A Refocused Perception of Place and Parking: The Sidewalk Shroud

Each year since 2005, PARK(ing) Day unites architects, artists, and activists for a noble cause: pushing towards improving the quality of public spaces and reclaiming the streets for the people. Their task: to transform a regular, single metered, parking space into a temporary public exhibit. The installations have ranged from public parks with benches and trees to lemonade stands and recycling centers. Driven by variable ideas and actions, the designs differ widely in form and function; one parking space even held a wedding. This year, KSS Architects designed and constructed the “Sidewalk Shroud” at Washington Square Park, a pop-up sanctuary for pedestrians to experience their normal commute in a new and profound way.

“Two factors that are not often considered in someone’s parking spot, sidewalk, and commute experience are other passersby and contextual surroundings,” said Becker Raab, one of the dedicated members of the KSS design team. This year, KSS’s design was conceptualized under the leadership of Melanie Whedon, Jordan Mrazik, Jesse Wilks, and Becker. Born from a Design Practice Group 8x8 charrette to visualize “Civic Symbiosis”, the months-long process to define the final form, detail the construction, and inspire visitors to consider the relationship of the habitat and inhabitant produced the Sidewalk Shroud.

The driving goal: offer the unique opportunity to reflect and experience the local cityscape that an individual might otherwise miss on a daily commute.

“A room within the city provides a disconnect from the surrounding activity, allowing for a reconsideration of context.” — Becker Raab, Architectural Intern

Together, the team hand-constructed a private room in only 90 minutes, using wooden frames draped with sheer white cloth and an opening to the sky. The interior space conveyed the privacy of a room with a vague disconnect from the hustle and bustle surrounding the installation. Two benches sit in the middle facing each other, inviting strangers to take a second to pause, reflect, and enjoy the company of their fellow explorer.

Conceptual design development of the parklet.

Through the layering of the translucent fabric, the changing daylight produced a beautiful and elegant visual experience to the many visitors who occupied its structure. After testing dozens of materials at local shops down Philadelphia’s fabric row, the team selected the white material, for its transparency, texture, and workability. The Sidewalk Shroud offers a vivid experience like none other, creating a unique way to perceive the movements and moments of a city as alive as Philadelphia. A visitor of the Sidewalk Shroud described her experience as a “cross-modal analogue for the busy world around.”

Metal rods slipped in the end of the fabric curtains, two layers of translucent drapery formulating an internal space, the tree canopy engulfing the installation, and the skyline peeking through the top all united to enhance the experience. The rhythm of the metal rods on wooden beams and the responsive swaying fabric in the breeze added to the visitor’s immersion with its variance to the cars speeding by and conversations drifting in and out all around. “The interior was completely activated in fleeting distortions while the frame of leaves, sky, and towering building above offered stability and tranquility,” noted Grace Chi, Marketing Manager.

At the conclusion of PARKing Day, the office team dismantled the structure, donating the majority of the materials to the local Habitat for Humanity. The rousing success exceeded its primary objective — to engage members of the Philadelphia community with public spaces, to interact and experience the city with refocused perceptions, and to deviate from regular routine to embrace the environment around. The key concepts of PARKing Day manifested in the Shroud — a space where art, activism, awareness, and architecture are integrated into a purposeful whole.

“[Philadelphia] is full of incredible things — sometimes it just takes a space and the opportunity to see that.” — Jordan Mrazik, Architectural Intern

Background

Since the firm’s founding, KSS employees have been committed to engaging the public through purposeful design. Practicing professionals dedicated to the local community, our employees invest time and energy to spark dialogues about society, the environment, and the world around us through architecture and design.

KSS has crafted installations for PARKing Day Philadelphia for consecutive years, assuming the responsibility to deliver public spaces that inspire and delight members of Philadelphia. Of particular note: several elements of KSS’s installation last year were donated to Philly’s Charter High School for Architecture + Design.

The staff were delighted to witness the adaptive re-use of previous installations, by the designers of the future, to produce new sights and experiences. Our involvement with PARKing day is just one of many avenues that we create community impact — through members of the firm and interaction with the public. Major thanks to the core team, as well as support by Jessica Mangin, Matthew Claus, Dan Chong, and other staff, who contributed to the many phases of the Sidewalk Shroud.

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