Until recently, public seating in most large cities tended to be battle tested heavy-duty benches that were selected to withstand the test of time. You no doubt have seen those benches in almost every town that you’ve ever visited. You can’t miss them. They’re fairly generic looking and they’re at bus stops, positioned in streetscape right of ways, along multi-purpose parks trails; in town squares and many other places that require benches or public seating. Yes, you’ve seen them. They’re typically painted green or black and are usually located in combination with matching trash receptacles or recycling stations, and sometimes with bike racks and bollards. They’re practical and functional but are not very creative and sometimes very uncomfortable.
Fast forward to 2014 where the conversation around public spaces now involve authenticity, creating destinations, establishing distinctive community brands, celebrating art and activating public spaces. The old standard in evolving into authentic urban public seating that celebrates distinctiveness, new public sensibilities and the many ways that we choose to engage in public spaces. The old standard involved (1) a straight bench made of metal or wood, (2) with or without a back, and (3) embedded or attached in a permanent location.
The evolving public seating standards now include a wide array of organic or unusual shapes and sizes designed for many other uses besides resting or daytime sitting or waiting. There are small seating units designed as private public seating rather than welcome one – welcome all group seating. Movie night in the park or in the neighborhood takes on a different feel with a multi-level theatre bench. The generic bench takes on a different character as the retro seaside bench.
Concrete benches usually associate with bulk and mass has become scaled down versions of it’s former self dazzling us with vertical and horizontal planes, curves, turns and modularity so that the seating doesn’t overwhelm a particular space. Since many public spaces are popular during the evening hours, we also starting to see lighting incorporated into the various seating elements.
Similar to artists stretching the boundaries of new materials, the evolving public seating standards so far has embraced many different types of material – steel, various hardwoods, sustainable wood; upcycled wood, cast stone, gfrc, polymers, stainless steel and hdpe.
Best of all, the new evolving public seating standards appear to be custom designed products but are really standard off-the-shelf designs created by forward looking manufacturers. Here’s a snapshot of authentic urban public seating.