June 7, 2010

What if the most typical constraint of urban isolation, the fence, is catalyzed to provoke social interactions among otherwise apathetic neighbors? Architect Joseph Altshuler turned this question into a proposal for a public intervention within the confines of private property. The traditional boundary transforms into a set of social opportunities.


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Traditional fence. © Joseph Altshuler.

Elements of amusement

A lexicon of backyard leisure activities program this new and distinctly urban middle ground. By repurposing the familiar vocabulary of backyard amusement into the fence itself, specific interventions will engage neighbors on both sides of the fence. This “periodic table” calibrates leisure activities by type and participant intensity. Interventions can be staged to program every Element! Prototyped Elements are highlighted. In the current urban condition, the fence separates and isolates these social activities. What if the fence facilitated and enhanced these Elements?

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Elements of amusement. © Joseph Altshuler.

Teeter Totter Fun Fence

Inspired by NEXT Architect’s prototype for an interactive Table Tennis Fence, de[FENCING] is a proposal for a public intervention within the confines of private property: what if the ubiquitous boundary of the urban fence is transformed into a social hub? It has been said that the fundamental act of architecture is to delineate borders; to mark territory by ascribing difference and locating thresholds. By literally inserting playful opportunities into a proverbial boundary, radical adjacencies and social opportunities are created; the boundary is de-delineated.

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Teeter Totter Fun Fence. © Joseph Altshuler.

Lazy Susan Picnic Table

  1. In the closed position, the Lazy Susan Picnic Table remains a functional bench. The surface of the Lazy Susan tray itself doubles as a chalk board, and acts as a playful, rotating art surface while being stored on a peg at kid-level.
  2. When the moment is right, neighbors on both sides of the fence can swing the hinged table surface open!
  3. The Lazy Susan tray is mobilized into position by simply placing it on its central axel. Neighbors can inscribe menu notes and food labels on its chalkboard surface (“100% Vegan cookies!”). By rotating the Lazy Susan, food-sharing can literally straddle property lines and neighborhood boundaries.
  4. An optional umbrella can be installed to temper summer’s hottest afternoons and spring’s evening drizzles.
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Lazy Susan Picnic Table. © Joseph Altshuler.

Graffiti Portal

  1. One graffiti tunnel protrudes from each side of the fence into the adjacent property. Kids and adventurous adults can draw on the curved, acrylic tunnel walls and the circular window that delineates the end of each tunnel. More rebellious spirits can even leave their mark on the wooden support frames. Neighbors can simultaneous act as spectator and enact an artistic spectacle!
  2. A human figure-shaped acrylic window provides an additional graffiti and people-watching opportunity. Neighbors can draw each other’s likeness from opposite sides of the fence!
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Graffiti Portal. © Joseph Altshuler.

Clothes Swap Mannequin

Getting tired of that old sweater? Need something swanky for Saturday night’s party? The solution lives in the backyard—catalyzed by the fence! The Clothes Swap Mannequin operates as an exquisite corpse game that neighbors can play. Like the Surrealist method, neighbors can exchange garments for feet, legs, torso, or head— each facilitated by a separate mannequin device. Each mannequin rotates on a vertical axis over the property line, ensuring that neighbors on both sides of the fence can give and receive, advertise and browse.

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Clothes Swap Mannequin. © Joseph Altshuler.

Beer Window

  1. In the closed position, the Beer Window is unobtrusive and anticipatory. The relative privacy of the status quo remains unchallenged.
  2. When the mood strikes, a neighbor on either side of the fence can switch on the iconic ‘beer light.’ The friendly, illuminated vessel announces the desire of a ritualistic drink, and calls the neighbor on the opposite side of the fence to participate!
  3. When the moment is right, neighbors on both sides of the fence can swing the hinged Beer Window open!
  4. The privacy screen becomes a shading device, sheltering social imbibers from Happy Hour’s intense afternoon rays. The tap literally straddles the property line, offering draught beer to be shared. If ice is used to chill the keg residing beneath the fence bar, melting water can be directly channeled to water the backyard garden.
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Beer Window. © Joseph Altshuler.