Softwalks: Turning Scaffolding into Pop-up Parks

Softwalks designed a "Kit of Parts" to make the ubiquitous scaffolding in New York City more liveable.

Scaffolding is a common sight in big cities. In New York City, where we live, there is no shortage of "sidewalk sheds," heavy duty temporary scaffolding that covers sidewalks. Lined end to end, the estimated 6,000 sheds would stretch from Manhattan to Baltimore—189 miles. To a typical pedestrian, it appears as if most of New York City is under construction. Yet many sidewalk sheds are vacant and unoccupied by construction workers, trucks, and commotion. This is in part due to NYC Local Law 11, which stipulates that every five years a building must undergo a facade inspection. For a period of time while an inspector combs the facade of a building, a sidewalk shed shrouds businesses underneath and gives the appearance of an active construction site.
After researching sidewalk sheds and the effect they have on public space, Softwalks designed a "Kit of Parts," a selection of improvements, such as chairs and planters, that can be added to standard sidewalk sheds. The Kit of Parts works with the existing sidewalk shed system. This means the chairs use standard stud bolt clamps, the counters fit within standard bays, and the planter is a replica of a light pole planter. We made these choices consciously because we are not trying to reinvent the entire sidewalk shed system. As a whole, sidewalk sheds have been designed to accommodate the infinitely variable street conditions in NYC. Our Kit of Parts is designed to accommodate the diverse communities throughout the city.

The perception of sidewalk sheds is at the root of our project. We discovered when people see a function in the structure, they generally appreciate them. For instance, in a downpour people flock to sidewalk sheds marveling at how useful they are. Cyclists love sidewalk sheds for locking bikes and we have seen urban gymnasts swing through the steel structures with grace. These observations helped us focus our efforts on addressing basic needs for city life such as seating and places to socialize.
We began our design process with a survey of every effort to improve sidewalk sheds in NYC and internationally. Concurrently, we interviewed pedestrians, contractors, stakeholders and anyone that would give us their perspective. Later on, we narrowed our focus to instances when people appreciated sidewalk sheds and began designing parts that would be universally loved. A turning point in our research was learning how streets were blossoming into places for people, catalyzed by pilot projects to close off a street and sprinkle lawn chairs and planters around. As a precedent, these pedestrian plaza spaces were perfect examples of how public space can be re-imagined with the addition of simple amenities.
We're on Kickstarter now raising funds for a pilot project to test Softwalks. Please consider supporting our campaign.
Click here to add supporting Softwalks to your to-do list. \n
Softwalks was also an entry in the Transform a Public Space Project by GOOD and BMW Guggenheim Lab last summer. \n
Images courtesy of Softwalks\n

Two years after its opening in 1914, the Baltimore Museum of Art acquired a painting by Sarah Miriam Peale—its first work by a female artist. More than a century later, one might assume that the museum would have a fairly equal mix of male and female artists, right? But as of today, only 4% of the 95,000 pieces in the museum's permanent collection were created by women.

The museum is determined to narrow that gap, and they're taking a drastic step to do so.

Keep Reading Show less
via Chela Horsdal / Twitter

Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle" debuted the first episode of its final season last week.

The show is loosely based on an alternative history novel by Philip K. Dick that postulates what would happen if Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan controlled the United States after being victorious in World War II.

Keep Reading Show less
via Alan Levine / Flickr

The World Health Organization is hoping to drive down the cost of insulin by encouraging more generic drug makers to enter the market.

The organization hopes that by increasing competition for insulin, drug manufacturers will be forced to lower their prices.

Currently, only three companies dominate the world insulin market, Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Sanofi. Over the past three decades they've worked to drastically increase the price of the drug, leading to an insulin availability crisis in some places.

In the United States, the price of insulin has increased from $35 a vial to $275 over the past two decades.

Keep Reading Show less

Oh, irony. You are having quite a day.

The Italian region of Veneto, which includes the city of Venice, is currently experiencing historic flooding. Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro has stated that the flooding is a direct result of climate change, with the tide measuring the highest level in 50 years. The city (which is actually a collection of 100 islands in a lagoon—hence its famous canal streets), is no stranger to regular flooding, but is currently on the brink of declaring a state of emergency as waters refuse to recede.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

Since the International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1986, whale populations have been steadily recovering. However, whales in the wild still face other dangers. In the summer of 2018, four Russian companies that supply aquariums with marine animals captured almost 100 beluga whales and killer whales (aka orcas). After a public outcry, those whales are swimming free as the last of the captive whales have been released, the first time this many captured whales have been released back into the wild.

In late 2018 and early 2019, a drone captured footage of 11 orcas and 87 beluga whales crammed into holding pens in the Srednyaya Bay. The so-called "whale jail" made headlines, and authorities began to investigate their potentially illegal capture.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet