David Rockwell designs template for outdoor dining in NYC

May 21, 2020

Illustration by the Rockwell Group

The idea to turn New York City streets and sidewalks into space for al fresco dining when restaurants can eventually reopen has been supported by local officials, small businesses, and even architects. Designer David Rockwell and his firm the Rockwell Group have put together a template for ways to use outdoor space for restaurant use while maintaining safe and socially distant conditions.

As first reported by Bloomberg, the Rockwell Group’s template is flexible for different locations and conditions. “We’ve been exploring adaptable and portable designs that extend the inner dining space to sidewalks and beyond, “Rockwell told Bloomberg. “We’ve been inspired by work across the country and globe. Mostly, we’ve tried to utilize designs and materials that can be adapted to reflect the diversity of streetscapes in the city.”

The kit involves cost-effective measures restaurants can take to serve diners outdoors, including a sanitation station, dining booth, street fencing, and wooden decking panels that would cover the pavement. The firm said they have been in talks with restaurant owners and staff to guide their design.

An illustration created by the firm shows Harlem restaurant Melba’s as an outdoor restaurant. Located on the corner of 114th Street and Frederick Douglas Boulevard, the outdoor version of the restaurant, according to Rockwell’s design, adds nine booths divided by fencing with additional seats in front, set up at an appropriate distance from each other.

City officials have called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to give temporary permission to bars and restaurants to use sidewalks, streets, and parking spots currently closed to cars to serve patrons during the summer months. The request comes after a warm weekend brought crowds of people drinking together outside, especially on the Upper East Side.

On Wednesday, 24 members of the City Council signed a letter to the mayor in support of using open space for restaurants. “With the possibility of restaurants eventually reopening at 50 percent less indoor capacity for diners, small restaurants throughout the city that already had limited capacity face a tough road ahead,” the pols wrote. The letter cites the outdoor seating plans led by cities like Boston, Tampa, and Cincinnati.

In a Crain’s op-ed, Speaker Corey Johnson and Andrew Rigie of NYC Hospitality Alliance said they are gathering feedback from restaurant owners and business improvement districts to develop a possible pilot program. De Blasio said his office is looking into the possibilities of opening the streets for diners, but no concrete plan has been released yet.


All illustrations courtesy of Rockwell Group

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