In 2018, San Francisco plans to give Market Street a serious facelift. But first the city wanted a way to gather community input and include citizens in the design process. This was the beginning of the Market Street Prototyping Festival, which in April will unveil the work of 50 design teams up and down Market’s sidewalks. The 50 teams were selected from more than 200 submissions by a jury made up of experts from local design firms, community organizations, technology companies, and government.
The festival will bring artists, designers, architects, and makers into the communities that crisscross Market Street, putting their prototypes on public display for three days. “We believe in public spaces that are about the ideas and aspirations of the public themselves, not about us telling them what they should be aspiring to,” said Neil Hrushowy, manager of the City Design Group for the San Francisco Planning Department in a promo film from the festival’s website.
The festival is the result of a partnership between the San Francisco Planning Department, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and the Knight Foundation. “What we’ve learned is that when we step back and allow the creative genius that’s here in San Francisco to merge with the community, the people who know Market Street the best, that’s when we have design ideas and solutions that create a sense of identity, a connection that really resonates with people, said Hrushowy.
In October each of the winning projects received a $2,000 grant to help them get to the next phase of development and implementation. The funding will support design teams as they work to refine, fabricate and install their designs in “street life zones” within five “Festival Districts” along Market Street.
Projects range from simple signage to high-tech installations. One project, Habit(At), by Russian Hill resident Dan Sullivan, proposes a network of mesh “safety nets” slung under trees along Market Street. The nets would catch the thousands of Western Swallowtail caterpillars that usually meet an untimely demise under the feet of commuters, enabling them to make it to the butterfly stage. Another, Common Ground, by Stanford-based Cloud Arch Studio, proposes an interactive pavilion made up of a grid of seating, landscape and pavement elements, all connected to an “unexpected” series of water features. The project is conceived as a “game” in which the water features are triggered when corresponding seating and pavement grids are occupied.
Each district is being overseen by “Design Captains” from local companies and institutions like the Exploratorium, Studio for Urban Projects, Gehl Architects, California College of the Arts, and Autodesk. The captains will help shepherd the projects assigned to their districts through development, fabrication, and installation.
To ensure that ideas from local communities are incorporated into designs, teams will also be participating in public forums. “We can’t make things behind closed doors or have a few people thinking about problems and challenges that affect so many hundreds of thousands of people,” said Deborah Cullinan, executive director for the Yerba Buena Center.
Designers will collect feedback about their designs after installation, and at the end of the festival the city plans to take the best ideas, refine and incubate them, and make them a part of the new Market Street in 2018.