January 12, 2010
by: Lisa Delgado

Event: urbanSHED Presentation of Final Proposals
Location: Center for Architecture, 1.07.10
Speakers: Derrick Choi, AIA — Principal Architect, XChange Architects; Young Hwan Choi — Student, University of Pennsylvania; André s Corté s, AIA — Principal, Agencie Group; Sarrah Khan — Principal, Agencie Group; Kevin Erickson — Principal, KNEstudio
Organizers: AIANY; NYC Department of Buildings


Designs by the finalists of UrbanSHED (l-r): Urban Umbrella; Tripod (MOD)ule; urbanCLOUD.

Courtesy AIANY

What if instead of being drab, dark, and oppressive, NYC’s sidewalk sheds appeared as airy and soothing as a canopy of clouds, as vibrant and cheery as a colorful parasol, or as simple and spare as a camera tripod? Those were the three visions recently presented by the three finalists in urbanSHED, an international competition to find a better design for the city’s sidewalk sheds. The New York City Buildings Department, AIANY, the Alliance for Downtown New York, the New York Building Congress, the Illuminating Engineering Society New York Chapter, and the ABNY Foundation (Association for a Better New York) with additional support from the Structural Engineers Association of New York, the NYC Department of Planning, and the NYC Department of Transportation partnered to create this open competition. As part of the Re:Construction public art program, the Alliance for Downtown will build the winning design in Lower Manhattan once it’s selected, noted Fatma Amer, PE, the NYC Department of Buildings’ deputy commissioner for technical affairs and chief code engineer, as she introduced the program.

“In a dense urban environment like ours, we need these sheds to protect pedestrians, and there is no reason why our protection can not be pretty,” she declared. The competition entries also needed to be code-compliant, sustainable, energy efficient, and constructable, she added.

Young Hwan Choi’s Urban Umbrella draws upon the design principles of its namesake, aiding easy assembly. But despite the simplicity of each module, when you bring many “umbrellas” together, their multicolored panels create complex and lively patterns overhead. Installed inside the beams are LED lights, casting energy-efficient and structurally integrated illumination.

The “umbrellas” can be laid out in different configurations to accommodate the needs of each site. “As you have different conditions, because of doorways or obstacles, you end up with all of these different patterns, so… you actually end up having something that changes over the entire city,” said Sarrah Khan of Agencie Group, which helped with the design.

Adaptability also drove the design of Tripod MOD(ule), though with more of an eye to sustainability than aesthetics. The design consists of modular units that can be configured together in varying ways to adjust to sites of many different sizes and shapes. As revealed in his presentation, Derrick Choi, AIA, and his firm, XChange Architects, found inspiration in the writings of Norman Foster, Hon. FAIA, on sustainability and the ideal of buildings that can withstand the test of time by adapting to change. Tripod MOD(ule) is a design based, logically enough, on the structural stability of tripods. The design also features a fabric screen that lets in natural light and can be used to display building identity graphics.

The gentle, protective quality of bubblewrap helped fuel the inspiration of the designers of urbanCLOUD, an undulating scaffolding made from ETFE beams supported by a hexagonal framework. Light filters through the canopy to the sidewalk; “this subtle glow combined with the light materiality creates a soothing contrast to the chaos of the urban condition which we all face every day,” explained Kevin Erickson of KNEstudio. At first, the designers hoped the canopy would be suspended from the rooftops of the nearby buildings — so it would appear to actually float like a cloud — but for cases when that proved impractical, they also developed a system for supporting it from below.

Ideally, the competition will spur change for the future. “We hope that the new shed design will change the city’s legacy, beautify our streets, and improve our neighborhoods’ quality of life,” Amer explained.

Lisa Delgado is a freelance journalist who has written for OCULUS, The Architect’s Newspaper, I.D., Blueprint, and Wired, among other publications.


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