Originally published in the Marina Times San Francisco in October 2016
We believe in the power of constant reminders of peace.
— 27 Steps design team
Artists, architects, designers, and technologists have created an installation to deliver a message of peace through action. The 27 Steps peace pavilion will consist of two pyramid forms with a void in the middle through which visitors take 27 steps.
The 27 steps represent South Africa’s Nelson Mandela’s 27 years in prison on Robben Island, where he developed his platform for peace. The 27 Steps honors Mandela’s legacy by asking us to take a step for each of his years in prison, and to slow down our pace while symbolically letting go of the weight of prejudice in our own lives.
Architect Nish Kothari and designer Anesta Iwan bring their experience with prior installations to deliver the 27 Steps to the Market Street Prototyping Festival. Symbolizing protest, celebration, and the struggle for peace, Market Street was where San Francisco stood in collective opposition to the Iraq and Vietnam Wars. Here, the piece will offer a space where everyone can walk the 27 steps as equals with the common purpose of remembering Mandela’s message of peace and equality. Kothari and Iwan “ask that you take these 27 steps with us, listen with your heart, and feel the steps as music, as presence, as prayer.”
The steel pyramids of 27 Steps incorporate fishing line for form while also acting as a fiber optic for lights. At night, the pyramids will glow with purple light in honor of the anti-apartheid protesters who were doused in purple water by the police in South Africa in 1989 (a common tagging mechanism that identified protesters for later arrest).
The installation will include a “people counter” detecting exactly how many walk through 27 Steps so the artists can be aware of how many steps the visitors will take to demonstrate their commitment to a shared involvement in peace.
This project reminds us how easy it is for people in developed countries to take a peaceful way of life for granted. Distraction is one of the hallmarks of modern life, and as a result, we rarely notice and give thanks to our peaceful moments. To be unaware of peaceful moments has a ripple effect — if we don’t stop to notice peace, we also won’t notice inequalities and injustices in our own communities. Symbols like the 27 Steps experience can serve as a reminder to contemplate the power of peace over intolerance, discrimination, and violence.
Following its debut at the Market Street Prototyping Festival, 27 Steps will be installed in the lobby of One Market until Nov. 30, then Fort Mason and the iHangar (where the project was constructed) before it travels to other U.S. and worldwide cities before its ultimate and permanent residence in the Apartheid Museum in South Africa.
The Market Street Prototyping Festival (marketstreetprototyping.org) is part of a larger San Francisco effort to enhance and improve Market Street by involving the community to help create meaningful public spaces. A festival goal is to “introduce activation and a sense of play on the sidewalks” as a means of engaging the public. Thirty installations comprise the 2016 festival from Steuart to Seventh Streets in three districts: Embarcadero, Retail Heart, and Central Market.
The Innovation Hangar, or iHangar (ihangar.org), located at the Palace of Fine Arts (3301 Lyon Street), is a nonprofit organization celebrating Bay Area innovation.
The 120,000-square-foot social innovation space is devoted to providing the public with exhibits, workshops, community events, and education opportunities.
27 Steps at the Market Street Prototyping Festival: Thu.–Sat. Oct. 6–8, free, Embarcadero District (Steuart to Fremont Sts.), marketstreetprototyping.org