There's no two ways about it: sidewalk construction sheds are ugly. The city tried to improve this with the Urban Umbrella, but that hasn't really caught on because it's too expensive so developers are still using the same old pipes and wood. Instead of trying to remake the whole shebang, designers in an MFA program at the New School came up with the idea for Softwalks, which uses ready-made elements that can improve the experience of the common construction shed.
Softwalks was informed by the DOT's successful pedestrian plaza program. The designers studied the current make-up of construction sheds and created a kit of parts that can make the sheds more useful and pleasing for the public. Chairs, benches, and counters can be attached to the steel poles to make seating areas, planters can be added to bring in greenery, and a decorative light covering can spruce up the plain bulbs. The parts focus on the positive aspects of the sheds (shade from the sun, protection from the rain) to turn them into a useful public amenity.
The Softwalks team is still prototyping the elements, but they've tested them at the Javits Center during ICFF 2012 and outside the Parsons building at 16th Street and Fifth Avenue. You can see more in this informational video:
· NYC Initiative Turns Unsightly Scaffolding Into Miniature Parks [PSFK]
· Softwalks [official]