Bench Innovations in NYC

Both practicing and student architects are exploring intriguing new bench forms in New York City. In some cases, the goal is to provide benches that offer a range of benefits: multi-use infrastructure at the sidewalk-scale. In another case, the idea is to build a flexible, ergonomic model that can be scaled-up at low-cost.  

The Architect’s Newspaper focuses in on “subway vent benches” that offer seating and flood control. As a response to the floods that inundated the N and R lines in 2007, putting them out of service, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Department of Transportation teamed up to create a new “streetscape element with some wit and whimsy” that could protect the subway against debilitating flooding. Rogers Marvel Architects decided to raise the edge of the subway vents, protecting them from flood water while creating undulating waves of slates that are tall enough to sit on. The forms are also modular: “There are three typical grates designed for specific water overflow depths. They can be combined in a left- or right-hand fashion to create the continuous surface over the structural grates below.”

A similar project by Grimshaw provides flood control solution, but this time adds in both bicycle racks and bench seating. Grimshaw says they incorporate both “with an intent on maximising transparency with minimal impact on New York’s busy sidewalks. The design was engineered to be robust and to withstand significant vehicle loads. The furniture components are secured with tamper proof fixings and are fabricated from a higher grade of stainless steel, meeting NYCT durability standards and minimising ongoing maintenance.”


Both projects won AIANY design awards.

Now in the realm of prototype: How to create low-cost seating that can hold up to the elements but also meet the ergonomic needs of a city filled with people of lots of different shapes and sizes? To explore this problem, Columbia University graduate students created an urban bench inspired by “kinetic Slinkies and reverberating see-saws.” Costing just $1,000 and built by 10 students using nearly 1,000 pieces, the bench now creates a “continuous landscape, each seating condition designed according to existing ergonomic profiles in order to maximize comfort and functionality.” The project was also used to test “the limits and capabilities of digital fabrication.”


The students at Columbia write: “The scalability of the joint system and design together creates a truly parametric system in which its use is not only for aesthetics, but for construction, functionality, and comfort as well.” The bench could definitely work, but the person sitting on the other side will need to play well.


Image credits: Undulating Bench / Rogers Marvel Architects, (2) WTA Bench / Grimshaw, (3-5) Polymorphic / Charlie Able, Alexis Burson, Ivy Chan, Jennifer Chang, Aaron Harris, Trevor Hollyn-Taub, Brian Lee, Eliza Montgomery, Vernon Roether, and David Zhai, Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation.

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