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Secrets of good benches and seating in public space


Why are benches important? “A bench is, after all, a place for socializing – meeting with friends, conversing with strangers, feeding the birds, walking our dogs, admiring the views or spending romantic moments with our significant others.”

• Seating is a critical part of the daily social life. • A nice place to sit welcomes you to your city. • Bench-space allows people to loosely belong within the flow of city life, to see and be seen. • A bench is a possible beginning of new contact. • Benches are symbols of what it means for space to be shared. • A bench encourages people to walk, because there will be somewhere to rest. • The invitation of sitting makes no further demands: no price tag, dress code, minimum or maximum length of stay.


Too often, public benches are “unsociable” and “unfriendly”. Why is that?


Benches with a bad view, low comfort and without backrest.

A non-accessible bench

A bench in the middle of a concrete space


“Benches are artifacts, the purpose of which is to punctuate architectural photographs. They are not so good for sitting.” – William H. Whyte


What goes wrong?

these ledges discourage skateboarders

1. “Defensive design� Βenches designed to be uncomfortable on purpose. Landscape architects are pressured (both by authorities and by local residents) to remove vegetation and public seating; to vandal, skateboard and sleep-proof the landscape into a dull sterile shadow of a pleasurable place (manifesto).

Leaning bars

Why cities are full of uncomfortable benches


What goes wrong? 1. Defensive design “These designs aren’t just inhumane - they have a negative practical and psychological effect on virtually everyone who spends time in public space.” Armrests prevent anyone to lie down. Short back for short stay.

Why cities are full of uncomfortable benches

"So-called 'undesirables' are not the problem. It is the measures taken to combat them that is the problem.” – William H. Whyte


What goes wrong? 1. Defensive design Prohibitions: • Deterrents to seating, such as spikes, rails, or deliberately uncomfortable materials or shapes, placed on surfaces that would otherwise be suitable for seating are prohibited within public plazas. These types of devices can be seen throughout existing plazas and compromise the usability and public nature of these spaces. • Devices incorporated into seating that are intended to prevent damage caused by skateboards and rollerblades are generally permitted. Such deterrents are required to be spaced at least 5 feet apart from one another, be constructed of high-quality materials that are integrated with the seating design, and should not inhibit seating. (http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/pops/plaza_standards.shtml#seating )


What goes wrong? 1. Defensive design

“The Camden Bench hates you. It’s the public furniture equivalent of a finger wagging in your face. Commissioned by the Camden London Borough Council and installed in 2012, it boasts of its ability to deter a grand total of 22 behaviors, including sleeping, skateboarding, canoodling, drug dealing, littering, graffiti and theft. Its solidity makes it too heavy to move, its angles make it uncomfortable, it has no crevices and it’s coated in a waterproof anti-paint coating.”

“No seating is perfectly vandal-resistant. The best solution for vandalism is developing an understanding of what types of vandalism occur, at what times and by what types of people. The best deferent to vandalism is heavy and frequent use by everyone else.”(PPS)


What goes wrong? 1. Defensive design Pay this bench money or it will poke you with spikes

Benches with studs built right into the seat that only retract for a short period if you insert some coins into a slot.


What goes wrong? 2. Lack of benches It is all about hospitality. “A public place without seating for the elderly, young children, the disabled, the shopping-weary, a tired tourist or people merely wanting somewhere that does not involve buying food and drink to chat or admire a view is unfriendly. The message is go away, do not linger, this is not for you. That sense can shape perceptions, sometimes negatively.�


What goes wrong? 2. Lack of benches

12 10

benches / 1,000 residents 10

9,9

8 6 4

2,5

2 0 Fra nk fu rt

Ste gl itz-Z eh le nd orf (Be rli n' s Bo rou gh s)

W arsaw

“Polish cities have no places to sit in, and the situation seems to be only getting worse. The country’s capital, Warsaw, is at the very end of the ranking, with only 2.5 bench per 1000 inhabitants.”


What goes wrong? 2. Lack of benches “Hong Kong is worse than any other city in this regard; evidence of the lack of seating is anecdotal and based on observation. This includes the sight of unwanted chairs and sofas left by residents in public spaces to fill the need.�


What goes wrong? 3. Aesthetics rather than user-friendliness

The comfort of the bench for the user must be taken into consideration first. The look and the match with the surrounding space aren’t enough.


What goes wrong? 3. Aesthetics rather than user-friendliness


What goes wrong? 3. Aesthetics rather than user-friendliness

Concrete constructions: they may look nice from a design perspective, but are not comfortable for users.


Why does it often go wrong? 3. Aesthetics rather than user-friendliness

This bench is specially designed to help people get closer. (Becherovka advertisement)

Companhia Athletica placed slanted benches in parks. Every time someone tries to sit down, they slide off in order to be more attractive.


How to get it right? “Good seating for public use does not come cheaply. It has to be well designed, of a durable material, maintained and replaced when needed.�


How to get it right? 1. Comfort for the user

Back-rests and armrests are proven devices. The old fashioned park bench is still one of the best liked because it provides them. h ttp s://b e n ch h o lic.co m /o u td o o r-id e as/p ark-b e n ch e s-fo r-sale /

Slats of 5cm are the most comfortable.

Wood is the most suitable material for exterior constructions. It is available in many species, colors and designs and moisture changes due to atmosphere conditions changes.


How to get it right? 2. Dimensions

Smithsonian Institution Accessibility Guidelines For seating to be accessible, seats should be firm and between 430 mm (17 in.) and 510 mm (19 in.) above the floor. Chairs or benches should have both arm and back support. This support is essential for people who have mobility impairments: arms and backs offer people support points when lowering themselves into as well as when rising out of seats . Seat backs should be firm and havean upper edge of no less than 455 mm (18 in.) above the seat; arm heights should be roughly proportionate to the back heights.

*Benches and fixed seating need at one end a minimum 760 mm (30 in.) by 1220 mm (48 in.) space to allow a person in a wheelchair to sit next to someone on the bench or to transfer onto the seating itself.


How to get it right? 2. Dimensions

The benefit of the extra space is social comfort - more room for groups and individuals - more choices and more perception of choices

75 cm depth will do it

but 90 cm is better


How to get it right? 2. Dimensions

“The back of the bench should be a generous 30 cm wide sitting space, which also acts as retaining wall for a large planter of mixed shrubs.”

A range of people, sit ‘up’ on these back edge benches. It provides a good vantage point and there are other benefits: feet are out of the way of passers-by and it is easier to chat with people standing nearby” The social life of small urban places


How to get it right?

suitable less suitable inappropriate

3. Materials in seasons / climates main materials

characteristics resistant to convenience temperature changes

wood marble plastic metal

has to be painted

no need to clean often

create a warm atmosphere


How to get it right? 4. Circles of intimacy vs social space


How to get it right?

4. Circles of intimacy vs social space


How to get it right?

4. Circles of intimacy vs social space

Standard (catalogue) 3 m wide benches leads to people using the bench alone, because they feel intruded in their circle of intimacy. Longer benches may cause more groups to use the same bench, and may cause contact between them.


How to get it right?

5. The right location in public space “When benches do not face activities, either they will not be used – or they will be used in nontraditional ways.” Factors that contribute to comfortable places to sit in public space include access, comfort, relationship to views, sun and shade, movability and ability to be together or alone.


Benches that provide a good view of surrounding activities are used more than benches with less or no view of others. Tivoli Garden in Copenhagen The most used benches are along the garden’s main path, where there is a good view of the particularly active areas, while the least used benches are found in the quiet areas of the park.

How to get it right?

5. The right location in public space


How to get it right? How to get it right?

Benches that provide a good view of surrounding activities are used more 5. The right location in than benches with less or no view of 5. The right location in public space others. public space Tivoli Garden in Copenhagen The most used benches are along the garden’s main path, where there is a good view of the particularly active areas, while the least used benches are found in the quiet areas of the park.

People like to sit with something in the rear to feel safe


How to get it right?

5. The right location in public space A bench is an invitation to rest, so you may need some shelter as well. Shelter might be needed against bad weather, noise or other people. Shelter may be built artificially or naturally. • Artificial shelter may be a canopy, a small construction that integrates the bench. Semi-artificial shelters are the ones built and covered mostly with climbing plants. • Natural shelters are made by trees or other plants that can offer shadow or intimacy. Greenacre Park Fights Midtown Tower Blocks in Manhattan For Light And Survival


How to get it right? 5. The right location in public space

Benches should not face each other directly unless they are being used for games. In Sofia, Bulgaria some benches are loose. People put them face to face to play chess or just chat. In the evening they are back in their place.


How to get it right? 6. Facing social activities

Paris Plage

People like to watch other people


How to get it right? 6. Facing social activities

Add a game ”What attracts people most, it would appear, is other people.” – William H. Whyte


How to get it right? 7. Loose chairs

”Ideally, sitting should be physically comfortable – benches with backrests, wellcontoured chairs. It’s more important, however, that it be socially comfortable. This means choice: sitting up front, in the back, to the side, in the sun, in the shade, in groups, alone.” – William H. Whyte


How to get it right? 7. Loose chairs


How to get it right? 7. Loose chairs‌ and benches


How to get it right? 7. Loose chairs… and benches Benefits: • The big asset of the chair is movability. People like determine for themselves how they sit: together, alone, in the shade, facing the sun • Movable seating is popular and well used offering a low cost way to expand seating and social space. • Chairs enlarge choice: to move into the sun, out of it, to make room for groups, move away from them. However: • In long passageways we prefer benches because the seating places should be out of the way of the flow of the pedestrian traffic.


How to get it right? 8. A great variation of seating elements

Space must be turned into place by creating inviting places to stay and enjoy public space �The most popular plazas tend to have considerably more sitting space than the less wellused ones.� – William H. Whyte

Informal uses in public realm can be stimulated by introducing elements, like staircases along the water, high edges along planters or just objects that can be positioned in different ways.


How to get it right? 8. A great variation of seating elements

Fixed park bench

Movable seating

Planter ledges

Fixed individual seating

Ledges

Seating steps


How to get it right? 8. A great variation of seating elements

“The balance between ‘place’ and ‘movement’ calls for improving the balance. The pillar is making busy and quiet places at the same time. Informal uses in public realm can be stimulated by elements that are just as high as seating elements, but are not designed as such. These can be for example staircases along the water, high edges along planters, or just objects that can be positioned in different ways.”


How to get it right? 8. A great variation of seating elements

Welcoming facades that invite people sitting rather than have spikes to prevent people from sitting


Examples of paid seating

How to get it right? 9. Paid and unpaid seating


How to get it right? 9. Paid and unpaid seating

Examples of unpaid seating. The relation between paid and unpaid seating should be around 50-50%.


How to get it right? 10. Create lower seating for kids


summary: criteria for great benches and public seating materials

dimensions

direction

placement

type

1. create a warm atmosphere 2. comfortable for the users 3. temperature friendly throughout different seasons 4. preferably wood or porous natural stone (these are less responsive to temperature changes)

5. seats 430 mm (17 inches) to 510 mm (19 inches) above the floor 6. length 1800 mm (71 inches) 7. arm heights roughly proportio-nate to the back heights 8. seat backs firm and with an upper edge of no less than 455 mm (18 inches) 9. longer bench than 3 m for social interaction 10. add lower seating for kids

11. provide a good view of surrounding activities 12. not face each other directly unless they are being used for games 13. benches should not be arranged back to back

14. people like to sit where other people are 15. people like to sit with something in the rear 16. out of the way of the flow of the pedestrian traffic 17. benches spaced so wheelchairs can be on the side or in the front 18. give choice to sit into the sun or shade 19. at least 1 bench per every 100-125m for elderly people to rest during their walk 20. more sitting space is better 21. provide natural and/or artificial shelter

22. create great variety of seating including for instance staircases along the water, high edges along planters 23. add movable chairs and benches (except in long passageways) 24. around 50-50% paid and unpaid seating


Great benches and seats Some inspiring examples to close off


Paris Plage

Many groups of users sharing the same bench


Paris Plage

Many groups of users sharing the same bench


Harvard Campus Last 400 years


Harvard Campus Now


Harvard Campus

By adding bean bags, people started using these benches


VIVA Vancouver project aimed at “transforming road spaces into people places”. The fun-loving engineers at the City of Vancouver have installed a temporary “modular deck”, extending the side walk out into what are normally metered parking spaces. It’s dubbed Parallel Park. And is bringing a major shipment of coals to Newcastle; placing outdoor seating at a corner already thick with outdoor seating, and thus attracting strollers and slackers to one of the city’s great centers of strolling and slacking.


Benches as socialization points Benches collective The largest open-air cafĂŠ in the world, everywhere on the sidewalk.


Park(ing) Day REBAR, San Francisco, 2005


World Park(ing) Day Rotterdam, 2017


Places for People, San Francisco Turning REBAR’s activism into city wide policy


Places for People, San Francisco Open & Play Streets


Places for People, San Francisco Pedestrian Plazas


Places for People, San Francisco Trial Pedestrian Safety & Traffic Calming Measures


Places for People, San Francisco Vacant Lot & Alleyway Pop-ups


Places for People, San Francisco Urban Prototyping in the Civic Commons


www.thecityateyelevel.com


References Books and Articles •

Bynon, R. & Rishbeth, C. 2015. Benches for everyone: solitude in public, sociability • for free. Online: https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/polopoly_fs/1.523490!/file/the-bench• project-final.pdf.

Knuijt M, 2016, The Ebb and Flow of Public Space, in: The City at Eye Level Seedia, 2017, Polish cities lack of public benches, Report Sharp M., 2015, Missing seats campaign in Hong Kong, city where there’s no place to sit

Gürpinar, A. & Horsanali, N. 2017. Stools as tools: Tactical units and ways of sitting in public space. MONU 27: 33-39. Rotterdam. •

Μexi, A. & Tudora, I. 2012. Livable urban spaces: public benches and the quality of daily life. Scientific Papers Series B. Horticulture, 56: 367-376. Bucharest: University of Agronomic Sciences and Veterinary Medicine of Bucharest. Online: http://horticulturejournal.usamv.ro/pdf/vol12issue4/Art65.pdf.

Project for Public Spaces, 2008, Have a seat, movable chairs or benches?

South China morning post, 2015, To be truly hospitable Hong Kong must provide more seating

Whyte, W. H. 1980. The social life of small urban spaces. Sitting Space. New York: Project For Public Spaces.

Films •

Johnson, E. 2015. Alone together: the social life of benches.

Richard Layman, 2015, Parallel park in Vancouver, BC: temporary parklet, Washington

Vox. 2017. Why cities are full of uncomfortable benches

Clare R., Rogaly B., 2017, Transactions of the institute of British geographers, Sitting outside: conviviality, self-care and the design of benches in urban public space, UK

Project for Public Spaces, 2008, A primer on seating

Websites •

http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/1814251/be-trulyhospitable-hong-kong-must-provide-more-public

http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/article/1809630/missingseats-campaign-hongkong-city-where-theres-no-place-sit

http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/1814251/be-trulyhospitable-hong-kong-must-provide-more-public

Alexandru M., Tudora I., 2012, Livable urban spaces. Public benches and the quality of daily life, Bucharest

Manifesto for the Good Bench, 2015, The Bench Project.

Gehl Architects, 2007, New Road, Brighton

Gehl J., 1987, Life between buildings, Using Public Space, New York

https://seedia.city/report-polish-cities-lack-public-benches/

Francis M., Koo J., Ramirez S., 2010, Just a comfortable place to sit, report

http://www.metalco.it/?lang=en

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Secrets of good benches and seating in public space  

Seating is a critical part of the daily social life. A nice place to sit welcomes you to your city. Bench-space allows people to loosely be...

Secrets of good benches and seating in public space  

Seating is a critical part of the daily social life. A nice place to sit welcomes you to your city. Bench-space allows people to loosely be...

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