Speculative Citizen Design
research project

Open Call

Classroom Distancer Hats  |  Yangzheng School

Apart from interruptions at the height of infections, many schools continued their activities throughout the pandemic. Early on, in addition to face masks, teachers sought creative solutions to the social distancing imperative. Mainly coming from Chinese classrooms, where pandemic measures began, students produced colourful cardboard and balloon physical distancer hats loosely based on → historical depictions of Emperor’s hats from the Song Dynasty, which ruled China from 960 until 1279. These original black hats were initially intended to keep people in the Emperor’s court from whispering and conspiring. This is why they extend far to the sides, which now helps students with keeping the right distance. The first reported hats were made at Yangzheng School in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang Province in east China, where restrictions were lifted in April 2020. Four classes of first-year pupils collectively designed and produced some of the first contestatory Corona designs. A similar physical distancing tool for children, also from China, took the shape of wings and were worn even during physical education classes. (See also: → Inside-Outsiders | Tony Fry )

The concept of the hats was quickly adopted by Parisian 59 Rivoli gallery, where Dominique Pouzol designed some variants based on those from the Song dynasty for the gallery’s visitors. It remains unclear if this was a coincidence or if inspiration from the schoolchildren’s hats remained unmentioned. Either way, both at school and in the gallery, the hats immediately altered interactions in these perceived serious environments and became a new form of ritual dress for a new form of conviviality. Rather than focusing on restrictions and imperatives, distancer hats embrace pandemic measures and turn them into a game.

DIY, Play, Ritual

Further reading:
Myers, Lynne, “Schoolchildren in China make creative social-distancing hats inspired by ancient headwear” Designboom, 29 April 2020
Le, Jasmine, “Chinese students wear adorable ‘social distancing wings’ at school”, Vietnam Times, 25 May 2020
Knox, Patrick, “Kids in China get creative to keep COVID-19 at bay in reopened classrooms”. Kids News Australia, 28 April 2020
“Winging it: Paris gallery keeps visitors apart with extension hats”, Reuters, 04 June 2020