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A Closer Look Under the Sidewalk Scaffolding of New York City

A common part of the urban landscape, scaffolds are mostly ignored or detested. But these in-between spaces can also take on a life of their own.
January 13, 2020, 10am PST | Camille Fink
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Zachary Shakked

Penelope Green writes about the ubiquitous sidewalk scaffolding of New York City. She traces the history of scaffolding, about half of which is up because of Local Law 11, passed in 1980 to protect pedestrians from crumbling building facades in need of repair.

"The rest surround construction sites, and, taken together with those protecting facades, the whole adds up to more than 300 miles of scaffolding, much of it in Manhattan. If you think New York City is blanketed in the stuff, you are correct: just look at the Department of Buildings’ interactive map, with each sidewalk shed represented by a blue blob," says Green.

She also explores the diversity of uses of scaffolds—as art canvases, temporary shelter from the elements for humans and animals, and more permanent shelter for the homeless. Urban Umbrella is an attempt to redesign scaffolds to be more aesthetic elements of the urban landscape.

Scaffolding was also the subject of a show at the Center for Architecture, notes Green. "[Curator Greg Barton] wanted to rebrand it as an experimental kit of parts, he said, instead of a necessary nuisance and eyesore. The exhibition displayed work by designers like Assemble, a British collective, that has used scaffolding to design temporary theaters or follies than can be built by novices."

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Published on Thursday, January 2, 2020 in The New York Times
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