From left, Kayla Shanley, 11, of West Islip; Meryl Cohen,...

From left, Kayla Shanley, 11, of West Islip; Meryl Cohen, of Monroe Township, N.J.; Minda Chernik, of Monroe Township, N.J.; and Claire Shanley, also of West Islip; "meet" in one of the Meeting Bowls, an temporary installation by a Spain-based artists collaborative that will be in Times Square until Sept. 16. (Aug. 28, 2011) Credit: Marie Calfopoulos

Three rocking orb-like structures, each with enough room within them to seat eight people, have been a strange sight in Times Square.

Strange enough to get people talking -- which is exactly what designers of the Meeting Bowls installation intended.

"They are places for meeting and getting to know people, places for group discussion that promote a sense of community in a large city," Eva Salmeron, of the Spanish "mmmm . . ." artists collaboration, said in an email interview.

Meeting Bowls make for an unusual seating arrangement that requires people to face and interact with each other, Salmeron said. The structures are constructed of moisture-resistant fiberboard and were described by some users as a high-art version of Disneyland's tea cup ride, though the orbs rock rather than spin. They will be stationed at 48th Street and Broadway until Friday.

"I thought it was a really good idea and way to meet people and make friends," said Kayla Shanley, 11, of West Islip, who sat inside one sphere recently enjoying a sandwich. "It's kind of fun."

Kayla and her mother, Claire, 55, struck up a conversation with two others in their bowl, Monroe Township, N.J., neighbors Meryl Cohen and Minda Chernik.

"We're mostly talking about the hurricane and the earthquake," Cohen said.

"And my new cousin!" Kayla added.

The Meeting Bowls seemed to serve a dual purpose of providing tourists a place to kick their feet up after a day of walking around the city. "I was just tired, and I saw a place to sit," said Andrew Ha, 21, of Boston.

"We did have a meeting about where we're going to go next," said Vinny Viespoli, 45, of Bayville, N.J., who sat in another bowl with his wife and their four children. "It's practical and it's art. Now we're using art. We are art."

The installation is intended to encourage interesting interactions in high-traffic Times Square, where a mix of people come together but wouldn't necessarily otherwise talk, Salmeron and Times Square Alliance president Tim Tompkins said.

It provides "intimacy within the anonymity of a huge public space," Tompkins said. "The Meeting Bowls were perfect for Times Square because . . . it is a place of intersection, where people come together and where people meet randomly."

"These social places are more intimate than typical public benches," Salmeron said.

Chernik agreed, but had one good-natured complaint, "I love them. I was thinking, though, why didn't they put more bowls around here?"

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