Finding Public Space in the Margins

Received Best of Category in I.D. Magazine’s Annual Design Review. Link

Design Team: Jeanine Centuori, Russell Rock, and Kim Shkapich, graphic designer

Assistants: Sonny Ward, Jesie Kelly

With this analysis, we propose an urban design strategy that utilizes marginal spaces, or thickened borders, as sites for amenities that collectively form a public realm.  Numerous bleak and empty surfaces line these margins, and whether thick or thin, solid or porous, strong or weak, often exist as pragmatic barriers that secure and protect territories.  We propose to resurrect these surfaces as sites and participants in the public spaces of an urban residential area through a strategy of finding defining, refining, and redefining.  Surface linings of marginal spaces are privileged as catalysts for design proposals.  They become canvasses on which to inscribe a public realm.  Due to the tight nature of available space in the margins, multiple functions are achieved through expansion and contraction of amenities.  These amenity elements are grafted onto surfaces such as blank walls, chain link fence, parking lot edges, etc.  In their closed or compact state, they accommodate their limited existing functions; in their expanded mode, they address new programs.  Mining the opportunities of surface as flattened space is a tactic to take the left-overs, the margins, and envelop its possibilities.

In many ways the public spaces of urban neighborhoods are those that are stripped bare.  Their very blankness makes them public, the margin to be inscribed.  We sought the most visible and those that exhibited on-going vernacular use.  Our foci were to look and question what was occurring, and to find that which was not being used or might be used differently.  Given differing layers of activity and times of use, we felt a need to explore hybrid programs and expanded versus essential needs.  A guerilla approach property rights and ownership is suggested, but we paid heed to security and quality of life.  Through interviews and canvassing on foot we met residents, found histories, saw people creating spaces for their own purposes, and asked what might be done.  This was coordinated with a thorough measured mapping and extensive photographic documentation.

All of this work was then analyzed and we looked to discover a visual language about the structure of the place.  It was here that we noted the bareness and its orientations- the vertical and horizontal.  Those surfaces and void became our place, our public surface.  After referencing our field notes, photographs, and drafting a schematic of urban alignments, we developed a strategy for the siting and grouping of insertions within the Yucca Corridor neighborhood.  This became our scenarios map. It seeks to describe the placement of a network of newly recognized public spaces over the existing conditions of the Yucca Corridor.