Urban Acupuncture Collaboratory Studio

Professor: Stefan Gruber

In collaboration as an entire studio with: Mariana Alberola-Rezza, Ghalya Alsanea, Fon Euchukanonchai, Mounica Guturu, Gautam Thakkar, Ritchie Ju, Christine Kim, Shariwa Sharada, Scarlet Tong, Chitika Vasudeva

The Urban Acupuncture Collaboratory Studio combines design tactics with strategy for place-making in the bottom-up transformation of cities to design and create a micro-public space, while at the same time being concerned with designing a community engagement process. Committed to co-designing with the communities, the outcome was inherently open ended. Rather than responding to a predefined design brief, we have worked with Community Forge and the Wilkinsburg community members on defining ideas and opportunities for the schoolyard of the former Johnston Elementary School, turned community center. Our aim was to develop an overall urban design strategy for Community Forge’s outdoor spaces and realize an initial part of it—a micro-public space that promises to act as catalyst for connecting Community forge to its context. In a collaborative studio setting we have gone from exploring and analyzing an urban milieu, to facilitating participatory design workshops with the community, to developing and implementing a strategic design intervention, (or simply put — urban acupuncture).

For the entire semester, the entire studio had worked closely with the actual community members of Wilkinsburg and Community Forge to create an master plan capable of being implemented in “island” phases for the betterment of the education of the younger generation, as well as the well-being and leisure enjoyment of the older group of adults within the surrounding context. Because we were able to be granted access to the Kaboom Grant, we as a collaboratory studio was able to bring to life two of the main schemes that were initially designed out. First was the bench/seating element of the design, where an inclusive and multi-use furniture was fabricated using marine-grade plywood and CNC routing to bring the designs to reality. Next, was the large playscape area that we had clean, primed, and painted the designs, which also incorporated play and learning elements as the design was derived from the makings of the Fibonacci sequencing of arcs and geometries. Due to financial and funding needs, the rest of the master plan will have to be implemented in the near future, however, the direct responses from the neighborhood members have been nothing but positive and reinforcing.


The first implemented island scheme was the patterning and painting for the Learning Island.

The Learning Island serves as a flat landscape capable of being able to provide educational learning experiences all while allowing for the children to interpret and play with it however they want. The different learning elements such as mathematics (the Fibonacci sequence, geometries, lengths and distances), movements (dance steps, hopscotch), extraterrestrial (the solar system), and a working sundial positioned specifically to the exact location on the site serve as not only a catalyst of knowledge for the younger generation, but it does it in a more amusing and fun way so that it is actually enjoyable.

Not only do the learning aspects bring together the importance of the design, but the colors themselves also help to liven up what was previously unkept and void. The colors themselves bring within the site and also the building a new inviting and invigorating perspective to those already inhabiting the building spaces as well as neighborhood members who happen to pass by.

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To the right is the proposal for a Fitness Island.

The Fitness Island was designed also with the idea of wanting to keep this phase more on the abstract side of the design thinking. Each volume that protrudes from the surface serves a purpose as a real piece of gym equipment as indicated in the user experience diagram to the far right. Aside from play elements, we as a studio have found in our community engagement that the people value opportunities for physical exercise just as much.

This simple, yet robust designs helps to accommodate the needs for those who wish to exercise outdoors, but in a safer environment. The pour-in-place soft padding material that will be the orange surfacing will help to keep this island as safe, and long lasting as possible as more people come to use it over the course of the next few years.

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Finally, the Red Porch is designed to facilitate the outdoor and indoor spaces as Community Forge does not have direct access to the site from its side.

The Red Porch is designed to create another space where community members can have a more easily accessible entrance to the side of the Community Forge building as the current entrance points prompt the user to walk all the way around the building. This design proposes that the window of the third floor of the building be transformed into a doorway so that this elevated porch can relieve the access points from the interior to the exterior of the building.

This porch can serve activities such as grilling and barbecue on the lower portion while also provide a nice place to relax on the upper portion of the structure. The top covering of the porch was also designed and detailed so that it is long enough to restrict too much water from touch the interior in the case of rainy weather.

The next phase of the project is the Play Island.

The Play Island serves to provide a safe and inclusive space for active play for the the children who ages range from K to 12. As part of the design, the actual equipment of the play objects are left ambiguous enough so that the poles can act as a flexible and adaptable piece of equipment that can follow the conditions as time will follow. Much effort was made to be consistent with the standard playground building regulations strictly following circulation clearances as well as safe heights for the climbing elements.

The Play Island rests in between a drastic grade change of a little under 5 feet and so incorporates reused and recycled tire elements that will act as another play mound to support a slide and more sitting and climbing aspects. The location of this playscape helps to create a safer buffer between the high and low elevations while also creating a smooth transition into different elements of the design.

Finally, we found that since much emphasis was put on making the playground design as flexible as possible, the design also includes a movable pole element that is grounded by a concrete foundation poured into the recycle tires with intention that these poles can be rearranged whichever way to best serve the needs of the events happening at the moment such as art installations, tetherball games, or simple hurdles.

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To the left is the Gathering Island.

The Gathering Island is the phase where is it focused on the seating elements designed to create a safe space higher up on the site so that families can come together and sit as they socialize or supervise the younger children as they play on the rest of the design island schemes.

Specially designed seating elements and tables helped to establish a more intricate design thinking to the scheme so that all aspects of the spaces are considered in regards to the use by the actual community members.

In addition, the current state of the existing retaining wall that holds up this elevation is actually deteriorating quite quickly and so the proposal advocated for a more stable and sturdier retaining wall design that makes use of the concrete Redi-Rock (or other brands) blocks to ensure a safe dwelling space.

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