El Paso’s AGENCY Architecture designed a selfie wall installation as part of Chalk the Block, an annual event sponsored by the City of El Paso Museum and Cultural Affairs Department. The work, composed of 162 custom-fabricated units, invites the audience to question its perceptions of privacy in today’s selfie culture. In addition to the wall, a data scraping website will be produced that clarifies the path personal data takes on the internet.

The striking structure, which the architects colloquially called the “Storm Trooper,” was built out of thin aluminum panels with a plastic interior. The pieces were folded into shape by scoring through one layer of the material. Despite the material’s flexibility, when bolted together, the structures became rigid, allowing the modules to be stacked five or six high.

The wall was composed of relatively simple materials, but presented a striking backdrop for photographs, drawing its audience in with lighting that changed based on the time of day. AGENCY principal Stephen Mueller describes the lighting scheme as an “LED array that ranges from really warm skin tones to brighter whites. On the outside, there’s a cooler range for more accurate color rendition. When we analyzed which areas of the wall people were drawn to, people were stepping incrementally down the wall toward the different kinds of light.”

Over the course of the festival, which attracts some 30,000 people to downtown El Paso, more than 2000 people stopped at the wall to take selfies. Using a GoPro, the architects recorded the way the audience interacted with the piece, testing the team’s design assumptions against reality. One thing that came as a surprise? “Some people seemed to not really care about the data privacy part,” says principal Ersela Kripa.

The wall was positioned in front of El Paso’s history museum. Visitors to the project were encouraged to use a hashtag that collected all of the images together. These images were then projected onto the museum’s media wall as a way to open up a discussion about media privacy.

In the future, AGENCY hopes to do more work with the data gleaned from the project, continuing to push at people’s assumptions about the privacy and safety of their data. Mueller describes: “We see more and more with public events or certain kinds of happenings that people are obviously taking these things in public, but there’s not real public space that is dedicated to this cult of private celebrity. Part of the provocation of the project is to bring this quite private act and develop this public space for it. I think our public spaces in general need to adapt to the digital landscape.”

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