This year’s Los Angeles Design Festival had a grand theme: Design with Purpose. While it’s correct to associate ‘purpose’ with larger ideas of sustainability, inclusiveness and economic matters, it’s also commendable to link it to something smaller yet greatly impactful: emotional comfort. That explains the success of Sky Gazing Tower, an installation created by NYC-based studio SomePeople to give some people – that is, the shy, self-conscious and introverted – an opportunity to exist at will in public.

‘We wanted to provide personal space to people who live in urban crowded environments and face everyday challenges such as social anxiety, stress and agoraphobia,’ explained Kiki Goti, the studio’s founder.

So, the tower separates users from the rest of the city, but only slightly so: the vinyl orange membranes are relatively see-through, but still provide visual protection. In fact, the strips only cover the upper part of the visitor’s bodies, with legs visible to let others know that the booth is in use – thus diminishing the anxiety of a potential unwelcome walk-in. ‘The translucency of the membrane allows a subtle connection with the external environment, while at the same time provides a place of retreat,’ said Goti. It is a low-cost but high-volume statement about how little it actually takes to be more considerate to people with differing levels of spatial tolerance.

But still, SomePeople went beyond that: while the main aim of the installation is to allow users to gaze at the sky in peace, a VR-aided tool allow them to customize the booth itself to their liking – from size to colour and even material. That in itself was quite a thoughtful stance from the design team: however benign one’s vision is, it’s commendable to allow one’s vision to be tweaked with. It’s a sensible confirmation that, particularly for people with social anxiety, definitions of comfortable personal space can greatly vary.