Cómo las barreras que usamos definen nuestros espacios y nosotros mismos, de lo mundano a lo enloquecedor.
Aventurándonos desde nuestro estudio en Bushwick Brooklyn en un día claro y fresco, estábamos en busca de cercas en su hábitat natural, en toda su rica variedad.
Las calles de Bushwick están marcadas por pórticos ocupados y jóvenes árboles en la calle, los ocasionales pedazos de infraestructura verde y unas cuantas bancas solitarias – y cercas, muchas, muchas cercas.
LA TAXONOMÍA DE BUSHWICK
LA BARRICADA DECORADA
Many new low-rise single family homes in Brooklyn and Queens are set back from the street edge to accommodate parking requirements, creating a semi-private paved front yard. The activated street wall is replaced by concrete expanse that is typically filled with cars, hardscape and garbage cans. The fence is gracefully telling us to move on. Social interaction is discouraged by its height and pointed finials. The fence is now the front door. And the parking lot the front lawn.
- Soften and make more permeable with open grid pavers and more generous planters
- Create an open boundary defined by a discernable change in paving materials
- Use vegetation instead of brick and wrought iron where a boundary is needed
LA PALISADA DE BASURA
Much of Brooklyn is defined by multi-family and mixed-use buildings that hug the property line. A ubiquitous feature of these buildings is the wrought-iron fence that wraps the front facade, often encroaching on the sidewalk. Intended to protect the ground floor windows (which usually have their own metal bars) the garbage palisade now creates an interstitial dead zone, filled with trashcans, broken furniture and other detritus from our consumer culture. These areas are too small to inhabit. Their cluttered presence squeezes the steps and entrances, making the act of enjoying the front stoop difficult.
- Provide a low planter in place of fence
- Create a bench-like edge condition
- Replace the hardscape with a flush, fully planted five-foot front setback
- A creative solution to garbage storage is required — potential options such as well-designed trash enclosures
- Make it a place for people. If the space is wide enough, it can be inhabited as a place of respite, a place to sit and engage with neighbors.
EL LABERINTO DE LA VIVIENDA PUBLICA
New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) may be the city’s most fence-happy landlord. High, low, old and new, wrought iron and wire mesh, fences define the 2,486 acres NYCHA owns and controls across the city. Often, the barricades layer one on top of another, creating something of a maze. It becomes both clear and unclear where residents can and cannot wander.
While the types of fences have changed over time, the barriers were originally installed to create defensible space, zones of safety for residents fearful of gangs and violence. Public housing has become safer, yet NYCHA residents still cannot access the grassy lawns that should be an amenity. Trees, picnic tables and even play equipment sometimes sit behind padlocked gates, out of reach.
The fences act in a dual manner, and it is hard to determine who is being fenced in and who is being fenced out — their presence charge what could be a great outdoor resource with a sense of fear. The constant control of movement creates a sense of permanent policing. NYCHA owns and controls a vast number of acres in New York — an area three times the size of Central Park that is inhabited by more than 600,000 residents. For youth and adults alike, this landscape is their front and backyard but the private and public is not blurred, it is in lockdown.
- Tear down the fences and replace with low sidewalk edging materials or softscape to delineate boundaries
- Redesign entrance points to NYCHA property, buildings and public gathering areas to feel welcoming and inviting
- Introduce a variety of paving materials to define paths and boundaries
A recent addition to the fence typology, the gentrifier replaces the classic wrought-iron fence with horizontal wood slats. Typically found wrapped around new buildings or modern renovations, these are a signifier that a person of means and contemporary aesthetics has moved in. While some may argue the wooden slats are an improvement over the typical metal picket, hiding trash and blocking views into lower windows, these fences tend to exacerbate an us and them mentality. The gentrifier doesn’t seem very interested in getting to know its neighbors, but its undifferentiated surface is ideal for tagging.
- Increase transparency in the design of slats
- Provide greater texture to the surface
- Add a green wall partially or fully replacing wood slats
- Lower height of the fence
- Integrate seating or planter with fence
EL GUARDIAN DE LA IGLESIA
Churches can be found on nearly every block in Bushwick, from small storefronts to imposing neo-gothic structures. These spaces have historically been the center of communities, welcoming both those that have and those in need. Beyond religious events, churches provide a wide range of social services, but they too are wrapped in fences, typically the most imposing one on the block. With heights reaching above your head, pointed finials and painted dark colors, these fences seem to run counter to the church’s mission.
- Create a welcoming and inviting public entrance with benches and vegetation
- Lower the fence and minimize the use of sharp looking elements
- Where possible, remove the fence and allow the facade of the building to meet the sidewalk freely
EL JARDIN ENJAULADO
The area left between the fence and building façade is all too often a dimension that is not inhabitable, too small for a bench but potentially a width just right for a landscape. There are many examples where residents or landlords have taken the initiative to create an act of beauty, planting roses or hedges or trees in these small areas. But the end effect is less a feeling of softening the streetscape and more a indication that these innocent plants are on trial, fenced away in protection, to be kept away from harm. Is the fence truly still necessary? Will the plants really escape if the fence is torn down? One cannot bend over and smell the roses, an act that should be encouraged in the busy, fast-paced city.
- Remove the fence, trust the plants — and your neighbors
- Let the plants be the boundary
- Lower the fence to allow people to visually engage with the plants
- Distinguish planted areas with raised planters
LA CARCEL DEL COCHE
A strong remnant of Bushwick’s past, the chain-link fence topped with razor wire is an increasingly rare typology. In a city with escalating land values, there are few empty lots, those that remain are generally, and perhaps temporarily, being used for parking. The car prison is often festooned with wind blown plastic bags, trapped in the tines of the wire.
- Create a more friendly pattern to the fence
- Add vines to the fence to increase green space and minimize visibility into the lot
- Cut down the razor-wire