The H+W Curb’d Adventure

Parklets are a temporary use of a parking space within the public right of way that creates a more pedestrian friendly environment and expands the social life of the street. Parklets aren’t new. In fact, coast to coast they’re popping up everywhere. From DC to Seattle, they’re bringing life into public footplaces. That’s what Curb’d, a Haile Foundation project, is doing here in Covington.

Curb’d is an opportunity for Greater Cincinnati-based creative minds to come together and dream-up immersive public experiences, in Covington’s urban core.

H+W got involved in the Curb’d competition to explore the cool ideas that were happening literally all around us in Covington. Since we’re at the center of the activity, we wanted to be a part of helping promote connectivity, walkability and placemaking in our community.

Each H+W employee bought some unique idea or point of view to our chosen idea, “Ride” (see concept drawings); but, it was predominately co-op Jessie Werbeach and Sean Selfe that did most of the heavy lifting for the project, with some guidance from senior project managers, Laura Fitzmorris and Jim Guthrie. 

When asked about the project, the team unanimously decided that the biggest challenge was the technical aspect. At the beginning, we didn’t even know if “Ride” would be possible beyond the concept idea. The idea is that the bikes generate power that lights bulbs inside of a modified, old-school overhead projector. The light casts up through the inside of deconstructed computer monitor that is playing video broadcasted from a nearby computer. When people stop pedaling, the light goes out and the projection stops. 

Jason Ayers, business manager, remarked, “Everything we wanted to do was backwards. No normal person would do it this way. It’s the exact opposite of computer innovation.” After a lot of internet research, and a lot of piecemeal solution finding (for example, someone might know how to get the projector to turn on, but not know how to get the generator to power the movie, someone else might know how to power the movie, but not how to turn the projector back off when the pedaling stopped) the “Ride” concept finally came together and here’s what the team had to say about the experience:

What do you feel were the most fun parts of this project?
Sean: The concepts - creating the concepts, talking about the concepts, and (hopefully) seeing the concepts come to fruition.
Jessie: The problem solving and design challenge. The figuring out if we could actually make it work.

And the most rewarding parts?
Sean: I think seeing it built would be the most rewarding part.
Jessie: Creating documents that communicate what we wanted to say and do, and engaging with the community. Covington is such a cool place and that makes this project so much more fun.

In what ways were you challenged as an architect during this project?
Sean: The scale, and the space constraints. Working within the small parking space…space.
Jessie: It wasn’t a conventional project - it’s not a building; so, working within the space parameters (and budget), and still being creative enough to create something that gets people excited was definitely a challenge.

What did you learn about yourself throughout the project?
Sean: That I’m not a fan of meetings after 7pm.
Jessie: That persistence pays off. A solution is always out there.

How did the project evolve from the starting concept to the actual realization?
Sean: Input from Inspirado, regarding the shade issue, has changed our concept to allow more shade with the canopy. But essentially it’s still the same.
Jessie: The concept is still the same, but with the addition of the canopy gives the project more identity and it’s less generic.

Curb’d defines itself by promoting walkability, connectivity and placemaking, do you, personally, identify with that? Why?
Sean: Yes, draws more people out around town, and placemaking creates a destination. Both of those allow people who don’t come to Covington a reason to come and celebrate Covington.
Jessie: Yes, I think walkable communities are going to become more of a thing, people seem to be leaning towards using less energy, and I think that the best kind of architecture is the kind that people want to take care of themselves and preserve, so parklets and other walkable places will be crucial.

If H+W were to choose a parklet for our space, what do you think would be a good fit for us?
Sean: An outdoor lunch area that had a space for badminton, where we could host more badminton tournaments.
Jessie: Definitely a badminton court…maybe, a floating one.
Covington has already seen its fair share of improvements and changes this year to make it a more welcoming and friendly area, but the addition of parklets will create a sense of intimacy in the street. That’s what makes the parklet experience magical and we hope people keep coming back to them to curl up with a book, or spontaneously interact with friends and neighbors!

Each of us here at H+W have enjoyed the creativity and competitiveness of the Curb’d project. Win or lose, the adventure of this process is a win for us.