The project of the Urban Living Room began in the neighborhood of our office, the Meatpacking District in New York. This historical neighborhood has undergone various transformations with the decline of industrial uses: The Highline Park opened a new Whitney Museum of American Art will open in 2012, and various developments are in construction. In the summer of 2009 the Meatpacking District Initiative commissioned Balmori Associates to propose a new design for the public spaces that the DOT (Department Of Transportation) had previously assigned for pedestrian use. We decided to use non traditional methods to come up with the design.
We first asked what should a public place be? We set up an online forum with live video feed and though twitter and invited landscape architect Erik de Jong, planner Arnold van der Valk and their 40 Dutch students to discuss urban public space in American and European contexts. We extended the conversation to the neighborhood of our office by participating in New York festival for contemporary psychogeography, “Conflux City 2009”, and we also made a video that could be shown in various online blogs. The discussion touched on topics that include ecology, funding, furniture and materials, program, public/private, public amenities, scale, and circulation/traffic.
As a result we collected ideas on shareable space, urban decorum, and contextual appropriateness; with them we developed design principles for the Urban Living Room: Re-use materials – design to avoid waste create rough, industrial aesthetics Keep it simple – Low tech and inexpensive construction and maintenance Anticipate changing requirements – plan for easy reconfiguration
The Urban Living Room is made of simple, inexpensive and interchangeable elements – a base, a pole, a canopy – to perform the functions of planter, shading, space partition, seating, lighting, rainwater collector…and even a birdhouse. Put together, these components create a public place, a space where one can linger, relax, and just be, a space which puts people in touch with a new nature – a nature which includes us and which we enter into, not as conquerors, but as explorers and companions. The ideas pursued in the Urban Living Room are scientific and poetic—scientific in showing self-sustainable ecologies that enhance urban biodiversity; poetic in inviting people into close relationships with an ever-changing nature.
In June of 2010 Balmori Associates took the Urban Living Room to the first edition of Rome Architecture Festival, La Festa dell’ Architettura di Roma. Balmori Associates provided the organization “Civico Zero / Save The Children Italia” with guidelines for the construction of an Urban Living Room. The children and adolescents of the association, who recently arrived in Rome from Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe, often homeless, sometime without papers, and who do not speak Italian or English, built their Urban Living Room.
When conceived for the Meatpacking District in New York, the base of the components was a barrel filled with gravels and cement or with soil when used as a planter; the poles were galvanized steel; the seating, rubber mats made from tires; the canopy and partition, a printed sail cloth… Materials on hand in Rome were different from the ones selected for the New York City project: the barrel was replaced by cars and trucks’ wheels, the poles were orange PVC construction pipes, and the canopy and lightshade were made from an olive collecting net…
Hosted by the Architecture Gallery, Come Se, the Urban Living Room opened in mid-June accompanied by photographs telling the story of the construction of the Urban Living Room taken by one of the adolescents of Save The Children, the young Ivoirian, Mohamed Keita.