BY BRIAN LIBBY
Two years ago the Portland Bureau of Transportation inaugurated its Street Seats program, which allows businesses and non-profit organizations to convert on-street parking spots into other public uses, such as café seating or miniature parks. Based on similar programs in San Francisco and New York City, the program enlivens the city's already pedestrian-oriented streetscape by creating spaces for Portlanders to enjoy congregating outdoors for conversations or to eat and drink, which in turn enhances street vitality and benefits local businesses.
In tandem with the city's Street Seats program, the Portland chapter of the American Institute of Architects and its nonprofit Center For Architecture have sponsored a second-annual juried Street Seats Competition. With the theme of “Active Streets,” designers were asked to create healthy, social and playful structures, with the winners displayed in front of the CFA on NW Flanders Street in the Pearl District, beginning today on national Parking Day and staying there for the rest of the month. After that they'll be re-installed at two to-be-determined locations on NE Alberta Street as part of the Alberta Main Street initiative.
Two winning projects and an honorable mention were announced earlier this week. The winners were "Log Dam," by the team of Nick Byers, Collin Janke, and Dan Petrescu (all from Hennebery Eddy Architects), and "A Dialogue" by a team from Scott Edwards Architecture including Ali Karlen, Ryan Yoshida, Jesse Graden, Brian Morris, James Lee, Sarah Cantine, Joe Broder, Andrew Stohner, and Chris Olenyik. Honorable mention went to "Hole Pavilion" by Robert Hutchison and Scott Claassen of Robert Hutchison Architecture.
"A Dialogue" is comprised of two oversized “folding” chairs, each about eight feet tall, that are made into a playful sculpture that is about "poking a bit of fun at the large footprint a car has relative to a couple of simple seats," its team wrote in their submission.
"We start by forming each chair with a prefabricated steel frame and place them facing each other," the team explained. "Then we take the wood-decked floor of the installation and wrap/fold it up and over the frames like a conveyor belt. By using the decking in this way, we suggest that these pieces are to be stepped/sat/leaned on, just like the platform itself. We line the inside of each chair with a splash of color and then create a wood-edged planter, full of tall grasses, to define the street edge. The top of each 'seat' is at approximately forty-two inches. At this height, someone could use it as a table to stand at while eating their bento; a perch to sit on and swing their legs while talking to their friend; or a shady spot for their dog to rest while leaning against it and composing a text message. From the street, the chairs can be seen from a distance, and perhaps read as a nice place to sit in a small field of grass. From the front seat of a car, the chairs may not appear oversized at all, but simply a nice place to park your butt."
"Log Dam," as its name suggests, takes its inspiration from conglomerations of fallen logs. "A fallen tree in the forest means new beginnings for plants and animals, and is commonly referred to as a 'nurse log,' they write. "Other fallen trees and woody debris near rivers find their way down stream, where they accumulate to form logjams. Their interlocking character naturally alters the flow and speed of the river, varying its depth, and creating new riparian habitat."
The intertwined wood beams and colorful grasses of Log Dam "contrast the predictable character of the city sidewalk," the creators explain. "While exploring its sculptural form, visitors discover its levels and ledges provide diverse 'habitat' for varied types of experiences; from refuge to chance encounters. This parklet of logs brings life to a previously neglected space for cars." It's about "finding comfortable and inviting places to sit, to reflect, and to socialize near plants are coveted spaces in urban environments."
The "Hole," project, which received honorable mention, seeks to go beyond the idea of street furniture. "Our proposal is an architectural one," its creators write. "A free-standing pavilion has been designed to respond equally to the sidewalk as well as the street, critiquing the idea that parking spaces should be used merely for seating, much less parking. A pre-fabricated wood frame structure serves as scaffolding for suspended plywood panels, which can be individually raised and lowered to accommodate a multitude of programs, and to provide for various spatial conditions. Each of the panels is perforated with numerous holes in various sizes and configurations. With panels in the up position, a beautiful light filters down from above. With panels in the down position, the holes provide for unobstructed views from the inside of the pavilion to the street. Moveable street seats will be fabricated using the ‘holes’ cut from the plywood panels."
Congratulations to all of the winners.