Tales from the Hammock

Like all great ideas it started out very simple.  Why not bring people together by creating a space they can hang out in? “I thought how freakin’ cool would it be to build a humungous ass hammock that everyone could hang out in,” said Hansy Banks Barranza at her nerdnite talk, “Tales from the Hammock.”

The Big Hammock is exactly what it sounds like, it’s an 8 foot wide, 30 foot long, multi-coloured hammock that was designed and built by Hansy Better Barranza, and installed on the Rose Kennedy Greenway, for two months, in the summer of 2010.

Born in Baranquilla, Colombia Hansy Better Barranza is a graduate of Cornell University and Harvard Graduate School of Design.  She is also the co-founder of Studio Luz Architects, an associate professor at the Rhode Island School of Design and the founder of B-RA-CE, Building Research-Architecture-Community Exchange Inc., a Boston based non-profit organzation.  She was also the first  Awesome Foundation grant recipient ever, in 2009

Hansy would be the first person to say, the project was not an easy one.   Her initial idea, although simple, involved hanging a large hammock from trees in the historic Boston Common.  As you can probably imagine the Department of Parks and Recreation had some problems with that.   But undaunted she persevered, “this resistance made me even hungrier to do the project,”  she said and she continued regularly petitioning the department of Parks and Recreation, checking on permits, researching materials, and working on a design in her spare time.

Finally awarded a parcel of land for her installation through the Greenway Conservancy, she now had to tackle the obstacle of funding.   During the design process she realized that in order for the hammock to work she had to make it self supporting, and to do this she had to build a hammock stand.    The grant awarded her by the Awesome Foundation was $1000 but that wasn’t enough to cover the cost of the hammock plus the added cost of a hammock stand.  She needed to find a way to raise an additional $6000.  So, Barranza decided to reach out to the public for help and through Kickstarter, an online fundraising website, Barranza was able to raise the additional funds needed to complete the project.

The hammock design was inspired by the Chinchorro, a type of hammock made by the Wayuu people of Colombia.   It was made out enough 100% recycled PVC rope, to equal 5.5 times the length of the John Hancock tower.  But, before the public could use it, Barranza had to get four permits and take out liability insurance on it.  Every person who wanted to use the hammock had to sign a liability waiver and as she told us during her talk she had to roll it up every night and roll it out every morning, so that homeless people couldn’t sleep on it.

Despite all that the Hammock received a warm reception drawing tourists and people from the surrounding area.   Barranza even wrote a children’s book about the history of hammocks which was translated from English into Spanish and Mandarin.

As arduous as the process might have been at times, her experience with the the Big Hammock and the Awesome Foundation whetted her appetite for community based projects.  Barranza expressed a deep appreciation for the creative process and the dedication and passion artists must have to make their work. “I realized at that time that artists go through a lot of difficult times.  For them to realize a dream as it is, and not have it whittled down by politics and bureaucracy, artists actually pay for their own work,” she said.

For her next project she has decided to tackle the problem of “food deserts,” or urban areas with no access to fresh fruits and vegetables.  To do this she is developed a rolling grocery stand, kind of like an ice cream truck but, with fruits and vegetables to help distribute fresh produce to people in neighborhoods like Mattapan.  The Mattapan Mobile Farm Stand is set to launch later this year.  The idea is to help curb obesity, in communities with less access to fresh fruits and vegetables by designing a vehicle that can help bring fresh produce to under served areas.   As she described it, it will be a mobile grocery cart in the shape of an over sized unicycle that will be donated to Mattapan Food and Fitness coalition who will then loan it out to local vendors to facilitate food deliveries.

Although, I’m a little disappointed that I wasn’t able to experience The Big Hammock, after hearing Barranza talk about the process she went through to get it installed in Boston, I’m not surprised that she was able to make it happen.   Her dedication and perseverance was inspiring, not just to myself but to others in Nerdnite crowd and I really look forward to seeing what projects Barranza has in store for us, in the future.