Open restaurant design will likely get boring

Winners of the Regional Plan Association’s Al Fresco awards for outdoor dining.
Photo: Regional Planning Association

The similarity has struck much of New York City’s new construction, and it’s not due to a lack of originality. The relentless real estate market leads developers to maximize what zoning codes will allow, comply with building standards that ensure anything they build will go through design review, and assess any moves that could make a more unique project, but also bureaucratically heavier. We all know the appearance of buildings that follow this playbook – flat, no frills, square. This is why the emergence of streetwalkers was so exciting to me – with no rules and (much) precedent, the streets have become interesting on a scale and at a rate that New York City is not used to. Every restaurateur, driven by a sense of urgency and limited by his resources, has become a designer and has built interesting structures. But that’s coming to an end, as the DOT is developing licensing rules for open restaurants. Enjoy the weird, comedic, and quirky structures while you can.

Make no mistake, the city’s decision to make the restaurants open permanent is remarkable. It is a rare opportunity to improve the public domain. It’s also bittersweet. Design standards and similitude are a tag team. While I hope the creative spirit that has fueled these structures for the past year and a half will survive the impending legislation, I am not holding my breath.

So far we have seen kinetic structures, pastel pink arched arches, yurts, and false the passengers of the wagons, bungalow that seem indistinguishable from the interiors of the four-star restaurant to which they belong, from the cottagecore embellishments, greenhouses and architectural ducks. I liked the little details that restaurants incorporated into their designs, like a pizzeria on Smith Street using spent tomato sauce cans for planters, and a natural wine bar on Center Street that added an imposing shaped cistern. flower in his street to collect rainwater. Much of the experimentation was due to the lack of clear rules about what was and wasn’t allowed and a mad rush to just build something. A bar on Vanderbilt pitted a few cinder blocks – a precarious construction that really wouldn’t protect diners if a car crashed into it – when it first opened its outdoor dining area, before building a more plywood pavilion. strong and safer adorned with a mural.

To date, open restaurants have mainly operated on the honor system. The DOT published rules on accessibility, authorization, and security, but didn’t really enforce them unless it received complaints. Even then, it didn’t work from a punitive perspective, giving restaurants the ability to rectify any violations before imposing a fine. Some restaurants and bars have taken the prospect of “begging for forgiveness, not permission” a little too far, such as East Village Izakaya’s failed attempt to build a two story street, proving that we need policy and development. ‘an application more robust than us. have currently, especially when sidewalks have become too crowded and many of them (anecdotally the majority that I have seen) do not conform to ADA as DOT mandates. Accessibility is not negotiable, and further authorization seems to be the only way to ensure that this is not ignored.

Most of the street areas I’ve seen recently have all been flattened into the same utilitarian silhouette – a square corral with a pitched roof and acrylic-covered walls. It has become an ideal platonic for open restaurants.

We saw the first signs of this last winter. When streeterias were seen only as a temporary stopgap, something that was to last a few weeks, they didn’t really need to be sturdy. When it became clear, however, that the pandemic was not going to end, restaurants with the means were spending between $ 5,000 and $ 25,000 to build structures capable of withstanding snow, gusts of wind and snow. to traffic. The more ad-hoc moms and pops streetwear have gotten more and more worn out, and many look like they’re running out of steam. Some restaurants have simply abandoned them.

Some of the more rambling, but unique, streets are likely on the way out, as the city formalizes its alfresco dining policy. From left to right : Photo: Joan Slatkin / Education Images / Universal Images Group via Getty ImagesPhoto: Byron Smith / Getty Images

Some of the more rambling, but unique, streets are likely on the way out, as the city formalizes its alfresco dining policy. From above:
Some of the more rambling, but unique, streets are likely on the way out, as the city formalizes its alfresco dining policy. From above: Photo: Joan Slatkin / Education Images / Universal Images Group via Getty ImagesPhoto: Byron Smith / Getty Images

Now that open restaurants are set to become permanent, offering a future that speculators can protect themselves against, the opportunists have arrived. Homeowners are already looking for ways to inflate rents for spaces with sidewalks and adjacent parking lots. “It’s obviously not necessarily the owner’s space. It’s up to the city if it’s on the sidewalk, ”said Brandon Singer, CEO of brokerage firm Retail by MONA recently. The real deal. “But you can argue that if you’re a landlord you’re going to use the space outside of my building, you should pay me more.” This creates a market where moms and dads won’t be able to compete with companies backed by investors, whose design sensibilities are usually quite tame.

There will be more regulations, and with that, the program will become more difficult for companies to participate. DOT has also hinted that the program will involve a participation fee in the future. Before releasing the new guidelines, the department began a listening tour of five boroughs to hear concerns from local officials, which are expected to be released early next year and take effect in 2023. After community councils have lost their offer to kill open restaurants outright, some of the more dominant are require license review, which would introduce another layer of bureaucracy for the construction of permanent streets.

I imagine that in the near future, only restaurant groups and chains will be able to afford to build open restaurants. They will become investments, where the aesthetic risks are few. To appeal to as many customers as possible, the design will become mediocre, passable, and harmless – the equivalent of the ubiquitous yawn of a Starbucks.

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