participants follow the directives? • What level of connection would the participants feel with the Neighbor (Lou)? • What level of connection would the participants feel with people around them that engage or observe the same activity? • Is it easy for the participants to understand the content and main message of the interactive in a short time frame? • How likely is it for the participants to practice the voice projection exercise on their own, after the experience is over? Prototype Description The prototype was located on the 7th Avenue bus stop, between 27th and 28th street, Chelsea, NYC. It took over the display wall, perpendicular to 7th Avenue. The experience consisted of three parts: a graphic, an interactive (a microphone and a digital screen), and a wristband case. The goal of the participants was to get a wristband with a Neighbor’s name, which unlocks other activities in the neighborhood. In order to do that, they have to achieve voice resonance through humming. The digital screen introduces Lou, a Neighbor, who observes the passerby and hums periodically to draw their attention. As soon as someone approaches close enough, a sensor activates the digital portrait and Lou talks to them: Script Lou/ Digital Portrait 25

“Let’s hum together.” [He hums for 10 seconds, then stops and allows the participant to hum alone and explore their own voice resonance.] “Practice to achieve voice resonance.” [Pause] [Occasionally Lou hums briefly with the participant, fostering a team activity.] “This is a voice exercise I do before my jazz concerts.” [Pause] “The vibration helps me to stay focused.” As the participant hums and interacts with a microphone, digital confetti raises to indicate how close they are in achieving voice resonance. Once the confetti reaches the top, Lou celebrates, and a sound indicates that they earned a wristband. When they receive the wristband, Lou talks to them. “Download the Airbnb app to learn more about the Flatiron #belonghere experience. For the purposes of the prototype, two classmates of mine assisted, one in the role of Lou and the other as digital confetti, holding a cheerleader’s pompom. Both classmates will stand behind a black frame (36x90)” that extends the dimensions of the bus stop. Storyboard Sketch

Figure 7


Thesis Testing+Verification Results Prototype Process Analysis The prototype took place on a Monday at 2:00pm on 7th Avenue. The sidewalk had medium foot traffic, and two people were sitting on the bus stop bench. It was a windy November afternoon, and the frame couldn’t be fixed on the bus stop in the ideal position to accommodate a user-friendly experience. The participant couldn’t see the interaction of their humming, as my assistants would have to stand behind the bus stop wall and beyond the participant’s eyesight. Instead, the classmates held the frame and stood in the extension of the bus stop wall (see Figure 8).

Figure 5. The Humming bus stop and the Assistant 1 as the digital portrait of Lou.

While the prototype was set up, passersby started to pay attention to the bus stop, read the graphics, and slow down without stopping. The experience was set in a public, urban space and as close to real situations as possible. For this reason, the time we had for the process was limited to the minimum. Nine participants visited the bus stop at once, forming a big group around the experience. This didn’t allow for all individuals to experience the interaction. The participants were aware of other people around them and were reluctant to take the initiative to approach the microphone to hum. Soon, two individuals approached closer, but not close enough, and the rest of the crowd followed them. The environment was charged with noise and the prototype sounds were lost; the assistant, Lou, who was facilitating the process, was not loud enough, and the sound that unlocked the wristband box was not clear enough. When the first person got the wristband, the participants were excited to see the variety of the wristbands (Figure 9). When more people got wristbands, they started comparing and trying to find out the name of the Neighbor assigned to each one of them. “What does yours say?” The participants started taking more wristbands until the prototype director clarified that the wristband box locks after the first humming, and that the only way to unlock it again is to achieve voice resonance.


Figure 6. A Neighbor is assigned to the participants through the Airbnb wristbands, the reward for humming at the Humming bus stop.

One third of the observers participated, and they had an unexpectedly positive reaction: smiling, socializing, talking, and interacting with each other. They were two observers who approached the bus stop wall and touched the microphone.

Figure 7. The participants are in a good mood, but keeping a distance when they first see the bus stop.


Figure 8. Assistant 1/Lou, while humming along with the participant, and Assistant 2/Confetti that reaches the top, when voice resonance is achieved.


Questioning The following survey was conducted to collect information from the participants: 1. What do you think this exhibit is trying to teach about? 2. What are the words telling people about? 3. What do you do with this exhibit? 4. Is this exhibit enjoyable/ appealing? 5. Did you feel connected to Lou or other people around you? 6. If you had similar experiences around this neighborhood, would you feel more connected to the location? 7. How did this activity make you feel? 8. Is it likely that you will practice this activity again on your own? 9. How would you change this exhibit if you could? Any additional comments? Answers to questions 1. 2. Participants understood that the prototype was about “humming, a mindfulness technique and a glimpse into Lou’s life. He is a jazz performer and the humming focuses his attention.” 3. They liked the experience of humming into a microphone. “I enjoyed doing something and getting something, like the specificity of Lou’s story.” 4. They would prefer the digital confetti to be placed next to the microphone. Many participants agreed that the speaker and microphone draw the attention of more people to the experience. Even though the city sounds were very intense during the prototype, they assumed that better sound design, including speakers and studio recordings, would elevate the experience. 5. Participants stated that from the bus stop experience, they didn’t feel connected to the Neighbor, Lou. When they were asked about the interaction with other participants, they hesitated before admitting that they were smiling, talking, and sharing. They said that they were curious about the other peoples’ wristbands. They expressed some thoughts about how one could encourage passersby to do it, but concluded that “there are many noisy and curious people in New York and it takes one extrovert [to initiate the experience].” 6. Subjects answered that if they could understand how each Neighbor represents the location, they would feel more connected to the neighborhood. 7. This activity was fun. 8. One participant stated that they would like to hum on their own, and they would like to practice in a more enclosed space and listen to their voice in private. 30

9. Participants suggested controlling the number of wristbands one can take at once. They also suggested providing more directives, e.g., “Hum to get one more wristband” or “Practice to have the confetti go up.” They suggested that it would be interesting if the microphone was enclosed in a more intimate, helmet-like, curved shape, where they could put their head inside but at the same time be able to see the digital interaction.

Conclusions The graphics stood out in the grayscale urban setting and drew not only participants’ attention, but also the attention of passersby. “Is it ok to hum?” was proven to be a catchy phrase, as participants would repeat it even after the experience was over. The unfamiliar activity was embraced by the participants, who enjoyed the whole process, including the digital confetti effect. An individual activity initiated a collective experience and was a prompt for socializing. However, the subjects did not realize how positively they were interacting with each other, which shows that the activity facilitated an authentic, spontaneous communication that did not feel awkward or forced. In terms of Educational Goals, the participants were able to remember the Neighbor’s name (Lou) and passion (Jazz music), which was given through graphics and digital storytelling. They also understood that humming is one mindfulness technique, and they would possibly practice it on their own in the future. Concerning the Experience Goals, the example of the bus stop prototype didn’t enable the participants to change their perspective on the neighborhood; they had only a short time to engage with the activity, but also they encountered the campaign once and in one isolated point. However, this confirms the hypothesis that the act of repetition and progressive elements will transform the Flatiron District for a month. Every aspect of the #belonghere campaign will contribute to revealing a different side of the location and changing the audience’s perspective. This experience is designed to work in a progressive way, revealing new information to the participants step by step. All the components work in a way that orchestrates a holistic urban experience.


Further Development • • • • • •

The form of the interactive should be reconsidered, so that it enables the participants to see the level of interaction that their humming causes. A more organic form that simulates a helmet can be explored so that their head can be semi-isolated from the street. However, the space qualities and material limitations should be taken into consideration. More directives can be included in the graphic to describe more detail about the process and the reward of the activity (wristbands). The shape of the microphone should be explored more, so that it can facilitate intuitive behaviors. More information on Lou can be given. The reward moment of unlocking the wristband case can be further augmented by laser projection around the bus stop, to celebrate the participant and attract people from a bigger distance.


Thesis Conclusion According to my research, mindfulness is used in many settings, from educational and professional to medical, in order to strengthen an individual’s wellbeing. On the other hand, theater techniques are used in schools, as well as in team-building activities to spark the playfulness and the creativity and positive behavior of the participants. My prototype showed that the combination of the two disciplines can bring pleasant feelings to stressed individuals and change their immediate attitude in a spontaneous way. My theory is essential, as it suggests using qualities overlapping in mindfulness and theater techniques as a design tool, as a way to break the exterior wall (of a person) to reach their emotions, and as a way to offer transcendental experiences. Significant theatrical plays emotionally reach their audience and affect them deeply, not only by visual pleasure but also by content. Great plays invite an active observation through thinking, as they present dilemmas, pose questions, and communicate grand ideas that are rooted in human existence. By using the mindfulness-theater mechanisms in experience design, we designers create the opportunity for our audience to pause, open up, and receive the content that we want to communicate. Here, I would like to note that the depth of the content does not mean necessarily that it is delivered in a tone of demureness. Let us not forget that in ancient Greece, the most serious political comments were embedded in comedy.


Thesis Bibliography American Psychological Association. Stress in America. Stress in New York City Report (prepared by Harris Interactive Inc., Public Affairs and Policy). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2012. Brook, Peter. The Empty Space. Markham, Ont.: Penguin Books, 1968. Burickson, Abraham, and Ayden Leroux. Odyssey Works: Transformative Experiences for an Audience of One. New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press, 2016. Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society. Accessed September 20, 2019. Christenfeld, Nicholoas J., Laura M. Glynn, David P. Phillips, and Ilan Shrira. “Exposure to New York City as a Risk Factor for Heart Attack Mortality.” Psychosomatic Medicine 61, no. 6. (1999): 740–743. Hirshberg, Matthew J., Simon B. Goldberg, Stacey M. Schaefer, Lisa Flook, David Findley, and Richard J. Davidson. “Divergent Effects of Brief Contemplative Practices in Response to an Acute Stressor: A Randomized Controlled Trial of Brief Breath Awareness, Loving-Kindness, Gratitude or an Attention Control Practice.” PLoS ONE 13 no. 12 (2018), e0207765. Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Authorized Curriculum Guide (rev. and ed. Saki F. Santorelli, Florence Meleo-Meyer, and Lynn Koerbel). Shrewsbury, MA: Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society, University of Massachusetts Medical School, 2017. Accessed October 20, 2019. Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life (Standard ed). New York, NY: Hyperion, 1994. Lahr, John. “Experiments in theater‐going Environmental Theater.” The New York Times. March 3, 1974. Levy, David M., Jacob O. Wobbrock, Alfred W. Kaszniak, and Marilyn Ostergren, “The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation Training on Multitasking in a High-Stress Information Environment.” Proceedings of Graphics Interface. Toronto, Ontario: Canadian Information Processing Society, 2012. Mandala Center for Change. Accessed October 3, 2019 34

Raio, Candace M., Catherine A. Hartley, Temidayo A. Orederu, Jian Li, and Elizabeth A. Phelps. Stress Attenuates the Flexible Updating of Aversive Value. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114 no. 42 (2017): 11241-11246. Shiel, William C. “Medical Definition of Stress.” MedicineNet. Accessed July 31, 2018 Simmel, Georg. The Metropolis and Mental Life. Dresden: Stimuli Publications, 1903. Van Dam, Nicholas, Marieke K. van Vugt, David R. Vago, Laura Schmalzl, Clifford Saron, Andrew Olendzki, . . . and David E. Meyer. “Mind the Hype: A Critical Evaluation and Prescriptive Agenda for Research on Mindfulness and Meditation.” Perspectives on Psychological Science 13 no. 1 (2018): 36–61.


Part II - Exhibition Project

#belonghere by Airbnb Experiences


Exhibit Project Introduction #belonghere As a curious person, I have always enjoyed noticing not only the details of my surroundings, but also the people. I used to see them as characters, imagine scenarios and wonder, “Where are they coming from?”, “Where are they going next?” Traveling to new places, I would often walk in the shoes of my local characters and visualize myself living there and having a different life. However, during my life in NYC, I noticed an alarming change to this pattern. Now, I would engage more with inanimate objects rather than people. I started thinking of ways to flip the urban individual’s tendency to go inwards rather than outwards. Theater, one of the oldest mechanisms for producing collective moments in an organized matter, can be used as a design tool to create colorful social moments in a grayscale background such as NYC. My research shows that the stress caused by a highly stimulating environment can be relieved by practicing mindfulness techniques. Furthermore, a number of theatrical groups address social and psychological aspects of life through drama. Airbnb is a brand that relies on individuals, rather than a solid product. It started as a property listing website and recently expanded to the field of experiences. Airbnb experiences hold a magnifying lens to individuals and their specialties, their interests, hobbies, and passions. Through Experiences, the hosts are the protagonists that guide participants through a day in their lives. Through this project, I explore how people can encourage others to experience circumstances in a different perspective. I also explore how curiosity can be inspired through questions, graphics, and light in a visually overloaded environment.


Project Development Audience Primary: New York Gen Y (age 23-38), as the largest generational group in the U.S workforce. Secondary: Gen X (age 38-54), as the second largest generational group in the U.S workforce, after Gen Y. Tertiary: Travelers to NYC, both international and domestic, as Airbnb’s direct audience for NYC

Overarching Exhibition Description The #belonghere experiential marketing campaign focuses on introducing the Neighbors, the characters of a neighborhood. The project suggests that insiders have the power to create a warm feeling of belonging for newcomers. The Neighbors are introduced to the participants in stations along a neighborhood’s walkthrough. The goal of the audience is to engage with the different activities in order to collect points and win an Airbnb Experience of their choice. Through the #belonghere campaign, Airbnb twists the slogan “Turn Every Day Of Your Life Into A Vacation” into “Turn your Routine into an Interesting Experience.” The campaign is designed to cultivate curiosity and create a moment of surprise along the everyday path of each individual. The base of the experience is rooted in two locations on 6th Ave and features satellite experiences along the six streets found in between. The experience inhabits existing structures and urban voids that are special to each location, but the design is easily scalable. The experiences are self-directed, follow an intuitive behavior, and are accessible 24/7 during the one month of the #belonghere campaign. The audience will get to know the Neighbors; their names, their passions and stressors, as well as the magical moments of their lives in the neighborhood. The content will be communicated through the voices of actual people who spend their moments in this neighborhood. The #belonghere campaign offers an antidote to the stressful routine of New Yorkers. Very often, urban mindfulness is a practice that relieves stress and strengthens well-being. The main design tools to create this experience are theater strategies, like role play and voice modulation, as it is proven that theater can work as a mindfulness technique. Therefore, the campaign becomes memorable, and the Airbnb brand imprints on the mind of the audience. #belonghere encourages New Yorkers to engage with and observe their surroundings, speculate, and empathize with different characters that they might encounter every day. Through this campaign, the audience can realize that to be aware and discover moments of drama in the mundane is a matter of practice. #belonghere aims to break the stereotype of impersonal Flatiron District and help New Yorkers practice the art of shifting their perspective, by adopting a nonjudgmental, less biased behavior.


Client Description “Airbnb exists to create a world where anyone can belong anywhere, providing healthy travel that is local, authentic, diverse, inclusive and sustainable.” Airbnb was founded in 2008 in San Francisco by three Gen Y men. The idea for the startup initiated when Joe Gebbia, co-Founder, rented his air mattress and realized that “It was possible to make friends, but also make rent.”25 Now the brand is worth $38 billion. For some, Airbnb is an online property listing with more than 6 million places to stay in 100,000 cities. In fact, the company does not own any of the properties; it provides the platform and receives a percentage for each booking. However, for many, Airbnb is an alternative way of traveling and a community that fights the deep-rooted human notion that “stranger equals danger.” 26 The brand underlines the importance of cultivating unbiased hospitality and a world of belonging. “People are fundamentally good and every community is a place where you can belong.” Airbnb seeks to constantly improve, support its community, and expand its products. In 2016, the brand brought its motto “locals have the power to unlock a place for newcomers” to life by introducing “Airbnb Experiences.” It is an opportunity for locals to share their passions with the travelers, and for travelers to experience the most unique things in every place, having inspiring locals to guide them.

Airbnb partners with organizations with shared values to serve their communities. Their partnerships promote discussion and introduce diversity and inclusion at global and local levels. Amongst Airbnb’s partners is New York Red Cross (2015) and United Nations High 25 Gebbia, Joe. “How Airbnb Designs for Trust.” TED. Accessed November 1, 2019.

Gebbia, Joe. “How Airbnb Designs for Trust.” TED. Accessed November 1, 2019. 26


Commissioner for Refugees (2015). In 2017, Airbnb partnered with Pantone for the “Outside In” House project, in London. The Pantone Green House popped-up in Airbnb’s platform for two days and offered greenery-themed local experiences and overnight stays. The goal was to provide a transformational experience for guests and encourage them to embrace a mindset of fresh optimism and excitement.

Exhibition Site Description Flatiron District, Midtown Manhattan, New York City The locations feature spots both above ground and underground in the Flatiron District, Midtown Manhattan. The #belonghere campaign takes over corners along 6th Ave. and the subway station at 23rd St. and 6th Ave., where the F and M trains meet the Path. This area rests at the borders of Flatiron District, in direct contact with Chelsea to the west and Koreatown to the north. It is chosen as the most appropriate location to launch the campaign as it is an extension of Midtown Manhattan, the largest central business district in the world. The area once was called “Toy District,” “Photo District,” and currently is nicknamed the “Fitness District” because of the many fitness studios that have opened there. Even though Midtown Manhattan hosts nearly a million people every workday, it is an actual home to less than 80,000 residents. Is it still a neighborhood, when there are 10 times the number of visitors as actual residents? If a neighborhood is an area where people spend moments and interact with one another on a regular basis, then the area of both residential and professional addresses can be defined as a neighborhood. The residents of the area have a very specific profile in the minds of New Yorkers: American, well-educated, white collar employees working in private companies, an assumption which is partially correct. 27 However, this is not the entire picture, as the Flatiron District is also home to non-American, blue-collar people who didn’t receive any education above high school. The #belonghere campaign aims to highlight the diversity of the Flatiron District residents, encouraging the audience to see behind closed doors and think beyond closed minds to break the stereotypes of the neighborhood. This Airbnb experience can be broken into its components, altered, tailored, and applied to different NYC neighborhoods and metropolitan areas of the world. For example, two neighborhoods in NYC and two neighborhoods in London could host the #belonghere campaign simultaneously for a one-month duration. The experience will live on digitally, mapping the Airbnb community and creating a neighborhood of an international level.


Point 2 Homes, accessed September 25, 2019,


Audience Description The primary and secondary audience is local New Yorkers, Gen Yers and Gen Xers respectively, who belong in the Flatiron District. The tertiary audience is domestic and international travelers to NYC. Midtown’s population increases dramatically during the workweek, as the area hosts ten times more visitors during the rush hours than any other area of Manhattan. However, apart from professional visitors (commercial and office buildings, industrial and manufacturing locations), Midtown is home to many residents, as it also features multi-family buildings.28 The main audience will visit the Flatiron District at least five days a week and spend at least 8.5 hours per day there, summing 170 hours a month. They will arrive in the morning between 8:30-10 am, take a one-hour lunchbreak (12:30-2:30pm), and leave the area between 5:30-7:30pm. The participants will encounter the exhibit during their everyday-life route. The locations are chosen to find them while waiting at points where they naturally pause, such as subway platforms, corners, and traffic lights. Therefore, the exhibit aims to draw the audience’s attention and communicate multiple levels of content. This way it accommodates Streakers, Strollers, and Studiers, without interrupting their routine. Each person has an individual experience by following their unique path in the neighborhood and making different associations with the available visuals and content. The #belonghere exhibit is designed for a high to low volume of visitors who will walk the area during rush hours on a weekday and on a quieter Sunday afternoon, respectively. Therefore, the exhibit should: • • • • • •

draw the audience’s attention, without interrupting their daily routine. inhabit existing and iconic elements of the neighborhood. accommodate Streakers, Strollers, and Studiers with different levels of visual and content “treats.” allow for free exploration and interpretation, which will accommodate each person’s unique path. The experience should “follow” the audience in their individual steps. introduce multiple hooks, both digital and physical, to facilitate different users. have engaging features that will encourage the audience to seek for more.

Exhibition Content Description The content of the exhibition will mainly focus on explaining the advantages and challenges that life in an urban center, such as New York, offers. Participants will learn mindfulness techniques to practice while in the city, which will help them to stay focused and mindful. The content will be delivered to the audience through the multi-faceted lens of different, real people who live in the neighborhood. The overall goal of the exhibition is to introduce to the audience a different perspective of the mundane city scenery, encouraging them to explore the notion of belonging through human connection. 28

Manhattan Population Explorer, accessed September 24, 2019,


Experience Description The experience is a personalized urban walkthrough, expanded along 6th Ave, between 23 and 29th streets for the month of May, in 2021. Multiple communication channels will be utilized in order to drive the audience into the Flatiron District, where #belonghere takes over telephone booths, subway platforms, bus stops, construction sites, walls, bodegas, and corners. Even though there are two anchor points of the #belonghere journey (23rd St. Subway station and 29th St. construction site), the walkthrough is designed with satellite locations that encourage exploration and repeated visits as they progressively reveal the content. rd

#belonghere uses Aibnb’s digital platform to augment and personalize the experience for the audience, encouraging them to download the App and “Hum for a wristband.” With each wristband, a Neighbor is assigned to the participants to guide them through the neighborhood and share his point of view. A gamified aspect is integrated into the experience to tempt the audience to participate further. Each activity is connected to a reward system, and when the participant collects enough points, he wins an Airbnb Experience of his choice. Through the app the participant can keep a journal with the history of his points, his anti-stress tips, and the neighbors that he met. After May, the experience will live as a standard tab in Airbnb’s App, documenting, celebrating, and catalyzing the human connection and exploring the mystery of belonging.


Exhibition Development Exhibition Project, Education and Design Experience Goals Concept Meet the neighbors you didn’t know you have; memorize their names, know their passions, overhear their conversations. Explore the unseen NYC, hidden behind closed doors or existing right in front of your eyes and find New Yorkers - just like you. #belonghere. Even just for 90 seconds. Project Goals 1. Promote and advertise Airbnb Experiences. 2. Build brand loyalty and engage Airbnb audience. 3. Encourage the audience to download the app and navigate the city both digitally and physically. 4. Encourage the audience to participate as an Experience guest or host. 5. Attract new audiences. 6. Create a memorable campaign by crafting a positive experience for New Yorkers that will shift their point of view. 7. Create an analog-based platform in addition to the digital one, where people can connect and develop empathy for other people that they encounter in their daily routine. Educational Goals 1. What the Neighbors’ everyday life, interests, passions are. 2. How favorite objects of past and present are indicators of the mode of life. 3. The positive and negative aspects of urban anonymity. 4. Urban Mindfulness techniques such as voice resonance, synchronized breathing, focusing attention, etc., that they can integrate in their urban routine. 5. The most common stressors for New Yorkers. 6. Neighbors’ stories. 7. About the intimate spaces of different people. 8. The secrets of the neighborhood: unique spots, special characters, etc. 9. The importance and benefits of pausing.


Experience Goals 1. Changing perspectives; locals with locals, locals with travelers, travelers with locals. 2. Unseen aspects of neighborhood life through the different perspectives of each Neighbor; stories, photos, memories. 3. Mindfulness techniques, such as voice resonance, thought observation, and guided visualization, which focus their attention and connect the participant with the Neighbors and location. 4. Role-play, by taking on a Neighbor’s persona and experiencing their point of view. 5. Moments of human connection around the city and opportunities to catalyze the human bond. Interpretive Approach The multifaceted #belonghere experience is composed from the science center approach which invites experimentation, in combination with the journey and the Sherpa approach. To belong to a neighborhood means to be familiar with the place and the people that define it as such. This Airbnb Experiential Campaign holds a magnifying lens on the neighbors to shift the interest of the audience towards the people. Using the perspective of a wondering neighbor who always keeps an eye on the people coming and going, the campaign promotes Airbnb Experiences and suggests looking a little deeper at the passersby one encounters on their way. A series of questions excites the curiosity of pedestrians and tempts them to pause. Ordinary New York-scapes feature an unexpected twist, where the audience has opportunities for role play and physical exploration. The Neighbors that are featured in the #belonghere Experience are both Airbnb hosts and users, but also residents of the Flatiron District who are not using Airbnb. This is the proof that the brand considers and honors the fabric of the neighborhood by being inclusive and not exclusive. Airbnb is being accused of having a negative impact on the dynamics of neighborhoods. However, #belonghere redefines the term neighborhood and addresses its substance, bringing great image benefits for the client. Marketing Approach The Airbnb #belonghere marketing campaign aims to introduce Airbnb Experiences to a large audience by shifting the association of Airbnb from only apartments to also people. The innovative startup was introduced to the public in 2008 and since then the world correlates Airbnb’s name to property. The #beloghere campaign aims to bring Airbnb’s digital service to the physical world. However, the way for Airbnb to measure the success of the experience is by monitoring the number of people downloading the Airbnb App from specific locations and the use of the #belonghere tab. Time is also a metric for the experience, as nowadays it is considered a currency. The amount of time people are engaged at specific stations and activities indicates the 44

degree to which the campaign covered the needs and the interests of the audience. The pilot #belonghere/ Flatiron District is an indicator that records peoples’ preferences and informs how the experience will adjust in future locations. The experience relies also on social media engagement, by providing opportunities worth sharing in social media platforms and keeping track of the #belonghere impressions and mentions in digital conversations. The result of the #belonghere experiential marketing campaign is an atlas that maps human soft qualities rather than land lines and numbers. This map of worldwide scale will cross the borders of nations and stereotypes, to document peoples’ interests and passions, turning the globe into a neighborhood.


Concept Bubble Diagram

Key Concepts and Supporting Concepts


Experience Bubble Diagram

Bubble Floor Diagram


Exhibition Project Final Documentation





































Exhibition Project Model Photo Survey

Figure 9. During the Capstone event, a board game was used to explain the personalized way in which the audience would encounter the #belonghere stations in the city. This is a model of a subway platform and the starting point of the personas that the audience could choose.


Figure 10. The personas were a sample of the audience of the #beloghere campaign (Gen Y, Gen X).

Figure 11. Light was used to create curiosity and convey drama.


Figure 12. This is a prototype of the "Peeping through" station and part of the #belonghere experience, placed in construction site windows. The Pepper’s ghost technique was used to bring a Neighbor’s apartment to life.

Figure 13. The boards were designed to work with the board game model, in order to give a better understanding of the #belonghere experience to the audience.


Exhibition Project Conclusion The 2019 FIT Exhibition & Experience Design capstone event was an amazing opportunity to receive comments from diverse professionals in the field. Judges’ impressions on the #belonghere project were overall remarkably positive. Frequently mentioned was the success of the graphics, renderings and the amount of information organized in a clear way on the design of the boards. The board game idea in the capstone presentation was “engaging and fun�, with a senior experience designer mentioning that he will use it for future presentations of his own. Numerous judges wished for the #belonghere project to soon be realized. Judges were interested in the analog-digital nature of the experience, the Neighbors, their privacy and their recruitment, and how New Yorkers will engage with the activities. Some critical questions asked by the judges are worth taking notice of for future improvement. One judge mentioned that the saturated renderings, even though they were conveying drama, were perhaps not communicating the celebration of the human interaction as she would have expected. Another judge suggested to push this project in a direction that is more community-centered, rather than brand-centered. People also expressed the wish to see a stronger connection between mindfulness and Airbnb Experiences. The #belonghere project was an excellent opportunity for judges to listen, play, laugh, think, start a dialogue and in some cases debate over specific aspects of the work presented. The capstone event showcased the polyphony that exists in the exhibition and experience design field, as professionals can have very diverse opinions.


Exhibition Project Bibliography Cross, Carl B., Julie A. Skipper, and Douglas T. Petkie. “Thermal Imaging to Detect Physiological Indicators of Stress in Humans.” Search the world's largest collection of optics and photonics applied research. International Society for Optics and Photonics, May 22, 2013. Accessed October18, 2019. “Design-Studio.” Design Studio. Accessed September 18, 2019. “Sketch and the City.” Airbnb. Accessed September 21, 2019. 5pFPjZlHXDVapgM. “The Persuaders.” The Persuaders. Accessed October 18, 2019.


Thesis +Exhibition Project Conclusion During the FIT Exhibition & Experience Design capstone event, which took place on December 13th, 2019, the overall feedback from the judges was positive and enthusiastic. They referred to the #belonghere campaign as a well thought out, researched and fun experience, followed by a clever, engaging and visually appealing presentation. The combination of the concept and the client made the project provocative and controversial, as the judges had strong opinions about the subject. Airbnb often has been accused of having a negative impact on neighborhoods, however, this project aimed to subvert this perception of the brand. They often commented that the project is pushing the boundaries by taking risks and presenting innovative ideas and multiple engaging touchpoints for the audience. A number of judges wished to see the project realized soon in NYC. The #belonghere experiential campaign can become more impactful, by determining the stages required to identify and recruit the Neighbors. In terms of visual presentation, the renderings can adjust to a more warm-tone color palette. By the enthusiasm and comments of the judges and specifically the ones who lived in NYC, I can assume that if this campaign would come to life, it would be a success and go on to influence experience-based projects in the future.


Student Biography I grew up in Athens, where I earned my BFA in Interior Architecture and Design. As I entered University, I was convinced that designing in the hospitality industry, such as in restaurants, cafes, and other places that people use in their everyday life, would be a logical focus for my career. “I will never design a museum,” I stated. Some years later, I presented my Bachelor thesis about an Experiential Museum model, which explored Greek Tragedy mechanisms to engage visitors. However, I still had strong feelings for theater. Both in museums and theater plays, I experienced “aha moments” that would take me out of my routine and add enthusiasm in my life. Working professionally in Interior Architecture in different European countries as well as in Set Design in Greece made me realize that it was time to pursue my Masters. I was trying to decide between Exhibition Design and Set Design, and even though Exhibition Design won, I still kept on comparing the two fields. As a designer, I am interested in crafting mind-boggling experiences that are eye-opening and emotionally activating for an audience. In order to do that, I usually get inspired by examining other fields, such as psychology, sociology, and literature.


Profile for Tina Columbus

Semicolon; the ability to pause in an ever-going urban setting  

This research is part of the thesis project for the Master of Arts in Exhibition and Experience Design and it consists of two sections. The...

Semicolon; the ability to pause in an ever-going urban setting  

This research is part of the thesis project for the Master of Arts in Exhibition and Experience Design and it consists of two sections. The...


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