How do you design a public space for a private activity? That was the problem posed to the architects at Oyler Wu Collaborative recently by Headspace, a five-year-old startup dedicated to creating a platform for mindfulness principles.
That mission is carried out primarily through the company's popular meditation app. But Headspace co-founder Rich Pierson tapped Oyler Wu to design a "physical manifestation" of that user experience—a structure that could create a relaxing space even in the most stressful public places, from department stores to mall food courts.
"We wanted to design something immersive but not claustrophobic," says Jenny Wu, a founding partner at Oyler Wu. They had a precedent in another pod that Headspace installed in the U.K. department store Selfridges a few years ago—essentially, a chair topped with a dome—but wanted to create something that would block out the outside world even more. "We wanted a place where people go in and use it and take 10 minutes from their hectic lives," emerging refreshed, says Wu.
They found a surprising solution in ergonomics after researching the best body position for meditation. "Lounging is not ideal—you don’t want to be so comfortable you fall asleep," says Wu. Instead, they created an undulating interior of wooden slats whose shape supports the users' lumbar region so they'll sit up straight. Previous iterations of the designs featured metal and other materials to create the curvature of the interior, but the architects ultimately opted for an organic material, because it felt better suited for the application. Inside, a screen allows users to choose from Headspace's various guided meditations, while a clean, white exterior gives it a simplicity that blends into any environment.
From the mental health benefits of adult coloring books to Thai Chi-inspired relaxation apps, mindfulness has officially hit the mainstream. Headspace's meditation pods might not provide the same benefits as, say, cutting back on screen-time—but at the very least they provide a beautiful refuge from an increasingly high-speed world.