A pedestrian-friendly alternative to clunky wood and metal scaffolding that turns sidewalks into narrow, dark tunnels around construction sites is making its Canadian debut.
A pair of Toronto construction projects are said to be the first use of Urban Umbrella's metal and plastic design outside of New York City.
The new scaffolding — made of recycled steel and resembling an unfurling umbrella — is being installed on Yonge Street next to the downtown site of Ryerson University's new student learning centre.
The Urban Umbrella also is being adopted by developer Great Gulf for its One Bloor condominium project at the corner of Yonge Street and Bloor Street.
Urban Umbrella was first introduced in New York City after winning an international design competition sponsored by New York's department of buildings and Mayor Michael Bloomberg to address the many projects that were taking up space on sidewalks.
Designer Young Choi, architect Andres Cortes and Canadian structural engineer Sarrah Khan invented a design to maximize sidewalk space while beautifying the construction site.
Arching struts hold the structure up while translucent plastic panels allow for 90 per cent of natural light onto the sidewalk, the inventors say.
The structure has vertical poles on either side holding it up, which leaves plenty of open space in between, unlike the criss-crossing metal poles used in conventional scaffolding.
The idea to introduce Urban Umbrella to Toronto came from Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, who first saw the design in an architecture magazine.
She asked several developers to consider installing the new scaffolding for their construction projects, with Ryerson and Great Gulf agreeing to try it out.
"Everything else about the city changes but the way we construct scaffolding hasn't," Wong-Tam said.
She said that there are 80 streets with construction projects in downtown Toronto that encroach on public pedestrian walkways.
"If there's a way of enhancing the pedestrian realm and the experience of the pedestrians, why shouldn't we do it?" she said.
Wong-Tam said that she hopes other developers will also adopt Urban Umbrella once they see it used by Ryerson and Great Gulf.
"I hope that this is the beginning of something for our city that will not only be continued in other developments, but maybe they'll try to one-up each other," Sheldon Levy, president of Ryerson University, said Thursday.
Urban Umbrella costs about $10,000 more to install than traditional scaffolding, but Ryerson spokeswoman Julia Hanigsberg said it's worth the price.
"I think that will get less expensive over time," she said. "The upside of being the first is you get all the excitement and the innovation."