Saturday, October 3, 2009

Scaffold Squatter City

Check out BLDGBLOG's latest post. It's a report on a fascinating project called the Museum of the Phantom City by Irene Cheng and Brent Snyder and sponsored by the Van Alen Institute. This virtual museum is an interactive (via iPhone what else?) cataloguing of possible futures for Manhattan. I just downloaded the app and I can't wait to put it to use. The graphics are beautiful; sites with many possible futures are brightened orbs on a darkened Google Earth map of the city. The app calculates your location and shows you (as a very faint orb - no future for me?) on the map as well. Jackson Heights is far away from any possible future...
One of the speculative scaffolding projects I'm currently allowing to gestate a bit is a hyperbolic future landscape of the city in which scaffolding and sidewalk sheds have been allowed to proliferate without regulation in a city devastated by the bankruptcy of the city in the '70s. Let me back up a bit - and I'm sorry there are not yet any illustrations:
New York in the 1970s was not the gentrified and relatively tourist friendly NYC that we are all so familiar with today. It's an old story, but New York almost went bankrupt. Almost. What would have happened? There was no money for city services. Let's say the ripple effect forced banks to foreclose on thousands of properties in the city. Let's also say that as those buildings began to deteriorate from lack of maintenance, that the receivers of those buildings put up sidewalk sheds and scaffolding to avoid injury to passersby (more out of a fear of lawsuits than fear of fines).

(Ponte Vecchio in Florence. Image courtesy

Like a medieval Italian bridge, we could go on to speculate that these temporary structures would go on to stay in place for years, if not decades, centuries. The squatters in the buildings start to make use of the temporary structures as well, extending the 'private' rooms of the adjacent buildings into the 'airspace' of the sidewalk. Makeshift gardens and terraces appear at first, but then after the first few winters, the more resourceful of the squatters start to weatherize their shelters. Soon there are entire duplex and triplex 'apartments' added to the existing buildings. Without the resources (or the political will) to evict the squatters, a new 'scaffold law' is enacted to protect the homesteaders...

(Trial-Living in Slubfurt by Christian Hasucha)

1 comment:

Lauren said...

Other than New York, there are still many cities in the developing world that has many beautiful medieval and artistic structures which have not been well published yet. Would encourage readers to send in different posts showcasing some of these structures to share.