An Urban Design Week Round-Up

An Urban Design Week Round-Up

Following Thursday evening’s Urban Design Week (UDW) launch party hosted by the Institute for Urban Design (IfUD) at the breezy BMW Guggenheim Lab, the AN team dispersed to check out various events on the jam-packed UDW roster. We compiled our notes, and here’s a quick sampling of what we saw and heard:

Saturday, September 17: A small contingent of planners, landscape architects, and artists met up at Montefiore Park, a tiny triangle of a plaza at 137th Street where Broadway slices through Manhattan’s orderly grid. The group was invited to offer feedback on an installation at the site entitled Broadway: 1000 Steps. The interactive piece by Mary Miss (and CaLL) is an experiment in educating the public on environmental issues through artwork. A collection of periscope-like tubes and mirrors confront passersby with stats on sustainability initiatives in the city. Keep your eyes peeled—the piece will work its way down Broadway over the course of the next few months.

Later Saturday evening, the Beaux Arts Ball sponsored by the Architectural League of New York was held at the Brooklyn Army Terminal. Les beaux et belles were transported to the site by ferry (or, if they lived in Brooklyn, via the R train). The Cass Gilbert-designed concrete industrial building was bathed in light and shown to great effect with projections and custom furniture designed by Leong Leong as revelers danced the night away.

Sunday, September 18: Sunday’s City Sessions event at Parson’s The New School was a lively debate marking the culmination of a month of online conversations sponsored by IfUD and Leagues and Legions—a group defining itself as “a think tank at the intersection of architecture and publishing.” The audience, many of whom were architects and urban planners, was invited to participate in the moderated discussion organized around questions derived from four themes related to “the practice of tactical urbanism and socially active design”: Public, Evaluation, Tactics and the Design Profession, and Failure.

The provocative questions around each theme (“Is it possible to design for productive failure?”) engendered more questions than answers–and one cultural programmer reminded the group that “not everything that happens in the city is urban design”–but the engaged audience armed with examples and beer kept on talking even after the two-hour event had officially ended. Quilian Riano, one of the event’s organizers, says he hopes the conversations will continue online and in other media, and hopefully find applications. Check out the City Sessions tumblr.

Monday, September 19: As part of Urban Design Week, the recently restored Museum at Eldridge Street in lower Manhattan hosted Good Design New York City, an energetic quick-fire series of presentations by designers with a brief to improve aspects of the city and match designer-makers with pragmatic doers. Taken from 600 issues raised at By The City/For The City competition, the magazine and design initiative, GOOD, asked New York architects and designers including SCAPE, Marpillero Pollak Architects, and Behavior Design, to propose solutions to questions based on the premise: “wouldn’t it be great if… ?”

Local designers Original Champions of Design (OCD) offered their ideas about how to make New York’s subway easier to navigate for regular users and tourists, which included making public station lay-outs; graphic interventions, and a First Car concept to create a souvenir-filled tourist-trap carriage that would get the confused out-of-town passengers “out of the way.”After each presentation, Alissa Walker of GOOD mediated a discussion between city officials or related representatives about the viability of the designers’ proposals.

Tuesday, September 20: Tucked away on a little-known public plaza on Gouveneur Lane in Manhattan’s Financial District, a stealthy group of urbanists chatted with merchants from the Street Vendors Project, a membership-based group of more than 1,300 vendors “who are working together to create a vendors’ movement for permanent change,” while snacking on delicious tamales sold on site. We spoke with Mustafa, a clothing vendor in Midtown, who told us about the difficulties of street commerce in New York. Representatives from the Design Trust for Public Space and Columbia University’s Street Vendor Planning Studio were on hand to discuss what sidewalk vending means to New York and the sense of city.

The crowning event of the night, of course, was the U.S. premiere of Urbanized and the associated soiree at the Phaidon book store in Soho. A capacity crowd of young design-types filled the Sunshine Cinema for two showings of the city-themed final segment of Director Gary Hustwit’s design trilogy. After two rigorous rounds of applause, Hustwit accepted questions from the crowd ranging from what would Janette Sadik-Khan do? (she was in attendance) to strategies for grassroots activism. Hustwit was feted by the usual suspects over vodka cocktails and a backdrop of iconic books on architecture and design. (Check out the  Urbanized trailer and our Q&A with director Gary Hustwit).

Even if you missed all the events of the last week, you can still settle down with the IFUD’s new tome The Atlas of Possibility, a 352-page compendium of “all the schemes & dreams that hundreds of New Yorkers and designers around the world shared through the By the City / For the City process,” a crowd-sourced competition for urban design interventions (winning entries here.)