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Fixing a New York City Eyesore: Redesigning the Sidewalk Shed

Image © Flickr

As human beings, we often accept “the way things are” without questioning the reasons underlying the status quo. This is true in New York, where anyone who has walked its streets has inevitably walked under reams of scaffolding without asking why this otherwise beautiful city blithely accepts the presence of such ugliness. These eyesores cover more than 200 miles of sidewalks around the five boroughs. Scaffolding, or sidewalk sheds as they’re colloquially referred to, are known for their dreariness and residents either block them from memory entirely (aka habituation) or complain about them… a lot.

The truth of the matter is sidewalk sheds aren’t going away anytime soon. In 2013 alone, the Department of Buildings issued 5,584 permits for sidewalk sheds, making these unfortunate looking structures a permanent architectural feature. But don’t get down; there is some good news! Gensler has embarked on a design mission to cleanse this daily urban blemish. The solution? G-Shed.

G-Shed © Gensler

A Near-Future Solution

Over the years, there have been a few proposals set forth to reimagine sidewalk sheds. Unfortunately, the design solutions weren’t adopted because they weren’t affordable. We are firm believers that good design is good business and so at the onset of the design process, the Gensler team challenged themselves to go back to the basics and, “simplify, simplify, simplify.” This yielded a design solution that doubles as a good business solution. Our designers wanted to enhance aesthetics but knew that in order for the idea to come to fruition, they needed to find a solution that would be affordable for those picking up the tab.

Keep New York City businesses alive

It’s undeniable that sidewalk sheds have an impact on retail sales, some even call scaffolding a, “Kiss of Death.” From retailers on Fifth Avenue to SoHo boutiques, these sheds fail to create an inviting experience that properly illuminates the retail storefronts and beyond. The design team made retailers appearances an important consideration in G-Shed’s design. The design establishes a clear opening 20-feet high and 20-feet wide so that retailers existing signage is visible when sidewalk sheds are up. In addition, new modular posts allow for seamless adaptation with existing systems, opportunities for integrated bracing and creating an inviting arcade that offers a unique lighting opportunity and the potential for signage.

G-Shed © Gensler

With reduced obstructions, this solution enhances the retailer's street level presence and results in an improved pedestrian experience. Also important to note: Gensler’s renderings showcase a minimalistic white structure but the color of the G-Shed could be any color!

Lighting matters

One of the basic principles of design is bad lighting stinks. To rethink this everyday nuance, the G-shed absolutely needed to address lighting concerns. Once again going back to the basics and being practical, the design team proposed a linear LED light structure in a modular system so that lights can be easily installed and removed during the many phases of construction.

G-Shed © Gensler

Of 33 entrants, G-Shed, was named one of four winners of the Construction Shed Design Competition hosted by The New York Building Congress. The sheds, “best exemplified the goals of the competition of offering principle, cost-effective off-the-shelf designs that are far more attractive than standard sheds,” said Frank J. Sciame, competition committee chairman and CEO of Sciame Construction, in a statement.

G-Shed’s design team, Joseph Lauro, Leslie Jabs, Robert Miller, Mariel Mugford and Raymond Bourraine have turned an everyday eyesore into an inviting experience that illuminates storefronts rather than shrouding them in darkness. The result is a flexible, practical, inexpensive solution capable of addressing many of the issues that New Yorkers have with sidewalk sheds. So next time you find yourself walking under nasty scaffolding and begin to ask yourself, “Could things be better?” Just remember: the answer is yes they can.

Katie Dabbs is the public relations manager in Gensler’s New York office but her passion for design long surpasses her time working within architecture firms. Born into the industry, with a father working as a freelance architect and a mother an artist, she grew up drawing on tracing paper and using a drafting board with an electric eraser to do her schoolwork. Educated in journalism and media relations, she sees her collection of experiences as an opportunity to provide a unique point of view within design firms. Katie has secured prominent placements in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fast Company, WWD, among others. Contact her at katie_dabbs@gensler.com or connect with her on LinkedIn.

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