Over the past two decades, the University of California has increased its administrative staff by 250%, decreased its spending per student from $25k to $10k, and proposed tuition hikes of 32% in 2009. It’s bureaucratic, non-transparent, and privatizing at an astounding rate. The University House, which we call the Chancellor’s House (as it’s the home of Chancellor Nicholas Dirks), is the only piece of private property on Berkeley’s public campus. Not only does the Chancellor have a 24/7 security guard, a fence is also being constructed around the property. To draw attention to these issues, we took inspiration off of old tower viewers to create the You See System—binoculars, enclosed in a transparent acrylic case and mounted on a tripod with an “official” letter of notice—and positioned it right outside the Chancellor's House and Fence.
History of the Space
Visit 1: Friday Afternoon (1pm 9/11)
Blinds are closed in the house, which seems bizarre since it’s the middle of the afternoon. No signs of someone actually living in the house.
2 signs that mention private property, but everyone seems to treat the area like it’s part of the general campus.
Golf cart security guard smiles at me -- we make eye contact, a kind of eye contact that communicates the absurdity of his job, sitting.
There are a number of metal pillars erected along the outside perimeter of the driveway, which is the beginning of the fence construction.
Very little foot traffic, but some walk on the sidewalk close to Dirk’s house.
- Some foot traffic, people walking to lunch outside of Tolman hall.
- Mostly quiet, idle conversations and traffic on the street.
- Single word: vacant.
Visit 2: Sunday Evening (8:30pm 9/14)
Very quiet, no one there but security in a Prius. Rarely somebody walked by, this this was very infrequent.
Only sound of cars passing by on Hearst, and crickets.
Smells of a balmy night. Just faint flowers so familiar to that side of campus.
Literally, this place is a mansion on a hill.
There are cold fluorescent lights of surrounding campus, but Chancellor's house lights very warm.
- Single word: Forced. It felt eerily authoritative, like forced formality (especially the presence of the security Prius.) It was so ridiculous, and so quiet.
Visit 3: Monday Afternoon (12:20pm 9/15)
Not a lot of people crossing the place. Foot traffic was mostly directed; people either entering or leaving Tolman hall.
Security was still walking around the house.
Some students gathered around the garden had lunch together.
Although the security is around the house, a few people are still using the path right in front of the house.
Chancellor house window blades down
Smells fresh air, grasses.
Cars’ noise from Heast St. and people talking
- Single word: Quiet.
(Optional) Visit 4: Tuesday Afternoon (3pm 9/16)
Most striking observation: the pillars erected the week prior had since been removed.
I speak with the same Prius/golf-cart security agent and he tells me they’re moving the fence closer to the property.
This was during a passing period, so there is significantly more foot traffic along the sidewalk in front of the house. Within 5-10 minutes, I see about 8 individuals walking along the sidewalk.
I see a UPS delivery car pull up to the property and stop. I wait for UPS employee to leave car, and he doesn’t drop off a package at the house, which is strange.
The Design Process
We first brainstormed some tower viewer like shapes on a whiteboard. Finding a happy medium between user recognizability and a thing that was actually able to be fabricated, we chose to use an octagonal shape. We then did a lo-fi cardboard prototype for form finding and testing our joints and eyehole measurements, and slightly adjusted the size of the eyeholes for our final prototype cut from acrylic.
We also drafted a letter satirizing emails Dirks sends out. We left the signature part blank with the plan that participating audiences could sign themselves.
We left the You See System out in the wild for the first time on Monday, Sept 28 from 11am-12pm. About 20 people — maybe 50% of all passersby — stopped to interact with it. By far, the most common interaction was just reading. Stopping, staying at a safe distance, and leaning in to read the letter. Average interaction time was around a minute.
A handful of people actually looked through the binoculars. That being said, we still consider the project a success: almost everyone who was in a group walked away talking about the Chancellor's house and the UC system: we had accomplished our goal of being disruptive, through conversations and awareness. One particular group of two Latinas was really engaged, stayed with the installation for about five minutes, and actually lifted the octagon off the tripod mount.
We even got engagement with the security officer, Sean. Once we set up the You See System more close to the Chancellor's house (instead of at a safe distance by Tolman), he approached us. It was a perfect example of bureaucracy in action: he had to phone in his sergeant, who then had to phone his captain, to make sure the installation was all right. He personally was very chill with the system, did not consider it a security risk, and even looked through it!
Binocular from Amazon
Two pieces of ⅛” acrylic
Laser cut two pieces of the acrylic sheets using the side and two faces templates.
Attach side pieces using triangle supports (3 angles) at each side to ensure the angle with acrylic cement to form octagon shape.
Attach binocular to the front piece using the two pre cut holes.
Glue front piece to the side pieces.
Glue back piece.
Screw tripod mount to the bottom of the pre-cut hole.
- Attach the complete octagonal piece to the tripod.
- Print and laminate the letter, and attach to the tripod.
- Optional: attach an expo marker to the tripod so others can sign the letter in support.
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