The Decorated Shed

The Decorated Shed

The Urban Umbrella could replace the old construction sheds with a lighter, friendlier alternative.
Courtesy UrbanShed/Young Hwan Choi/Andres Cortes/Sarrah Khan

During the real estate boom, it seemed like every block in the city was decked over with at least one construction shed. Even now, with construction in decline, the Department of Buildings says there are roughly 1 million linear feet of sheds covering city sidewalks and buildings. These structures may be valued for their safety benefits, but they have also led to an outbreak of rickets and vampirism.

In the hope of banishing these unsightly overheads, the Bloomberg administration and the AIA New York Chapter launched the UrbanShed design competition in August to find a new alternative, which the mayor unveiled today in Brooklyn. The sheds, called Urban Umbrella and designed by University of Pennsylvania/Penn Design architecture student Young Hwan Choi, with Andrés Cortés and Sarrah Khan of Agencie Group, are not mandatory, though Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg insisted they will be popular with New Yorkers.

Mayor Bloomberg (right) and commissioner LiMandri (left) look on as Young-Hwan Choi describes his winning proposal.
Matt Chaban

“It’s about creating better options for the public,” the mayor said. “Once they’re out there, those who have the influence, the retailers and restaurateurs, the apartment and building owners, they will demand it.”

Department of Buildings commissioner Robert LiMandri, whose office helped lead the competition, said that over time, the expectation is that the new sheds will cost 30 percent less than their $100-per-sqaure-foot forebears, which have not been updated since the 1950s.

Plans are underway to install a prototype of the Urban Umbrella at a Lower Manhattan construction site this summer, under the direction of the Downtown Alliance, and, if everything performs up to expectations, to roll them out across the city. The mayor emphasized that it was up to the private sector to embrace the new structures, but when asked by AN if the city might lead the way by requiring them on all public projects, he replied “Yes, absolutely.”

The new shed has a distinctive design eliminating the need for cross bracing, creating a more light, airy, and spacious environment.

The new sheds were heralded for creating more light and space on the sidewalk than their plywood predecessors. This is achieved by using translucent fiberglass decking, on which tinted appliqués can be added, creating a kaleidoscopic effect.

The design team, whose members also include Will Robinette, Todd Montgomery, and Zachary Colbert, created palm-like supports that eliminate the cross-bracing that makes sheds such an annoyance for the city’s pedestrians, blocking off open access to sidewalks. The structure also takes up less space, and a fan-shaped lighting system has been cleverly integrated. And because of the Urban Umbrella’s airiness, it will block less of the buildings, making storefronts and underlying architecture more visible on the street.

The sheds are intended to appeal to store owners, as they will obscure less of the building behind and take up less space.

“This solves a problem that has been ubiquitous for years,” said City Planning Commission chair Amanda Burden, who served on the jury with LiMandri, transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, and a half-dozen industry professionals, including David Childs of SOM, Craig Schwitter of Buro Happold, and builder Frank Sciame. “Walking on the sidewalk should not be an ominous adventure, but it is,” Burden added. “These new sheds are gorgeous and innovative and safe.”

Young-Hwan, in addition to having his designs realized downtown and possibly across the city, will receive a $10,000 prize as well as pride of place at the Center for Architecture, which has an exhibition of the three finalists from the UrbanShed competition up through February 10. The 28-year-old designer, who grew up in Korea, was somewhat shy during his remarks to the press, though he closed with gusto. “I’m really happy to see this on the street,” he declared, cracking a smile.