By Brian J. Pape, AIA
It seemed like the city began to change overnight, evoking comparisons to Paris or Rome, with so many sidewalk cafes opening up in response to the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020.
NYC was one of the first cities to severely limit gatherings to restrict virus spreading, harkening back to previous pandemics over a century ago. In response to pleas from the restaurant industry, the city issued guidelines to allow restaurants to self-certify their use of the public right-of-way for outdoor seating with simple barriers, measurements for spacing, and avoiding obstacles and traffic. This replaced the previous regulations and permits that were enforced by local community boards.
As warm weather turned cold, restaurants needed configurations that were more substantial and also customized for their locations, but they didn’t know quite where to begin. Some restaurants opted for prefab tents, cabanas, or “greenhouses” for their customers.
Last March, Michael K. Chin formed a group with other architects, called Design Advocates, and offered pro bono design services to help communities with design issues. Seeing a city-wide need, he also helped NYCxDESIGN form a similar group of architects, called The Design Corps, facilitated by the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIANY) and the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC).
Chen stated on a recent AIANY webinar, “Right now, all the designs are prototypes; our challenge is to make true dining spaces with character.” The webinar moderator, Michael Kimmelman of the NY Times, said, “I grew up in the Village—Sixth Avenue, when it was a two-way, eight-lane street. I worked with Sam Schwartz to promote bike bridges over the rivers. We worked on how to place a value on street activity, not just for parked cars, but defined for civic activity and interaction.”
NYCxDESIGN was first established in 2012 as a city council initiative to convene and promote the design industry in New York. NYCxDESIGN (https://www.nycxdesign.com) is calling upon designers, architects, and the broader design community who are individually licensed or associated with a firm to provide pro bono design services to help restaurants successfully reopen. The services include meeting with business owners and providing recommendations to help improve their spaces and ensure compliance with the requirements of the city.
NYCxDESIGN hopes the collaboration between designers and restaurants leads to creative solutions that could be used to help other businesses in the future. All design and restaurant participants agree to share lessons learned and best practices of their completed products.
Unfortunately, NYCxDESIGN’s website doesn’t list the restaurants they have collaborated with, so we will give a brief tour of the variety of architectural designs, whether they were helped by NYCxDESIGN or not.
Brian J. Pape is a LEED-AP “green” architect consulting in private practice, serves on the Manhattan District 2 Community Board, is co-chair of the American Institute of Architects NY Design for Aging Committee, and is a journalist who writes about architecture.