Our Lives, Under Construction – The New York Times


Unloved and janky, scaffolding is New York City’s different structure, its Tinker Toy exoskeleton. It has enraged and impressed its residents, whereas eternally altering their habits — there are those that cleave to its shelter throughout dangerous climate, or skittishly keep away from it — as they proceed to rail towards its persistence and ubiquity, maybe unaware of the historical past behind a lot of it.

On a late May night in 1979, Grace Gold, then a 17-year-previous freshman at Barnard College, was strolling with a pal on 115th Street when a bit of masonry fell from the lintel of a Columbia University constructing and killed her. The subsequent yr, New York City adopted a legislation that required constructing facades be inspected frequently; underneath the legislation’s present incarnation, buildings over six tales have to be regarded over each 5 years. If they fail inspection, which they invariably do, getting old masonry being what it’s, constructing homeowners should set up a sidewalk shed — what many name sidewalk scaffolding — to guard pedestrians whereas homeowners do no matter is important to repair the issues.

It was an excellent legislation, and it made sense to protect the general public from projectiles hurtling from the sky, however many constructing homeowners opted to easily tack on a shed slightly than do the dearer facade work. Four a long time later, Ms. Gold’s legacy — Local Law 11, or “The Facade Inspection and Safety Program” — accounts for about half of the town’s sidewalk scaffolding, with over three,000 websites and almost 900,000 ft of sheds.

The system generally works. Not all the time. One morning the week earlier than Christmas, Erica L. Tishman, a 60-year-previous architect and mom of three, was strolling on Seventh Avenue close to 49th Street when debris fell from a 17-story building and killed her. The building had been fined in April for having an unsafe facade, and again in July, while its owners challenged the city in court. On that morning in December, they had yet to put up a sidewalk shed.

The city is lousy with them. And life adapts under the ongoing scaffolding occupation in curious and sometimes delightful ways.

Nearly a decade ago, the city held a competition to completely rethink the much-maligned structures. The winning design, from Young-Hwan Choi, then an architecture student at the University of Pennsylvania, in collaboration with Agencie, a Manhattan architecture and engineering firm, was a delicate white carapace with gothic arches and LED lights called Urban Umbrella. But it leaked rain on then Mayor Michael Bloomberg during a photo op, and for a long time proved too expensive to develop and deploy in this country. So Agencie took it to Canada and tested it there.

That’s when Urban Umbrella’s designers met Benjamin Krall, a 31-year-old venture capitalist interested in smart city innovations, as he put it the other day. “I got really interested in the scaffolding space,” he said, and dove in. Because Urban Umbrella is four times the cost of normal scaffolding, at first they gave it away for free. This year, Mr. Krall has 50 paying customers, and you can see Urban Umbrellas at 37 sites throughout the city, including the Ralph Lauren flagship on Madison Avenue, and the Yale Club on Vanderbilt Avenue. He hopes to “dominate in New York,” and also expand into other cities. “We closed a $3 million round of funding this month,” he said. “We’ve made scaffolding into a sexy asset class.”

Karrie Jacobs, an architecture critic, was surprised to find herself charmed. “In general when something mundane and ordinary gets redesigned to be stylish, I hate it,” she said. “But in this case I think it’s great because sidewalk sheds stink. So what if the Urban Umbrellas are a little bit froufrou? ”

Some members of the Yale Club, said Kevin Lichten, the architect who is chair of the Club’s house committee, are so pleased with Urban Umbrella’s lacy armature they are asking that it be permanent. “The whole arrival sequence into the club is very important,” Mr. Lichten said. “The brides for their wedding, taking grandma to her 90th birthday party. We knew it had to look good.” The arches remind him of the Rue de Rivoli, the Parisian row of shops from the mid-1800s. “And it really does protect you from the rain which is what everyone in New York wants.”

More grimly, they do the job they were designed for. Mr. Krall said he was sick at heart at the news of Ms. Tishman’s death. “Scaffolding is an unfortunate, necessary evil,” he said. “It would have saved this woman’s life.”

Sidewalk sheds are shelter for construction workers during smoke breaks, and a destination for dog walkers during inclement weather. They are a little bit of home for the homeless; a young man in my neighborhood keeps vandals away with sign on his bedding that proclaims, “Bed bug infestation, do not touch!”

Bats sometimes roost in sidewalk sheds, as one did a few years ago on scaffolding overlooking the High Line. “It hung out there for a couple of days and moved on,” said Kaitlyn Parkins, an ecologist and bat expert. Rats, as it happens, are not shed dwellers, at least not typically, according to Matthew Combs, Ms. Parkins’ fiancé, whose Ph.D. examined how populations of urban brown rats are related to each other and tracked their movements through the city (yes, there are uptown and downtown rats). Rats need regular food and water, which a shed might provide, but they need quiet, too. They won’t make a nest in areas with high traffic, Mr. Combs said: “It’s abandoned construction sites or neglected areas within active sites, like a pile of supplies sitting idly for a month, that will draw them.”

To Hannah Casey, a yoga teacher, scaffolding is an opportunity for athleticism. She showed me a photo of herself and Daryl K., a fashion designer, doing handstands on the scaffolding outside of Indochine a decade ago, midriffs bared. “We were outside smoking and there was the scaffolding,” she recalled. “It always makes me want to do gymnastics. If I was a pole dancer I’d really have a go at it.”

Greg Barton, an independent curator, is also a scaffolding booster. Two years ago, he organized a show about it at the Center for Architecture. He wanted to rebrand it as an experimental kit of parts, he said, instead of a necessary nuisance and eyesore. The exhibition displayed work by designers like Assemble, a British collective, that has used scaffolding to design temporary theaters or follies than can be built by novices. He included photographs of extraordinary bamboo scaffolding used in Hong Kong and Shanghai — intricate, handmade lacings that make supertalls look like ethereal baskets. He wanted to celebrate the labor that is often undervalued, he said. “Architecture with a capital A tends to privilege aesthetics over process. The immediacy and collaborative nature of scaffolding, its utility and functionality, is what appeals to me.”

“Scaffolding! A perennial topic,” Alexandra Lange, architecture critic at Curbed, wrote in an email. “I love it when building owners take the time to make their scaffolding feel like a place. Sometimes just a specific paint color or patterns can set a mood and make you feel as if someone cares about this transitional place. A full wrap with an image, purposeful graffiti, even a branded hue, it’s all better than peeling Hunter green paint.”

Toward the end of the year, the temperature dropped and my homeless neighbor hung a blanket from the scaffold brace over his bedding, shielding his camp. Down the block, the owners of Vapiano, a pasta joint, had wrapped the poles of the scaffolding outside their building with faux pine garlands and created a wall of ivy. A few blocks away, where scaffolding wrapped around the site of what had been a coffee shop, a middle-aged man had moved with his considerable collection of belongings, which included, mysteriously, a stack of broken skateboards. He put up a spindly, foot-high Christmas tree, nicely decorated. A few days later, he was gone.



Source link Nytimes.com

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