ALLEY #111, AUSTIN, TX
ART ALLIANCE AUSTIN
CORNELL LAB OR ORNITHOLOGY
CITY OF AUSTIN
CITY OF AUSTIN
PUBLIC WORKS DEPARTMENT
ECONOMIC GROWTH AND REDEVELOPMENT SERVICES
UT CENTER FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
20’ Wide transformed a downtown alley into a gathering space as a pilot project for the City of Austin to test the viability of temporary pop-up public spaces in the central business district. The project was anchored by a bold sculpture of colored twine which became the backdrop for several cultural events, social gatherings, concerts, presentations, and family programs while simultaneously drawing those in attendance to the hidden value of unassuming and often ignored spaces within the city.
As we conceptualized a way to transform an alleyway into a public space, we studied the rich history of downtown alleys and their ongoing significance to Austin. Alleys serve a critical role in the downtown urban fabric by providing essential service and secondary access while also breaking city blocks into more pedestrian scaled spaces through the introduction of light and air at mid-block. Alleyways continue to hold potential as secondary public spaces despite the insertion of mega-block developments which are quietly replacing these essential spaces with over-scaled buildings and internalized circulation.
To transform the 20’ Wide into a new kind of public space, one that was temporary, dramatic, multipurpose, and pop-up, we sought to highlight the simple utilitarian features—the fire escapes, mechanical plumbing shafts and vents, electrical conduits, historic windows and exposed brick and stone wall textures—by utilizing each piece as an essential component in a new functional, yet playful, construction. The transformation was nondestructive yet dramatic. Inspired by a child’s craft, we created a sculpture by knitting together these architectural pieces with colored mason twine. To create floating planes of color and geometric complexity in the upper levels of the alley, the twine was sewn to the outer edges of the building components. The new sculptural quality of the alley was ethereal and engaging, giving visitors an improvisational experience.
20’ Wide hosted multiple events like Art Week, Fusebox, and Pecha Kucha scheduled between April 13–21, 2013 and promoted conversations about alley preservation and their short-term potential for public spaces within the downtown environment. The project’s cover story on Urban Land magazine inspired multiple international versions of 20’ Wide.