The Urban Conspiracy Theory

UT Austin grad Stephen Balut, an artist and architectural designer in Charlottesville, is encouraging his community to think outside the box. That's why, for the entire month of May, he's living inside a box on the downtown mall. His goal is to shatter traditional notions of what constitutes living space, and he wants you right there with him.

Everything in Stephen Balut's 75-square-foot makeshift apartment serves a multitude of purposes. His couch is also his bed. His ottoman is his dining room table. And his walls - they're his connection to the outside world. A world that will watch him eat, sleep, and live for the next month.

"Kids want to know what's going on," Balut said, "Or you see a couple stop and wonder, and ponder if I'm part of a living art exhibition. Which in a way, I am."

Balut is calling the project "The Urban Conspiracy Theory."

"I'm trying to ask people to reconsider how, where, and why we inhabit space," he said. "And whether or not we can consider new ways of doing that."

His small display case dwelling is inside Chroma gallery, near 4th Street on the downtown mall.  Balut wants to encourage passersby to think more critically about usable spaces we often overlook, no matter how small they might be.

"I think with overpopulation, with sprawl, with pollution, our carbon footprint, depleting natural resources - you know, we need to find new ways of densifying our urban fabric," he said.

Up above the Paramount Theater is another often overlooked part of that urban fabric.  Balut and a group of others built a small wooden structure there, meant to draw the eyes of those walking by.

"There's a valuable space on top of the marquee that we could be taking advantage of," he said.

Balut argues that's space that could serve a variety of unique purposes.

He said, "There are so many spaces on the downtown mall that we can fully utilize in new ways to create new meaning and value."

But for the next month, his focus is limited to the home he's made inside a glass room, and his thousands of new roommates.

"(I want) to bring people in and connect with people," Balut said. "And make a statement that I think there are really unique ways we can consider the future possibilities of Charlottesville."

This project is part of a larger exhibit at Chroma gallery called "Paper City: Futurist Charlottesville." It has a similar goal, to get people thinking differently about Charlottesville architecture and urban space.

Reported by Ed Sykes
NBC29 news team 

 



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