Gateways to Chinatown is a design competition organized by the NYC Department of Transportation, Chinatown Partnership and Van Alen Institute.
PKSB’s proposal explores the idea of a “gateway” as a threshold between two spaces. The design explores the form of a single wall and utilizes its double-sided nature to create a multifaceted lens through which the city can be viewed.
The form is abstracted from traditional Chinese garden walls which include various openings called “leak windows.” Leak windows are intended to frame a specific view and are each unique in size, shape and patterning. In both the garden setting and in an urban setting, the objects beyond the window are constantly changing. In this sense, the openings become “living pictures” – ever-changing glimpses into the world beyond.
The wall’s composition locates openings strategically to frame views to the natural and built environment. Carefully carved slots allow vegetation to grow through, over, and around the wall. In this sense, the wall, like the urban fabric, is constantly changing. Smaller openings in the wall can house digital screens that would be interactive and provide information and history on the immediate neighborhood.
The major urban design move is the creation of an open plaza at the western end of the triangle where the current pavilion sits. The 5 gingko trees are relocated to the southern edge of the site within a planting strip directly opposite the storefronts on Walker Street. At the widest portion of the plaza, the existing pavilion is removed and replaced with a true pedestrian gathering space. In this location, we propose an interpretive map of the Chinatown/Little Italy area that would be cast into the concrete paving with selective lighting opportunities. The walking surface becomes interactive while maintaining an openness sufficient to accommodate larger groups of people. The key map will highlight the other “gateways” within the area and will provide wayfinding to each.
The gateway wall is a folded steel plate structure which can be largely fabricated in smaller sections off-site. The metal plates would be finished in a high endurance coating with vibrant colors that reference the brightness and vitality found in the surrounding shop fronts.
Painted in contrasting colors on either side, the wall transforms depending on the visitor’s viewpoint. Each side provides a unique experience and perspective. Each opening in the wall provides a unique window into the past and present life of the site. The design reminds us that when varying ideas, beliefs, and backgrounds converge, the result can be beautiful and inspiring.