2004 Annual Design Review Concepts Best of Category
Cities harbor unused space that can be put to more creative purposes. That is the premise of a series of urban interventions designed for the Yucca Corridor, a depressed neighborhood in Hollywood, California. “Finding Public Space in the Margins,” a proposal by Jeanine Centuori and Russell Rock of UrbanRock Design, includes eight collapsible public amenities to enliven the streetscape. Color-coded neighborhood markers called Site Portals focus pedestrian attention on local landmarks. In Fence Concert, bleachers, canopies, tables, and chairs attach to existing fences, transforming sidewalks into high-activity zones. For Give and Take, colorful rubber tubes are inserted into unsightly chain-link fences to create texture, visual interest, even seating. Lean-To activates side alleys and rear yards with an extra wall plane that provides shelter and display space. Slim Stores are movable vending kiosks and seating designed for the edges of parking lots. Water Bar consolidates public showers, restrooms, and drinking fountains into a single unit. Ped Stop, a collapsible canopy and bench unit, can accommodate pay phones, newspaper dispensers, announcements, and maps. And the eco-minded Park or Play directs runoff from open fire hydrants to nurture the growth of vines planted along blank walls.
Visual wit, low cost, simple modularity, and innate interactivity all distinguished the concept. But modesty may have been its strongest selling point. As Schlossberg said, the project underscored the value of considering “how you can improve a place incrementally rather than just always build new things.” Jurors discussed its potential application by civic groups, neighborhood associations, municipalities, and business improvement districts. “It’s about reclaiming what’s left over,” said Robbins. “This project says we need to look off the beaten path.”
Los Angeles-based UrbanRock Design, a multidisciplinary practice that blends art, architecture, and urban design, was established in 2000 by architect Jeanine Centuori and artist Russell Rock.
Q+A with Jeanine Centuori and Russell Rock UrbanRock Design
How did the project come about? It was initiated through a series of discussions about ways in which public space might be created in urban neighborhoods that did not have available or open space. Through our academic pursuits, we became involved with some nonprofit organizations that were working toward neighborhood beautification. The Yucca Corridor Coalition was one of these. Rather than giving them a collection of catalogue street furniture, hardscape, and plantings, we saw their neighborhood as a test case for urban activism. The inhabitants were already using mundane surfaces and structures for their own purposes. We proposed to create a collection of more permanent and flexible elements that would generate places of meeting and discovery, use and comfort, in the spaces around and surfaces of the built environment. They were interested in new ideas and an influx of energy to their neighborhood, so it was a good fit.
Can you envision the installations working in other cities or urban environments? We realized very early on in the project that the Yucca Corridor was emblematic of a condition that exists in many large U.S. cities—the large commercial artery flanked by multi-family housing and few open spaces. It is a place many people come through, but now lacks public areas within the residential portion. The design structure could be applied to several other cities. Specific solutions could be crafted to reflect the peculiarities of climate, topography, and vernacular cultural uses. Of course, we see broad applications for some of our current proposals.
What would these public amenities be made of? We are seeking to develop prototypes of the projects. Some of them have very defined materiality, such as the tubes of the Give and Take piece, while others require design development for durability and functionality. A project like Slim Stores might have a variety of materials depending on a module’s use. The clothing display might be formed plastics and stainless-steel rods, while a food store might have stainless or enameled metal with wood. Our thinking has been that development will take on issues of modularity and maintenance.
Will any of the furniture be produced? We have been going back and forth with a few cities’ agencies and development groups about building some of the work. There has been a great deal of interest in the designs. Hopefully, a couple of them will get off, or on, the ground in the next year.
Client The Yucca Corridor Coalition, Los Angeles Design UrbanRock Design, Los Angeles: Jeanine Centuori, Russell Rock, principals; Sonny Ward, Jesie Kelly, assistants Software Adobe Photoshop, Form-Z, VectorWorks