Bench Innovations in Boston

“Public seating sets the scene for chance encounters, people watching, connecting with nature, or just taking a break.” Indeed, public spaces without seating can seem pretty uninviting. To create an iconic bench or “street seat” for the Fort Point Channel area in South Boston, Design Boston invited all types of designers from around the world to submit concepts to their Street Seats Design Challenge. Nearly 170 concepts came in from 23 countries. Just 20 made it to the semi-final round. According to the organizers, the goal of the competition is to create a “sense of livability” in a pretty rugged urban area, while also being “socially and environmentally conscious.”

Judges chose the semi-finalists that best the design criteria: “innovation, durability, sustainability, aesthetics, and comfort.” Also, benches needed to be designed so they aren’t bolted to the ground.

The ones who made it to this round were clearly inspired by the rich marine and nautical history of the Fort Point Channel. Boston is trying to turn the whole area into its “Innovation District,” so many designs also pushed the boundaries of the typical park bench. Most concepts seemed to use sustainable or reused materials. Here are a few particularly unique ideas among the 20 semi-finalists:

The “Wa” Chair by Katsuya Arai. (see video above)

Arai writes that “wa” means harmony in Japanese. “I applied this concept to form the bench.” Made of marine plywood, which was selected because it’s pliable, sturdy and water and fungal resistant, the serene Wa bench provides opportunities for individuals or families to sit together. There’s even a path through it for animals.

Knot Bench by Joseph Chun Jr., Natalie Fizer, Sutton Murray, Emily Stevenson at Pillow Culture.

This interesting design takes its cues from the “rich marine and nautical history of the Fort Point Channel that ocean-going vessels once populated.” Their bench is made up of “tied, snarled, and knotted” P.E.T. plastic rope. There are different seating heights for tall and short people and kids, all built into one bench. Looks fun to sit on, but all it would take is one tourist to spill one ice-cream cone in there to really goop it up though. Hopefully it’s designed to be cleaned easily.

Negative / Positive by Matt Trimble, Haik Tokatlyan, Jared Steinmark, Bob Williamson at Radlab.

The RadLab team says their bench is made up of the city’s “infrastructural refuse”: wood, concrete, and steel. “Deposited layer by layer, the bench is a response to the geomorphological conditions that make and shape the land surrounding Boston.” Thought-provoking seating with lots of layers.

The Wharf Bench by Jesse Shaw at Currey and Company

This elegant bench would use reclaimed pillars from the Fort Point Channel piers. The use of just three pillars is symbolic, playing homage to the “three pillars” that supported the development of Boston. Shaw also says the design is purposefully open because people “feel free to communicate with each other when their chests are at a 45 degree angle to each other.”

Arbortecture by Teddy Slowik at Novatona

In the same vein, Arbortecture also reuses local materials, in this case fallen urban trees, to make a lovely bench. Applying an adhesive enables Slowik to create a simple yet comfortable-looking form.

Park Bar by Ryan Pierson and Sally Zheng at Syracuse University.

Another simple yet really family-friendly form made out of reused materials allows people to sit, eat a snack, and catch views of the water.

Cleat by Sarah Burley, Tyler Dawson , Cale Kaufman, Tai Geng, Blake Morton, Colton Sanford at Western Washington University.

This team lets their refined design speak for itself. Using a cleat as a model, it immediately brings the area’s nautical history to life, makes a bold statement, and looks like an inviting place to sit.

See all 20 semi-finalists’ bench concepts.

All semi-finalists get a $750 grant from the Design Museum Boston and sponsors to fabricate a life-size bench by April 27. Then, the 20 benches will be on display for people to test out. The winners will get $5,000.

Before then, check out all Street Seats entries at Factory 63 (63 Melcher Street, Boston, MA).

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