Interlaced Spaces: A Live Portal Between GSD and the American University of Iraq-Sulaimani

On April 20th, 2015, two students at Harvard Graduate School of Design will open a portal between Iraq and the United States. The interactive digital installation will intermittently interlace the cafeteria at the American University of Iraq- Sulaimani with the Chauhaus Café at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design for four days, April 20th-24th. The project, entitled “Interlaced Space,” is the serendipitous culmination of several years of work, and the first iteration of an ongoing experiment in empowering civilians to directly connect despite pre-conceived, spatial, national, or cultural barriers.
The experiment began when Alexander Jacobson and Tamara Jafar met on Harvard’s campus during the fall of 2014. Jacobson is a Masters of Architecture candidate and dual Danish-American citizen with a penchant for disrupting traditional architectural design using both physical fabrication and ephemeral digital media. He has worked for world-class architects like Machado and Silvetti as well as fresh prototyping start ups like NextFAB studio in Philadelphia and was actively seeking collaborators for future projects in the digital realm. Jafar is an Iraqi-American urban planning student with a political science background in conflict areas and is a member of Brooklyn-based indie rock band, Cultfever. She invited Jacobson to discuss how new facets of architectural design might be marshaled to overcome very real barriers to human-to-human connection, like those between Americans and Iraqis.
Jafar, having visited the campus of the AUI-S in 2014, reached out to see if the idea might resonate with her Iraqi contacts at the University. The Vice President of AUI-S, Dr. Hemin Latif, immediately saw the merit of the experiment. With a green light, the students pursued the collaboration and developed the idea over the course of 6 months.
The project quickly evolved into a “shared room,” an experience far more intimate than the normal conference call. The two rooms on either side of the portal are fully interlaced, so that people might digitally sit next to each other, shake hands or greet each other with kisses on either cheek. Beyond physical interaction, participants will be connected in shared experiences of cultural exchange as Iraqi and American musicians will play for each other on each end of the portal during the launch ceremony.
Additionally, Jafar and Jacobson wanted to explore how the portal could affect online interactions, both within the Graduate School of Design and between the two universities. Forthe project, the students partnered with Ussie, a private visual messaging app, to allow participants to share content on a more direct person-to-person level. This partnership will further test how technology can help overcome physical barriers and create better communication through visual expression.
Ussie, currently in beta testing (visit Ussie.Rocks), is a visually rich private messaging app that allows users to send content to each other in a private feed. The combination of privacy and transparency fit well with Jacobson and Jafar’s goal of creating a conducive environment for the participants to freely communicate. Ussie will provide the fuel for communication hubs, or, sections within each room where students and faculty will gather to exchange relevant photos, videos, and links related to the portals.
On April 20th, Iraqis and Americans will have the opportunity to explore what it feels like to share a room. The launch is an exciting departure into the unknown and discussions about other possible implementations are already under way between the AUI-S and Harvard collaborators. Future iterations of the project might link subway stations across the globe, hospital beds, classrooms or offices. Expansions of the shared room concept extend as far as human curiosity and the will to connect.

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