Feb. 18, 2014

Origin Story, Part 2: PROXY as Possibility

As part of AIA SF’s 2011 Architecture and the City festival titled Architecture of Consequenceenvelope a+d [link to About section that mentions envelope on proxysf.local] published the zine ON SITE IN THE CITY. Made in part to supplement the exhibition, the zine supported the firm’s dialogue with Dutch Firm ZUS about how progressive design and creative problem solving can address many of our most pressing urban issues, from decreased social cohesion and unsustainable food systems to diminishing free time. 

This excerpt originally appeared in ON SITE IN THE CITY as part of “PROXY: An Experiment in Flexible Urbanism” by Douglas Burnham. 

Part 2: PROXY as Possibility 

Early in the process, we called our project “PROXY” to convey the idea that what we are proposing is fundamentally a placeholder for a more permanent development and an investigation into the potential of impermanence. The primary mechanism of proxy  is the re-imagining of place: a curated, compelling and opportunistic programming of urban space so that people can start to see possibility where before there was only a void. In studying the possibilities for programming the vacant freeway lots, we quickly realized that any underutilized site—either vacant or those used for surface parking—is an opportunity to insert structures and content with interim uses that transform people’s experience of the city. Programmatic uses that create diverse experiences can be imagined and implemented on a short term basis without undermining the possibility for future densified uses, such as housing, commercial development or public uses. Moreover, programming can be used intentionally to increase the diversity, heterogeneity, and intensity of the city, satisfying both public and private interests and contributing to the larger project of a more fully programmed city.

The idea of PROXY is not only temporary but context-dependent: its development is determined by the specificity of the site. For this reason, the questions we started with in Hayes Valley were: What do these various sites want? What does the neighborhood need? What uses can be supported on each site? What site is right for which use? When we started our investigation, the Hayes Valley Neighborhood already had proposals underway for three separate urban farms, so we focused on the vacant lots that had the potential to support a vibrant urban experience that was different from, but complementary to, what already existed nearby.

For us, the lots with the most potential were along Octavia, between Fell and Hayes Streets and bisected by Linden Alley. These two lots, a surface parking lot and a vacant inaccessible lot, would allow for a multi-faceted project of both culture and commerce due to their immediate proximity to a thriving commercial district and Patricia’s Green Park. We hypothesized a slew of possible temporary programs organized under the headings art, food, retail and community and rooted in San Francisco’s specific cultural tendencies. If the model of proxy  were applied to another site it might result in interim programming of a different form such as neighborhood centers, swimming pools, or playgrounds. Still other sites, depending on the needs of the neighborhood and the condition of the site, might be turned (temporarily) into dense natural environments or spaces of contemplation.

When PROXY reaches its full potential as an urban construct, it will offer a dynamic, interactive and immersive experience with a Northern California sensibility toward the enjoyment of good food, wine, beer, art and design. In the spirit of Archigram and Superstudio, the larger goal of PROXY is to provide a framework for changing content that reflects and responds to the pace of our contemporary culture. Retail, food, art and event programming are housed in the projects’ containers and on its surfaces, with the imperative that rotating content streams will drive diverse and engaging experiences that physicalize the mediated experiences of the web. The spaces within the project also bring people together within the city in relation to the experience of food and drink, outdoor movie screenings, changing events and designed urban play environments. Within the project, the urban void receives the same densification of connected culture that the rural/natural landscape receives in the Instant City and Supersurface projects, creating a responsive content frame.

More installments: