James Ruhlman ’22 and Noah Johnson ’21 create inclusive public spaces

two students standing under a design structure
James Ruhlman and Noah Johnson in front of the Drum Flower prototype

During COVID, many people across the country realized the importance of a simple walk in the park. Time outside where there is ample space between you and any other person was, to many, the time they would look forward to most in their days. James Ruhlman, a fifth-year student in VPA’s Industrial and Interaction Design program saw a problem.

Ruhlman explains, “Public spaces and parks are pretty bureaucratic without input from people on what the park looks like.  Many who build parks disregard the needs of the public, especially those with disabilities.”

Ruhlman’s venture, Grace Parks, utilizes his industrial design background to create more community-oriented parks that are friendlier to groups that have been marginalized by public works projects. 

Admittedly, Ruhlman says that he did not have any intentions of becoming an entrepreneur before coming to Syracuse University. However, after getting involved in the Intelligence ++ program and being part of the LaunchPad where student entrepreneurs were able to interact with Syracuse’s InclusiveU students, Ruhlman and his Intelligence ++ project partner, Noah Johnson ’21, were inspired to use their skills to help a group that often gets disregarded.

Ruhlman says, “Public spaces don’t have a lot of usability for most people. We want to create interactive public spaces make parks places where people don’t escape to, but rather come to engage with others.” 

Ruhlman wants to help facilitate this human interaction through Drum Flower, a structure he created with Johnson, designed to be the nucleus of a park.  He describes it as a temple of rhythm that allows imagination to blossom.

Drum Flowers are large, dome shaped sculptures that have drum circle instruments underneath it and can be played by six people at once. They are specifically designed to create brief moments of connection, playing upon the most fundamental forms of communication: eye contact, rhythm, and physical touch.

Ruhlman says that, “No matter your ethnicity, race, or age, you can build community and human connection with the Drum Flower.” 

Grace Parks is seeking funding for the concept.  The team has developed a prototype and their next goal is to build a real Drum Flower in a public space.

They are hoping that their company could become involved with a music festival or other such event that would commission them to build a Drum Flower.

Ruhlman and Johnson are excited for where the company is heading and are looking forward to revitalizing communal values in public spaces across the country. 

Story by Jack Lyons ‘22, LaunchPad Global Fellow; photos and graphics supplied