Character Buildings are a series of material and figural investigations for the Independent Media Center (IMC) in Urbana, Illinois. The IMC is a grassroots organization that provides access for the community to various media outlets through its rentable spaces, performance stage, production tools and radio station. The organization purchased the old post office building in 2002 and has called the space home ever since. However, the building does little to convey the attitude and presence of this egalitarian media organization. Character Buildings construct a new, physical identity for the institution within the shell of the former civic building using only minimal intervention into the existing structure. It achieves this through a series of kiosks and other objects that offer functions and “character” to the organization. Each object has a name that preserves their individuality while remaining a coherent cast: Pinup Pam (the community pinup board), Red (the red entry doors), Deskasaur (the receptionist desk), Stampy (the Books 2 Prisoners drop box), Disco (the button mural entrance portal), and Talky (the talk-bubble signage). The characters are placeless yet create a persistent image for the institution within this repurposed old building.
The project is a marriage between ideas cultivated in the academy, volunteer resources, and community needs to produce new and unexpected urban experiences. The IMC is dedicated to the democratization of media and the project embodies their ideals. The objects encourage people to engage with them as a means of “activation.” They were built with donated labor and take on life when filled in with activities and the remnants of human use. Their ‘cool’ forms (in the McLuhan sense) are further activated as people interpret and re-interpret their shapes. The characters encourage multiple associations and narratives, captivating audiences within their story.