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  • Writer's pictureDavid Mans


An Urban Oasis Below a Cloud of Green


Broadway Avenue which runs the length of Manhattan from the South Street tip through to the Bronx and beyond has the unique characteristic of running on its own path through the length of New York. This path which spans from the old crisscrossing roadways in the city’s south through the rigid grid which defines the bulk of the cities streets. As it travels it’s unique character creates unique islands in the way it interfaces with the cities various road systems. These unique islands, which has created conditions for some of the most well-known landmarks in the city such as the Flatiron building have also defined many of the cities most active smaller parks. As such most of these islands are appropriated as small sitting parks or memorial sites and recently these parks have been expanded into the streets themselves.

However, not all islands have yet to be exploited to their potential or contribute to the culture of a given locality. For some of these the heavy pedestrian cross traffic requires a majority of the surface area be open and connected. REfresh engages these sites, building an urban event around the movement of people using passive elements to enhance the quality of life of the city. REfresh is built around the concept of moving the park above the pedestrians path, creating a space of light and shadow beneath a living/cooling cloud. REfresh proposes a system and approach to a wide array of sites in Manhattan.

The characteristics of each location’s pedestrian movement, its geometry, its objects, trees, statues, civic elements all inform different solutions and unique character to each place within a common language of elements. Each aspect of the design is driven by these factors, so no two distinct sites would derive the same result. The selected site of Richard Tucker Square presents an ideal confluence of factors. The park is located in a heavily trafficked area adjacent to Lincoln Center in a active business district. As a primary part of cross Broadway circulation it bridges several crosswalks and requires multiple combinations of traffic flow and is adjacent to an entry to the subway. The park itself is low impact consisting of moveable furniture and planters. Only permanently inhabited by trees, a few light posts and a small statue. 

Ripples are formed around the intermingling circulation paths which connect to all points of entry onto the island. These create semi direct but interwoven circulation flowing from any point to another within the volume. The outer bounds consisting of recut waste concrete function as seating platforms for visitors to the island oasis, and as platforms for the photovoltaic panels, while functioning as compression pads for the cloud units. The inner rows are constructed of re purposed wood and serve as interior seating, storage pods, trash receptacles and signage locations as needed. Flowing over the circulation paths, the vaulted cloud’s geometry responds to the intensity of cross circulation below. Arching over walking paths and vaulting over moments of adjacency and overlap a dynamic and constantly changing ceiling scape envelopes inhabitants. The composite cloud membrane is layered with a regularly sized planter unit on the top whose bed depth is regulated by the type of plant it holds. This sits on a regularized connector piece which bridges the planter with the custom cut re purposed wood below that provides the smooth geometry to the underside ceiling. The diameter of the oculus of each of these cells, which provide natural sunlight during the day, is determined by the bed size of the hexagonal planters. These are in turn driven by the distance from the trees and the amount of natural day light required by the plants. This varying diameter creates dynamic and varied shadows on the walkways which ripple in light away from the origin trees. Each pattern is unique to the location and elements which permeate the cloud membrane as well as the regional conditions which determine the plant types and therefore the geometric requirements of the planters. The array and diversity of plant life chosen would additionally be unique to each site as the particular challenges to be addressed or contextual pallet would inform the variety and type of plants. 

For Richard Tucker Square which is at the crossing of two major avenues plants with the capacity for high CO2 absorption may be favorable while a mixture of broad leaf plants would provide a heat island reduction in what is a highly open and paved region. While the adjacency to the Lincoln Center performing arts center suggests a vibrant pallet of color for the flowering plants. 

Interspersed around the perimeter of the outer ripple bands of photovoltaic cells provide energy for an array of diffused LED lighting bands spread at two sectional stratas in the cloud. These lights provide the primary illumination during the night and low daylight hours. This distributed lighting system with intermittent light level sensors allows each hexagonal light ring to adjust to meet its individual lighting needs, minimizing the amount of energy spent of illumination. Additionally, this capacity could be extended to include coloration which would allow for curation of the lighting experience. The pedestrian circulation beneath the composite membrane maintains a human and intimate scale through its passages while opening up in areas of confluence providing open spaces for moveable tables and public events. Separating its occupants from the speed and noise of the roadways which define the site, and cooling the air through shade and planting. The inner ripples of loosely programmed modules can be customized to meet the functional and programmatic needs of each site, acting as consistently dimensioned but texturally varied frames for development. 

The layers of the REfresh cloud composite system work together to create diverse and responsible experience for both the pedestrian user which it is formed about and the urban onlooker who views the cloud as a richly textured object. Each element seeks to address a challenge whether is its air quality, or soil restoration, heat island, material reclamation or urban place making which merging into a vibrantly diverse texture of material, color and spatial experience all for the passive enhancement of the everyday experiences, as an urban oasis beneath a cloud of green


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