January 26, 2010
by Jessica Sheridan Assoc. AIA LEED AP

The “Urban Umbrella” entry to the UrbanSHED competition stood out to me at a recent discussion with the three finalist teams at the Center for Architecture (See “Sidewalk Sheds With Better Design Cred,” by Lisa Delgado, e-Oculus, 01.12.10). So I was excited when Mayor Bloomberg announced last Thursday that the entry won the competition, and that a prototype will be constructed this summer (See Around the AIA).

The design, as the name implies, took inspiration from umbrellas. By using circular geometry, the platform will be constructed with pie-shaped, translucent, fiberglass panels that can be assembled in different configurations. The panels themselves will allow natural light to penetrate to the sidewalk, and can be comprised of various colors, patterns, or designs that can be personalized to the needs of the owner of the building being protected. Of the finalists, this was the only proposal that would make a restaurant desire a construction canopy over its outdoor café.

This was also the only proposal that truly considered scale. The structure is created when two “umbrellas” join together to make a three-pin frame, which transfers load to the columns. As Sarrah Khan, PE, LEED AP, principal of the Agencie Group, co-winners of the competition, explained, because of the redundancy of the structure the size of the footings can be smaller and wind loads can easily be distributed through the frame. Lighting is incorporated into the struts, illuminating the sidewalk at night with fan-shaped patterns. And, like an umbrella opens and closes, so does the structure depending on the widths and height requirements of the sidewalks.

By using components that are similar to those in current sidewalk sheds, the umbrellas can be constructed similarly as well, and pieces may be used for both types of construction. Again, out of all the finalists, the Urban Umbrella was the only one that truly considered sustainability, which was one of the main issues outlined in the RFP.

I hope the prototype will live up to my expectations of the design. If it does, this contest is one of many in the history of design competitions that could radically accelerate the careers of its trio of young winners, Young Hwan Choi, an architecture student at the University of Pennsylvania, and Sarrah Khan, PE, and Andrés Cortés, AIA, principals of the Agencie Group.

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