Great Park(ing) Spaces Pop Up at AIA Convention

Yesterday's pop-up parklets ran with the convention's theme of "Imagine." Here's our assessment of their imagination.

"Lean back," the chalk instruction advised visitors to At Media's Jury Award-winning parklet. And they did. |Photos: Sandy Smith

“Lean back,” the chalk instruction advised visitors to At Media’s Jury Award-winning parklet. And they did. |Photos: Sandy Smith


That’s the theme of this year’s American Institute of Architects convention in Philadelphia.

But imagine what?

Seven local architects, designers and firms that work closely with architects and builders each had their own answer to that question yesterday when they competed for a jury prize and public favor at Day One of the two-day Saint-Gobain Parklet Design Competition.

Regrettably, each of those two competitions gave out only one award, and there was enough variety and creativity in the entries that just about all of them deserved a “best” award of some sort. So I’ll make up some:

Best Concept: At Media’s parklet started with the main idea behind parklets to begin with: taking the street back from the dominance of the automobile. “Imagine a world without cars” was the unifying theme for the branding firm’s huge chaise lounge, where you could recline on a grass incline and add your thoughts in chalk on the pavement. What would the street signs look like in this world? Who better to design them than street artist Kid Hazo, whose ginormous parking ticket was also part of the display. Swag bags At Media prepared for the parklet contained their own reinterpretations of common road advisory signs.

The Coopers Ferry Partnership's healthy parklet.

The Coopers Ferry Partnership’s healthy parklet.

Most Educational: The Cooper’s Ferry Partnership invited visitors to take a ride on a stationary bike. In doing so, they powered a single drop of water on a path to sustainability. The purpose was to demonstrate how the partnership’s sustainability and urban health initiatives aim to empower Camden residents to take charge of their own health and their environment, in the process learning to overcome the challenges of living in a food desert by do-it-yourself actions such as growing one’s own fresh vegetables and fruit. And between the bike ride and the free blood pressure screenings, the parklet also encouraged visitors to take charge of their own health as well.

Best Metaphor: The booth designed by dMAS Architects took Thomas Holme’s city plan of 1682 as its inspiration with a three-dimensional grid-inspired booth where visitors could either stake their claim to one of the original plots of land or offer their own reflections on the city and the neighborhoods that comprise it, with a wall of crayons provided for each of these purposes.

Most Polished: The Gensler Philadelphia office’s Technicolor display took the prize for precision engineering: the architects and designers at that firm used computer-aided cutting tools to carve a bench out of plywood boards painted in just about all of the colors of the rainbow. The “colorPHL” exhibit sought to emphasize the city’s diversity and natural beauty (via an array of small potted plants) while encouraging both conversation and relaxation via the bench’s undulating shape — which reminded me of the most original transit station bench design I’ve ever seen, an example of which appears in the gallery below. I was told any resemblance between the two designs is purely coincidental.

Best Recycling Job: A defunct paint company provided the base material for MGA Partners‘ spectrum-bending backdrop, which formed a rainbow of a different sort via the subtle gradations of color in the arrays of paint swatches hung from wires suspended in a catenary fashion from bent wood poles.

The "Vertical Fairy Tale"

The “Vertical Fairy Tale”

Best Reinterpretation of a Rock Climbing Wall: “Imagine you are a giant and you come upon a vertical cliff face covered in a veil that creates interstitial space behind its translucence,” begins Francis Cauffman’s description of the “Vertical Fairy Tale” the firm installed for the competition. That veil — a sheet of thin white fabric — was punctuated, or rather punctured, by rods with colored tennis balls on their ends; the rods in turn were set in channels that determined how the balls could be moved: vertically for the yellow ones, horizontally for the green ones, and in and out for the pink ones. This rather geeky creation was also a means of getting visitors to imagine how architects and designers shape space.

Best Start on the Path to a Career in The Design Professions: This award, of course, goes to the students at the AIA Philadelphia-sponsored Charter High School for Architecture and Design (CHAD) who produced the part-post-industrial, part-green parklet that sat at the eastern end of the competition area in the 1200 block of Arch Street. Much like At Media’s parklet at the opposite end, this display sought to capture the energy of the city’s creative spirits, a group that includes the creators themselves.

If I had to pick a Best Overall, it would be a tie between the At Media parklet and the Coopers Ferry Partnership one, both of which in their own way sought to display in concrete — no, make that wood and grass (and plants and chalk) — form what a better world might look like and how it would function. The architects on the jury weren’t quite as torn between the two: they gave their prize to At Media.

There was one more parklet at the competition, a flower-bedecked display that served as the “exhibition booth” for sponsor Saint-Gobain, showcasing the design of the company’s new North American headquarters in Malvern. Forms from nature such as waves and honeycombs figure prominently in the curving building’s interior spaces. Designed by Bernardon on the outside and Jacobs on the inside, the building also represents the company’s effort to produce an environmentally sustainable building that works for its employees.

I did learn a little bit of trivia about the French-based firm, the world’s oldest building-products company: It was founded in 1665 at the command of the king of France to make the mirrors for the famed Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. They do a lot more than that with glass, and other substances, today.

Another set of competitors have their parklets up now; you can check them out and vote for your favorites in the 1200 block of Arch Street, in front of the Center for Architecture and Design, until 7 p.m.

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