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The Shed Overhead
New competition sets sights on New York's 6,000 construction sheds
Courtesy DOB

New York’s congested streetscapes have gotten a lot of attention by the Bloomberg administration. Now, the Department of Buildings (DOB) and the AIA New York chapter are turning their sights to construction sheds with an international competition to improve these ubiquitous structures. While the all-too-familiar sheds shield pedestrians from debris and rain, they impede the visibility of street-level businesses and create dark corridors at night for pedestrians, and have hardly changed since the 1960s.

The UrbanShed competition seeks designs for a new construction shed outside of the Department of Buildings offices at the corner of Broadway and Chambers Street. But the system should be readily adaptable for use throughout the city. “Sidewalk sheds play a critical role in protecting New Yorkers during ongoing construction projects, but they can also hide the city’s breathtaking architecture and one-of-a-kind streetscapes,” said DOB Commissioner Robert LiMandri in a statement. “That’s why we are inviting the leading architects, designers, and students from around the world to develop a new kind of sidewalk shed—one that is not only safe and functional, but is also pleasing to the eye.”

According to the competition brief, there are currently more than 6,000 sheds across the city. “The current standard shed detail is problematic in regard to safety, sustainability, and the streetscape, and has not changed despite the fact that sheds are much more prevalent and up for longer than before,” Rick Bell, executive director of AIA New York, wrote in an email. “Even before the downturn, there were many locations where sheds went up and simply did not come down, hurting shops made less visible and playing havoc with any semblance of reasonable urban design quality.”

The jury will select three finalists from the submitted designs to advance to a second stage, and each finalist will receive a $5,000 stipend. The winner will receive $10,000, and the Downtown Alliance will help to construct a prototype of the winning scheme.

Jurors for the UrbanShed competition include City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden, Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri, Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, David Childs of SOM, Craig Dykers of Snohetta, Craig Schwitter of Buro Happold, Ada Tolla of LOT-EK, and Jean Oei of Morphosis.

Along with the DOB and AIA New York, the competition is sponsored by the Downtown Alliance, the New York Building Congress, the Illuminating Engineering Society, the Structural Engineers Association of New York, and the Departments of City Planning and Transportation.

Alan G. Brake