A bright-green installation now snakes through a formerly-dingy and disconnected alley in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee. Designed by Syracuse, New York–based practice SPORTS, City Thread activates the 6,200-square-foot walk-through with 500 feet of linear steel that doubles as public seating.
The project was born out of an international design competition, Passageways 2.0, in which architects were asked to envision a piece of contemporary urban infrastructure that would activate an alleyway in the Southern city’s core. Organized by River City Company, a local nonprofit economic development company, the program was the second iteration of a successful 2016 competition that imagined pop-up pieces in Chattanooga as well.
SPORTS won Passageways 2.0 last summer, and with it, the chance to build City Thread as a permanent installation in the 300-foot-long passage known Cooper’s Alley off 7th Street in downtown Chattanooga. Led by Molly Hunker and Greg Corso, the award-winning, multidisciplinary practice collaborated with NOUS Engineering and Metal Arts Foundry on the project, opening the completed, zig-zagging structure last November. It’s now being marketed as a piece of “art-as-infrastructure” and a series of “urban rooms” that support a range of social activities, formal programming, and casual hangouts.
To create City Thread, SPORTS was limited to a small budget of just $100,000 and asked to design around fixed elements within the alleyway such as AC units, grease traps, doors, vehicle access lanes, and fire hose hookups. The firm circumvented these barriers by building an adaptable installation that utilized a “kit of parts system of design and construction.” With only six formal elements—straight pieces of steel and five different corners, SPORTS created a seamless volume that conforms to the specific clearances in the alley.
The result of City Thread is a new kind of city block for Chattanooga, one that puts pedestrians first and gives way to informal and planned opportunities for social connection. Hunker and Corso told AN in an email that Chattanooga, a city that’s known as a rising tech hub, is keen on building urban infrastructure that encourages both digital and personal connectivity. The “Gig City” is most famous for having the first publically-owned broadband network, a move that spurred economic development and boosted job creation nearly nine years ago. City Thread almost seems like a visual, tactile model of the ultra-fast, fiber-optic internet. It’s another kind of winding network that physically connects locals to one another.
“There’s unbelievably strong support for creative projects, like this one, that bring people together,” said Hunker and Corso. “It’s been particularly exciting to see this new public space come alive with various different activities, and to see the various interpretations of the space by different people.”
SPORTS was recently named AN’s 2018 Best of Design Award winner for Young Architects. Established in 2010, the firm has designed and constructed both large- and small-scale architectural installations around the country. Both Hunker and Corso currently teach architecture at Syracuse University.