February 14th, 2021Design with Indre
The humble park bench is invaluable for our appreciation of our landscape, be it solitary or social, exclusive or inclusive. It offers respite and a place for contemplation, social engagement, or not, as well as partaking of food, alone or shared.
Often the park bench is not an obvious statement. Not made for comfort, lounging or sleeping until recently. Its design beginnings were originally stone slabs in Italian Renaissance town plazas and used for markets and town meetings. They encouraged a sense of belonging and inclusion in town squares plus they offered shelter outside churches, from the weather or for the disadvantaged. Socialising in a town square was now encouraged. It wasn’t solely about making transactions in town.
Rustic stone and timber benches transformed into mass-produced cast iron benches and chairs during the Industrial Revolution. Cast iron was durable and cheap. Designs were still not made for comfort but became decorative with motifs depicting flora and fauna, when viewed empty and in situ. The fashion at this time was social parading in the towns.
Often straight backed, if a back was offered, narrow so you could perch but not sleep – chairs or benches were for support only. Add dividers or middle arm rests and you could be sure your stay is temporary.
Regardless of discomfort, the respite provided offered a welcome contemplation. Many an idea has been thought from a bench. As many a problem has been solved. Lovers are united in sharing a space and friends or strangers pass time, united by a bench. We have all noticed the dedication plaques displayed on particular benches. These tend to invoke a sense of intrusion, perhaps of memory, reflection and ghosts?
The plaza at Harvard University has provided a ‘new organisation of social space’ by introducing Stoss hand-designed contemporary benches. These benches are ergonomic, allowing for multiple functions like stretching, playing or lounging.
This is made possible with 3D modelling and fabrication. It creates a new sense of community, reflecting broader societal changes toward a healthier, more inclusive public space. Similar sentiments are seen in Italy by architect and yoga instructor Robyne Kassen with the ‘zero point’ bench.
Unire/Unite is an installation in Rome using the zero point benches. They are timber frames covered in ‘concrete canvas’ – concrete on the inside with canvas on the outside. The installation enables visitors to do yoga-inspired body positions to ‘activate, strengthen and balance the mind and body’.
Today we are seeing our benches and public spaces reflecting our obsession with comfort, technology, health and social wellbeing. Regardless of the type of bench you find, I think the time of respite and peace found there is welcome, no matter the bodily position you must take up. Go forth and explore your nearest park bench. You’ll be pleased you did.
Indre Kisonas owner and principal designer – iok design
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