Scaffolding is about to get a lot less ugly

Scaffolding is about to get a lot less ugly

A scaffold that is more art than nuisance will soon be constructed outside a Flatiron office building and a City Hall condo.


They are to be the first beneficiaries of a 2010 Big Apple competition to find an aesthetically pleasing update for the ubiquitous, and usually ugly, scaffolds that dot our streets.


Under city regulations, scaffolding is required to protect pedestrians when façade work or other repairs are under way. But often scaffolding creates dark, unsightly passageways that are left standing whether work is ongoing or not.


The scaffolding also creates a headache for shop owners whose storefronts are obstructed.


Sales can suffer when the gloomy caves obstruct signage and entrances.


Urban Umbrella won the competition and used its $10,000 prize to perfect the system in Toronto. It is now returning to New York to share the visual wealth, starting with several properties, including 20 W. 22nd St. and 19 Murray St.


“We needed to prove we could operate under the largest skyscrapers,” explained Benjamin Krall, co-founder of Urban Umbrella, of the time spent in Canada. “We are launching in Vancouver, Seattle and currently are being installed in front of the largest construction job in downtown Toronto.”


Designed out of recycled steel and translucent plastic panels that come in a variety of colors, the stylish scaffolding resembles an open umbrella. In contrast to the boxy scaffolding New Yorkers hate, “our structural integrity happens in a different way. It eliminates the cross-bracing and makes it more open,” Krall said.


Built-in LED lighting enables the firm to do “cool stuff with custom colors.”


A native New Yorker with a venture capitalist background, Krall became intrigued with scaffolding after suffering through repairs to his own co-op apartment. He joined Urban Umbrella two years ago, determined to run it like a tech company.


“I connected with them out of the blue and knew I could raise strategic capital and have this young hustle toward this business,” Krall said.


Indeed, he has already raised $2 million in venture capital funding from strategic Big Apple real estate family offices and building owners.


Permits are being filed this week to install Urban Umbrellas at 20 W. 22nd St. as its owners plan routine Local Law 11 façade work.


“We were prepared to move forward with a traditional scaffold but recognized that even if it was delayed slightly, this would be a better solution,” explained Jason Fein of ABS Partners. “We will roll it out to our entire portfolio.”


Robert Finkelstein, also of ABS, added, “Most people don’t enjoy walking under scaffolding and we think this will be a different kind of feeling, better for the tenants, and not an eyesore.”


When downtown Manhattan dentist Raphael Santore heard about Urban Umbrella, he knew he had to use it for the residential building at 19 Murray St. that houses his offices. “Urban Umbrella is so important and so clever and so useful,” he said. “We have a problem with these nasty, ugly sheds.”


He also had no problem paying the slight additional cost. The dentist recalled, “[Krall] probably thinks I‘m a scaffold groupie.”