Coming Soon: Ped-Friendly “Urban Umbrellas” for NYC Sidewalks

Urban_Umbrella_3.jpgImage: NYC Department of Buildings

Walking through parts of New York can feel like walking through a tunnel. The city’s ubiquitous sidewalk sheds — typically blue scaffolding holding up green plywood to protect pedestrians from construction overhead — corral people into cramped, dark spaces wherever development or building repairs are underway. There are about 6,000 of these sheds throughout the city.

SidewalkShedOld.jpgToday’s sidewalk sheds may soon be a thing of the past. Image: threecee/Flickr

Now the city hopes to start phasing them out. The NYC Buildings Department and the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects announced the winner today of their competition to redesign the sidewalk shed: "Urban Umbrella," by 28-year-old design student Young-Hwan Choi.

Choi’s design has a number of advantages over current sidewalk sheds, which have been the standard since the 1950s. It leaves much more of the sidewalk free for pedestrians and eliminates the cross-bracing that prevents people from getting on or off the sidewalk anywhere but at intersections. The design also figures to be, quite simply, more pleasant. It lets in significantly more light and air to the sidewalk.

Businesses will be encouraged but not mandated to use the "Urban Umbrella." Since Choi’s sidewalk shed has lower maintenance costs than the current model and hides less of the building, the city expects that those incentives will eventually lead to widespread adoption of the design. 

More images after the jump…

Urban_Umbrella_1.jpgImage: NYC Department of Buildings

Urban_Umbrella_2.jpgImage: NYC Department of Buildings

Urban_Umbrella_4.jpgImage: NYC Department of Buildings
  • This is great news, but as a New Yorker, I reserve the right to gripe about how slowly the work is progressing above the old-style scaffolding. I predict that the last old-style ones will not disappear before the end of the century.

  • Grinner

    Excellent! No crossbars to lure bike locking that can be defeated with a wrench.

  • Ian Turner

    Looks too good to be true.

  • Lower maintenance costs would be incentivizing, but it looks more expensive to manufacture and install, or at least the ones with colored clear ceilings and the clear parapet.

  • That’s an elegant design.

  • Ray

    Nice design. Yet we must get rid of the scaffolding that’s idle.

    NYT: 11/24/08 Gensler Architects: “And across the city, unregulated vendors, multiple trash cans and excessive scaffolding were also found to contribute to sidewalk congestion. Thirty percent of buildings on Broadway between Columbus Circle and Houston Street, for example, are covered with scaffolding.””

    This is UNACCEPTABLE.

  • Ray

    Sorry – it was Gehl Architects assisted the DOT (not Gensler).

  • Ha, look at the first image. Apparently, the designer also wants to introduce contra-flow bicycle lanes!

  • BicyclesOnly

    The prevalence of scaffolding dates from injuries caused by falling debris from a poorly-maintained building facade about 6 years ago. The city council passed a law requiring periodic exterior inspections of virtually all buildings. It is very expensive and almost always some needed repair is identified. The building owners are not necessarily in a financial situation or otherwise prepared to perform the repairs immediately upon learning of them, so the scaffolding stays up while management or the board figures out what to do. The conrtactors charged with the repairs play the same game all contractors do–start the job, realize the maximum ratio of payment-to-work-performed, then move on the next job. Repairs often need to be suspended in the cold winter months. Buildings leave the scaffolding up for six or more months even though no work is anticipated becuase it costs less than removing and reinstalling the scaffolding.

    These are some of the reasons for all the scaffolding. I want to be as free as anyone from falling debris, but I do wonder whether the mandatory inspection regime is an unecessary boondoggle.

  • BicyclesOnly, actually the scaffolding law followed the death of a Barnard student in 1979. It was enacted in 1980:

    http://www.nytimes.com/1989/11/19/realestate/those-stay-forever-sidewalk-bridges.html?pagewanted=1

  • curtiss

    i like flowers.

  • There is no way that the tops of these will have glass on them.

  • Kaja

    Hold building management criminally responsible for deaths and injuries caused by falling debris. More people will die at first; then, management companies will start going out of business; then, they will beautifully self-regulate.

    (I’m half-serious: I think this would work, except that the city would rarely actually prosecute, due to a mix of the usual factors: Albany stops them, payoffs made, prosecutors failing to give a rat’s ass.)

    That is a really nice design.

  • J:Lai

    Kaja:
    “Hold building management criminally responsible for deaths and injuries caused by falling debris. More people will die at first; then, management companies will start going out of business; then, they will beautifully self-regulate.”

    Come on dude, you want a market-based, libertarian solution that pre-supposes an external authority which will “hold building management . . . responsible”?
    I agree with a lot of your posts here, but that is question-begging logical fallacy at its worst.

  • I didn’t call that a libertarian solution!

    The libertarian bit, I suppose, is that I think it won’t work, because governments are typically at-least as corrupt as the entities they attempt to regulate.

    (Or am I missing your point?)

  • Noah

    Great concept, but those renderings are very deceiving, is the top now going to be transparent?

  • hey nice clicks..liked the 1ast pic a lot..the pics came out so good becz of the diffrnt perspective…

  • Emily Litella

    What pretty things. The future is bright indeed!

  • Liz Ellis

    Are these urban umbrellas being installed where sidewalk conditions don’t support street trees or was a choice made for a built solution over a living umbrella that also pumps out O2 and sequesters CO2?

  • Liz, it’s 21st-century scaffolding, meant to keep building debris from falling on sidewalk users. IMO it would take too long for trees to grow sufficiently thick and leafy to protect passersby from falling concrete blocks.

  • thanks for your share “ There is no way that the tops of these will have glass on them too!! very good that i like it!
    i love umbrellasvery much

  • Liz, it’s 21st-century scaffolding, meant to keep building debris from falling on sidewalk users. IMO it would take too long for trees to grow sufficiently thick and leafy to protect passersby from falling concrete blocks.

  • Kenny

    I built a lot of sidewalk sheds over the last 15yrs all over the city. They range from decrepit, dirty ,weak and dangerous to fantasticly designed heavy duty bridges that look like they are part of the building!!
    This new design looks great and has protential but any thing that light can shine through is NOT goin to stop a brick falling from 15 floors above!
    Sidewalk sheds save lives and I’ve seen it for my self!! Don’t risk saggy for bueaty!!!

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