Icebreakers (2010)

Realized as part of the ten day SCU+MIT workshop in Taipei, Taiwan. A collaboration between Shih Chien University and MIT Architecture and Media Lab departments

Team members: Yi-Chun Lu (Sasha), Cetus, Kao Chieh, Ming-Chun Liu, Cheng Ru Li (Kim), Lisa Hsieh, Jen Hisn Ying, Sarah Hirschman, Ho Kwan Yip (Mavis) and Hannah Perner-Wilson

ICEBREAKERS – Connecting the Masses in Transit

Icebreaking interventions on Taiwan’s MRT public transit system. Every day Taipei’s MRT mass transit system transports one million passengers (40% of the population), but despite boasting 94% customer satisfaction (compared to San Francisco 65%, Chicago 80%) the routine act of being transported from A to B is perceived by many to be lost time, a hole in their day. The Icebreakers believe this absence presents a unique opportunity for social activism on the most basic scale. The Icebreakers believe in the positive benefits of breaking the social ice that exists within the public space of mass transit.

Project website >> http://scumiticebreakers.wordpress.com/

The MRT Brown Line is a unique platform within the overall Taipei transit system. Narrower cars, above-ground travel, and a variety of program destinations mean that the Brown Line attracts a wide section of the community, and contains it more compactly than on any other line. This is an ideal site for public activism to promote interactions of any type.

Icebreaking agents are activists. They are upset with the lack of interaction happening on the MRT and take initiative by creating, installing and hacking the space in order to facilitate communication among the masses. We distribute our endeavors via how-to instructions that detail how to make, install and administer these interventions.

Three example installations demonstrate various levels of intervention. All of them aim to break the ice within the MRT. Ideally, interventions are located such that they will be encountered in routine acts of holding on to the handles and poles already present in the MRT, on the windows, and on the ceiling, where the eyes might wander in an attempt to avoid direct eye contact in a crowded car.

Beginner: Hand Puppets

This project is suitable for beginner Icebreakers. It involves buying puppets and modifying them to fit the handles of the MRT car.
The project situates itself in the realm of intervention, offering a quick and easy way for anybody wishing to break the ice to act. Existing puppets are simply modified to fit the handles within the MRT car. few or almost all handles may be covered. The intention behind this project is to offer passengers an avatar through which to engage in interactions with fellow passengers. Drawing upon the power of dress-up and theatre to bring people out of their usual set characters, this project offers them an alternative persona through which to ‘break the ice.’ This project also subtly plays on the fact that in the digital age, we all have our online screen names through which we fluently interact with strangers almost every day on the internet.

Intermediate: Piano Pole

This project is for intermediate Icebreakers. It involves hacking a toy piano and sewing a textile electronic interface that can be attached to the poles within the MRT car.
Installed by wrapping it around the poles within the MRT, this textile musical installation occupies space intended for holding tight. Standing passengers need a place to hold on, and might first experience this installation by accident. Once encountered, they can then decide whether to engage further in the musical experience. The choice to map a very concrete musical score to the pole creates not only the initial shock effect of accidentally triggering a first note, but also offers the opportunity of playing with it as an instrument. Unlike a game there is no concrete goal, but there is a wrong and a right way to play a song and this can create a certain incentive to continue playing beyond the initial surprise of discovery.

Expert: Give Me A Hand

This project is for expert icebreakers. It involves programming interactive animations that can be displayed on the MRT LED screens (currently being proposed to the MRT for advertising purposes) and promote interaction among and between passengers. These interactive animations will not be triggered unless five or more handles in any one carriage are being held.
Occupying the ceiling space of the car, this project situates itself where one usually focuses in a crowded car to avoid direct eye contact. This installation makes way for a range of different applications that, in the context of icebreaking, aim at connecting individuals. The handles in the subway car act as collective input devices.

Workshop documentation

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 8


This work was created in collaboration with Yi-Chun Lu (Sasha), Cetus, Kao Chieh, Ming-Chun Liu, Cheng Ru Li (Kim), Lisa Hsieh, Jen Hisn Ying, Sarah Hirschman and Ho Kwan Yip (Mavis)