Home > Projects > Design For All: Fountain Alley

The Project

Design For All is an industrial design course spearheaded by Leslie Speer, an Associate Professor at San José State University. One of the major course objectives is to teach the students about co-design strategies.

The purpose of this project is to engage the local community of San José to develop a range of potential ideas to improve and “activate” the Fountain Alley space. Fountain Alley is part of San José Historic Downtown District, but has been plagued with crime and vagrancy for several decades. By looking at how other cities improved their communities and environment through public works projects, our SJSU student teams explored potential solutions to help turn Fountain Alley into a vibrant gem in downtown San José.

Snapshot of Fountain Alley

Named after the horse trough that once resided there for travelers’ horses, Fountain Alley was a central hub in downtown San José. As the city grew in development, the small alley remained. The Bank of America building on the Alley’s north-west corner, one of the oldest buildings in the city, speaks to the value that Fountain Alley had and continues to have as a thorough fair for the area. The space resides among nightlife, the arts culture, the historic Bank of Italy building, and general stores. Fountain Alley serves as a connection point for people working in San José, people using public transit and people going out for dinner / fun.

Although it carries much historic significance, Fountain Alley faces neglect and crime. Today the alley sits between two VTA light-rail stations, and is used as a connector between the two. There’s several retail spaces along the alley, but unfortunately many remain empty or underutilized. In recent years, the Alley has become the site of stabbings, drug trade, and even a shooting. The City of San José and the San José Downtown Association seek to revitalize the space and make it a safe and fun destination for residents through a number of beautification projects. Recently, the Alley was made over with the “Phylum of the Free” mural, which underscores the contrast between the slick technology of Silicon Valley and the yearning for beautiful, natural places. The Alley was also repainted and decorated with new string lighting and flags, courtesy of The Sharks Foundation.

What is a Co-Design Strategy?

CommUniverCity believes that reactivating a space in downtown San José requires the input of those that live, work and play in that space. We used a co-design strategy to implement the Design For All project. Our strategy is a collaborative design process that involves not just the designer, but community members and other local organizations that want to give their input and ideas to combat the issues faced in their own neighborhood.

Jason Su, member of the San José Downtown Association, partnered with CommUniverCity in a service-learning opportunity for SJSU students that would contribute to the activation of Fountain Alley. As Project Manager for the Street Life project which centers around enhancing public spaces in Downtown San José, Jason served as a knowledgeable and leading hand in the project. SJSU Industrial Design students were tasked to create full scale prototypes, with input from community members, that the City could later develop and install in this public space.

Planning for Prototypes

Ideas and concepts behind the prototypes originated from community members that attended our Co-Design workshop on March 1st, 2017, hosted at Local Color–a redesigned space for art and culture in downtown San José. The community priorities focused on the following design elements: accessibility, safety, sustainability, nostalgia, and adding a lot of color! Prototype models were created within the following categories:

  • Community Seating
  • Parklets and Downtown Stages
  • Mobile Solar Hubs and Lighting
  • Gardens, Wind Chimes, and Birdhouses

The purpose of the models was to create an interactive and memorable space that is family-friendly. Additional goals the community members outlined for the SJSU students were to design prototypes that established an identity for Fountain Alley and link the design themes to the mural located in the alley titled, “Phylum of the Free” by Jeffrey Andrade Hemming.

The Models

Arbor

Prototype Category: Community Seating; Gardens, Wind Chimes, and Birdhouses

With inspiration from Highline NYC, SF Winter Walk 2016 and Old Sacramento Town, this student team’s initial ideation designed five possible concepts for the space. These included the following:

  • SandSketch: an evolutionary sand box
  • Gamelet: a rock-climbing wall
  • Shakespeare in the Parklet: a modular stage
  • Boardwalk Empire: a dynamic walking path
  • Arbor: a portable seating bench with live plants

Student findings: “As a clear winner, the Arbor concept was in response to the need for shaded seating and a place for people to sit and relax. We found this especially apparent during the CommUniverCity event where many of the participants complained about the heat when walking through the alley, since it is a very open and a non-shaded walking area. We were able to fix the issues from the previous iteration and were able to come up with something that was somewhat modern, but took more obvious cues from San José’s early history. This is when the idea of a half bike spoke came in and helped fix the roof issue that a previous concept had. We were also able to finalize different aspects of the overall design, such as the bench/chest and the boardwalks.”

Final Model: “The final model seemed to be well received from the general public and thanks to the weather, a lot of the details we wanted to display were highlighted and allowed people to notice them quicker. One of the main details that we wanted to be understood was the wagon wheel bike spoke look and with the contrast from the wood and the plastic, which was brightened by the sun, increased that aesthetic detail. However, due to the dirt being too compact we were not able to stick the arbor into the pot. Thankfully, the actual design, which couldn’t be fully made, incorporated a permanent fixture into the pots, which would eliminate such issues if it were to be produced.”

Click here to view this Student Team’s research and ideation in their full PDF version Process Book>>

Sliced Bench Seating

Prototype Category: Community Seating

With inspiration from the community’s game and projection-based parklet ideas, this student team’s initial ideation designed five possible concepts for the space. These included the following:

  • Mushroom Seating: light glowing seating
  • Noodle Chair:
  • Sliced Bench Seating: a maze that includes live bushes and seating
  • Hammock: community “net” seating
  • SJFA Rocking Chair: rocking chair with deck

Student findings: “The community ended up really liking our sliding chairs because they encourage communication and interaction among people. They also like the functionality of the design, because it makes the chair easy to clean, easy to take care of, and prevents vandalism.”

Final Model: “The physical mockup helped us realize that the corners of the half circle shape were too sharp, even at 1/4 scale. The decision was made to include gradually increasing fillets to address this ergonomic issue. Creating these full scale mockups helped the team come to a decision about the thickness of the slots. We put in to consideration the visual appeal and comfortability of both 0.5” and 1” slots, as well as the optimal distance between each piece. We presented our final model to the community at Fountain Alley. We had some very good feedback from the community, such as making slightly different shapes for the chairs, and making the chair able to rock.”

Click here to view this Student Team’s research and ideation in their full PDF version Process Book>>

Social Chimes

Prototype Category: Gardens, Wind Chimes, and Birdhouses

Click here to view this Student Team’s research and ideation in the full PDF version Process Book>>

Tube Swing Seating

Prototype Category: Community Seating; Gardens, Wind Chimes, and Birdhouses

Click here to view this Student Team’s research and ideation in the full PDF version Process Book>>

Wave Solar Charging Seat

Prototype Category: Community Seating; Mobile Solar Hubs and Lighting

Click here to view this Student Team’s research and ideation in the full PDF version Process Book>>

Electric Garden

Prototype Category: Community Seating; Mobile Solar Hubs and Lighting

Click here to view this Student Team’s research and ideation in the full PDF version Process Book>>