Design challenge seeks to improve New York streetscape

New York City’s urbanSHED competition invited designers to propose alternatives to the ubiquitous grimy, dark sidewalk scaffolds that blight the city

If Kevin Erickson, of KNEstudio, New York City, had his way, all of New York City would benefit from the addition of “clouds” of air-inflated ETFE beams as replacements for the usual grim sidewalk sheds that purport to protect pedestrians from falling debris at downtown construction sites. Erickson’s design team suggests that their design would encourage more public participation in street life because of increased daylight that would filter down through the translucent ETFE beams and the glow at night (the beams would contain LED lights).

KNEstudio’s proposal, “urbanCLOUD”, is one of three finalists for the urbanSHED international design competition sponsored by the New York City Buildings Dept. and the AIA New York Chapter calling for innovative ideas to improve the city’s streetscape.* KNEstudio’s design takes advantage of ETFE’s high strength-to-weight ratio that permits its pneumatic structure to be suspended from the roof using standard outrigger beam systems commonly used for skyscraper window washing. A series of air beams are stacked to create a continuous shelf of protection along any building façade. Internal cables to the air beams constrain the expansion of the air tubes to give the system a cloud-like form. By controlling the air volume in each beam, and thus their shape, the beams can adjust to accommodate site conditions such as trees, elevation changes in building façades and other urban anomalies. Rather than building from the ground up, ubranCLOUD hangs from the top down permitting the free flow of pedestrian traffic at sidewalk level.

Both of the other two finalists of the competition include textile elements in their designs. Young-Hwan Choi, of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Penn., designed a series of umbrellas—alternating inverted and upright positions—using carbon fiber in the support columns. A team from Brookline, Mass., XChange Architects, proposes a portable structural system using a tripod-like module with recycled PVC fabric screens on the underside of the canopy to conceal the substructure. At press time, the final selection of a design to be implemented had not been made by the jury.

* Additional sponsors include the Alliance for Downtown New York, the New York Building Congress, Illuminating Engineering Society New York Chapter, and the ABNY Foundation.