hcma’s Who Is This For opens at Venice architecture exhibition

Millions of people experience cities as spaces of alienation because of poor choices made by designers. Premiering at the Time Space Existence architecture exhibition (20 May – 26 November) in Venice, Who Is This For acts as a provocation to the design industry.

Created by Vancouver-based interdisciplinary design studio hcma, the art installation and online experience aims to create a sense of the discomfort, alienation and frustration felt by millions when they cannot access or fully participate in public spaces. It challenges designers to take responsibility for their work and be part of an inclusive solution to this global problem.

Frederico Vespignani


Visitors to Who Is This For will encounter a fictional city close-up and side-on: a scaled composite of 11 global city grids, including New York City, São Paulo, Lagos, London, Mumbai and Montréal. The grids are stitched together to form one urban space. It is at once both nowhere and everywhere. Each grid has been chosen for its specific manifestation of design inequalities in urban spaces. In a handful of cases, like Singapore’s Enabling Village and Toronto’s Regent Park, they show examples of inclusivity and therefore hope.

Move closer, and the vibrant colour splashed across the work reveals stories of lived experiences. These perspectives offer snapshots of life in a city that is not welcoming, such as: “I love New York, but many days, I feel like New York doesn’t love me back”. Step away from the work and the colour comes together into a superimposed and challenging prompt: Who Is This For. A secondary plaque describes the installation in braille and an audio description is also provided.

Frederico Vespignani


The microsite whoisthisfor.city extends the impact of the installation and creates a global conversation about the need to design the world around us differently.  Built in accordance with WCAG internet accessibility guidelines, the site’s interactive elements, including soundscapes and redacted images, highlight spaces of exclusionary design.

Darryl Condon, managing principal at hcma, says: “‘Who is this for?’ is a question that all designers ask in their work—but often they answer far too narrowly or without much thought. It’s a question we need to ask better, to seek more and different perspectives, to consider and embrace more people, to become more inclusive, by design. From our own privileged position at hcma, we are mindful that we too have been part of the problem in the past. However, we want to be an active agent of change within the industry. We can’t change everything, but we can change something.”

Marni Robinson, senior director for social impact at hcma, says: “Expanding our perspective of how different people experience the same city is just the beginning. With this exhibit, we want to start a conversation with the global design community, to encourage greater inclusivity in design thinking and practice.”

Frederico Vespignani


Time Space Existence is a biennial group exhibition presented by The European Cultural Centre Italy.