New York City Launches International Design Competition For A Safer, More Appealing Sidewalk Shed of the Future

Sidewalk sheds are typically wooden structures (nowadays usually painted blue) built over public space to protect pedestrians during construction activity. Walking around Manhattan while trying to avoid walking under a sidewalk shed can be a true challenge. There is currently more than 6,000 sidewalk sheds installed and in use today at New York Citys buildings and construction sites, spanning more than 1,000,000 linear feet.

A lawyer for insurance companies once told me that because he has defended so many cases in which a pedestrian or construction worker was injured due to a collapse or other calamity involving a sidewalk shed, he would never, ever walk under one. Besides, they’re hideous-looking. On August 13, 2009, the Department of Buildings and the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects launched the urbanSHED International Design Competition – a competition to tap the global design community to develop the sidewalk shed of the future.

The competition challenges the global design community to create a new standard of sidewalk shed design that improves the pedestrian experience while maintaining or exceeding the required safety standards in New York City. The urbanSHED International Design Competition is open to architects, engineers, designers, and students from around the world, allowing for the widest possible participation. Finalists will receive $25,000 in awards and winner to see design built in lower Manhattan.

The intent is to find a design that is not only safe and functional but is also pleasing to the eye and complementary to the beauty of the city’s neighborhoods. A design that will not only improve the pedestrian experience but will also benefit retailers and their customers. One that will disprove the belief that sidewalk sheds are inevitable eyesores.

The designs also must be cost-effective to produce, install, maintain, and reuse over time. Criteria to be considered include the designs safety, sustainability, and constructability. Designs also will be evaluated on their impact on the streetscape and pedestrian experience, use of both natural light and the required electrical lighting, and improvements to structural components.

It will not be easy in view of the many complexities that shed contractors must face when erecting these structures, including heavy pedestrian traffic, car passenger access, street parking, public doorways, loading docks, parking garage entries, bus shelters, coffee carts, storefront, retail and DOT signage. But if a design that genuinely meets the criteria wins the competition, the City will surely not look the same.

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