Part of the appeal of Governors Island—the 172-acre public park located right off the southern shore of Manhattan—is the park’s feeling of seclusion. Just 800 yards away from New York City, it’s close enough to visit with a short ferry ride, yet remote enough that patches of the immaculately designed park don’t get cell service.
That treasured sense of disconnect can be a challenge for the park’s planners, though. How do you still provide all of the information and resources that visitors might need out there, without ruining the park’s biggest asset?
The answer, according to the Brooklyn-based architecture firm StudioKCA, is the Mobile Information Unit (MIU)–essentially, a pop-up rest stop that provides Wi-Fi, lighting, and seating, as well as information for your park stay and power for your devices.
StudioKCA was hired by the Friends of Governors Island, the nonprofit in charge of developing the park, which originally asked for stationary charging stations. But with such a sprawling park, the firm thought that it would be most efficient to make the stations mobile. The studio designed it to attach to the back of a custom bicycle, from which the multipurpose MIU unfolds from a three-foot cube into a nine-foot, solar-powered canopy. The idea is that eventually, visitors will be able to pick up a MIU upon arriving on the island and bike the mobile station to any part of the park—then set up camp with everything they might need to power lights, a phone, a stereo, and even a small refrigerator.
For now, the MIUs are still in a prototyping phase, though two of the units in their current form are being tested on the island right now. Members of Friends of Governors Island are riding them around and providing feedback. So far, says StudioKCA principle Jason Klimoski, the most-common asks have been for more storage and battery power—both of which the studio is working on adding to a third prototype. The architects are also designing the next iteration of the unit to be powered by pedaling, in addition to its solar-powered canopy.
Klimoski says that the firm will be working on refining the unit over the next year and a half, at which point it plans to offer the MIUs more broadly beyond Governors Island. The firm wants to make them available for purchase for both parks and individuals, and make the units customizable—with options for more battery power, for instance, or units that come equipped with speakers and a mini fridge.
One aspect that is unlikely to change in future versions is a core design feature: the retractable canopy that opens up the cube into a full-fledged information stop. “The most important thing we were looking at was the opening and closing aspect of it,” says Klimoski. “For that we were inspired by flowers that open up during the day and close up again at night.”