Near Arlington's courthouse, three unusual round wooden objects are attracting attention and exploration by people of all ages. Some think they look like amusement park rides. To Hadley Christiansen, 3, of Arlington, "they look like salad bowls."
Hadley was close. This urban furniture exhibit, on display until November 1, is called "Meeting Bowls."
Two of the designers, Emilio Alarcón and Eva Salmerón, from Madrid, Spain, recently visited Arlington to talk about these unique seating areas. Collaborating with two other artists in Madrid, they create interactive public art — art that encourages people to become a part of it rather than just being observers. Then they partner with community groups around the world — in this case, Arlington Arts — to see how their ideas work.
"A circle is the perfect geometric shape," Alarcón said.
Salmerón adds: "It's impossible to be silent in a Meeting Bowl. It encourages communication."
The design, with sides resembling open window blinds, seats eight and gives visitors a sense of looking out from a cozy room. An earlier version of the bowls, which rocked, appeared in New York's Times Square in 2011. These bowls will travel to Miami after leaving Arlington.
The designers' company is called "Mmmm . . . ," like the sound you might make when coming up with a new idea. For example, "Mmmm, what if . . . ?" Salmerón said the group chose the name because "anyone can pronounce it as they wish."
Arlington resident Harvey Fayhee, 7, and his family enjoy outdoor family meetings, often including a child-chosen topic. Harvey and his mom, dad, sister Charlotte and grandma recently sat inside a Meeting Bowl while discussing mermaids.
"I like these because you can see each other's faces while talking," Harvey said. "They would give kids, especially shy kids, the chance to get to know each other."
"You can see the personality of a community," said Salmerón, "by watching how people react in and out of the bowls."
Alarcón noted, "People in the United States seem very interactive, open to conversation."
Recently, Stephanie Ochoa, 10, and her brother Luis, 5, visited the meeting bowls while helping their dad with his vegetable stand at the nearby farmers market. After climbing inside and sitting quietly across from each other while looking around the bowl, they relaxed and began chatting. "I think this could work," said Stephanie, smiling.
Salmerón's son, Nico, 10, who lives in Madrid, was one of the first kids to try the Meeting Bowls six years ago. In an email, he described thinking of them then as "mysterious" and "like flying saucers."
"I know the Meeting Bowls are going to amuse you," Nico said.
Would you step inside one if other people were already there?
Duke Shackleford, 10, of Arlington considered it while watching people use the bowls as he enjoyed breakfast nearby with his dad. "If it was just kids my age, I'd be more likely to go in," he said.
What is next for Mmmm . . . ? They would like a permanent place for the Meeting Bowls, Salmerón said, and "we want to make a playground."
Upon hearing of that dream, Duke exclaimed, "I would love that!"
What: Public art called "Meeting Bowls."
Where: 1310 North Courthouse Road, Arlington.
When: Daily until November 1.
Hint: On Saturdays, the Arlington Farmers Market next door is open from 8 a.m. to noon. Metered parking in lot or on street; free parking in garage below 2150 Clarendon Boulevard during the farmers market.
Special event: A closing party for the exhibit on October 28 from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
The free event will include snacks, a walking tour and the opportunity to meet interactive artist Linda Hesh at her nearby exhibit, "Put the 'i' in C_vic."
For more information: Ask a parent if you can visit publicart.arlingtonva.us.