Trends worth Tracking: The New Role of Outdoor Site Furnishings
Outdoor site furnishings and the architecture of public spaces can foster better, healthier community interactions. In their most basic function, site furnishings create identifiable spaces to gather, sit and socialize. But, well planned amenities can do so much more. Trash receptacles, recycling centers and cigarette urns promote responsible citizen behavior and encourage cleaner, greener environments. Bike parking amenities prevent clutter from impromptu parking against trees, benches, signs and fences, and ensure than hand rails and ramps intended for accessibility purposes are not clogged with bicycles, all while encouraging people to choose cycling as a viable form of transportation. Bold architectural lighting and signage increase safety in areas that people congregate, and aid in geographic orientation, wayfinding and placemaking. Finally, bollards and other furnishings can help protect parking garages, crosswalks and other areas where pedestrian and vehicle traffic converge, while integrated lighting, alarms and reflective paint make travelling the street at night safer. Think you're ready to start your next project? Search ‘site furnishings’ on CADdetails.com or read on to learn more about the important – and evolving - role of outdoor site furnishings in public spaces.
According to the Project for Public Spaces, one of the best kinds of seating for public spaces is the movable chair. Why? Firstly, chairs are more comfortable than benches. Secondly, they’re inexpensive – you can provide roughly 10 movable chairs for the price of one bench.
Most importantly however, people can arrange chairs how they like, to sit nearer or farther apart, or to position themselves in sun or shade. In his now classic 1980 study of the use of public spaces in New York City, American urbanist William H. Whyte and his team of researchers used cameras to watch people, and understand how they used public places. One of the takeaways from the film, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, was that people like to sit in public places, and, far more fascinatingly, that if given the option they will almost always move chairs before they sit in them!
Notable examples of movable seating include the “bistro-style” folding chairs found in New York City’s Bryant Park, pictured above. The iconic chairs are in fact Cedar Green Bistro Chairs, designed and manufactured by CADdetails’ very own FermobUSA. You can find details and specifications here. Similarly, Fermob’s graceful Luxembourg chairs and benches, shown below, have populated Paris’ historic public garden, Jardin du Luxembourg, since the 1920s.
Certainly, providing movable furniture opens up the possibility that it might be stolen. However, if the area is supervised by an attendant, or if the furniture is located near another amenity or activity where staff is present, then vandalism and theft become much less likely. Bryant Park reports that just a few of its hundreds of movable chairs are stolen each year.
New York’s Central Park Conservancy works to restore, maintain, and enhance one of America’s most beloved and most used public urban spaces. With a grant from the Alcoa Foundation, the Conservancy recently enlisted global leader in brand consulting and design, Landor Associates’ New York office, to collaborate on a new trash and recycling initiative for Central Park.
Landor’s design had to simultaneously encourage visitors to recycle, make the collection of trash easier for The Central Park Conservancy gardening staff, complement Olmstead and Vaux’s beloved 19th century landscapes and architecture, and increase visitor awareness of the Central Park Conservancy’s role and contributions to the park. These criteria were all factored into the design, along with other concerns such as rodents, birds, raccoons, urban miners, robustness, maintenance, and operational safety. Ultimately there were two very substantial challenges for the Landor team, the first in designing the new trash bins in a manner appropriate to the park's mission of environmental stewardship. Equally difficult was designing furniture to function as an agent to change behavior and educate park visitors.
The Landor team developed several prototype designs, drawing inspiration from different aspects of the park’s landscape and architecture. The chosen candidate design drew its inspiration from the iconic 1939 New York World’s Fair bench designed by Robert Moses and Kenneth Lynch. In keeping with the Central Park Conservancy's mission of environmental stewardship, the Landor team consulted with the Alcoa Technical Center and was able to design with specific materials and fabrication methods in mind, resulting in bins that are physically robust but efficient and sustainable to manufacture. The bins were hand built in the USA from corrosion-resistant, aircraft-grade aluminum alloy, supplied by Alcoa and containing 30% recycled content, which is in turn infinitely recyclable. The bins were finished with an environmentally friendly, and proprietary, triple-layer powder coat developed by the fabricator, long term CADdetails’ participating manufacturer, Landscape Forms. As a result of this considered design and manufacturing process, and local sourcing, the bins can be included for LEED certification points in future architectural projects.
To help change visitor behavior, the design team employed color-coding and different-sized apertures to make the act of self-sorting recyclables more intuitive. The tilt of the vertical slats, the spiral gesture of the barrel and lid, and typographic placement were all utilized to draw the user’s eye up and into the receptacles’ apertures, and also to reinforce decision-making as users approach the bins.
The Central Park Conservancy trio of receptacles has received praise from the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, the Public Design Commission, the press, and park visitors alike. But their true success has been proven by the measured 35% increase in recycling since their deployment!
Form + Function: Pittsburgh’s Artist Designed Bike Racks
The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust has overseen one of Pittsburgh’s most historic transformations: turning a seedy red-light district into a magnet destination for arts lovers, residents, visitors, and business owners alike. Founded in 1984, The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is a non-profit arts organization whose mission is the cultural and economic revitalization of a 14-block mixed arts and entertainment / residential neighborhood called the Cultural District that is revitalizing the city, improving the regional economy and enhancing Pittsburgh’s quality of life. The District is one of the country’s largest land masses “curated” by a single nonprofit arts organization.
Thanks to the support of foundations, corporations, government agencies and thousands of private citizens, the Trust stands as a national model of urban redevelopment through the arts.
So, it would be easy to think the 16 items displayed throughout the Cultural District are simply works of street sculpture if it weren’t for the plaques that accompany each of them. Wire mesh in a shimmering shape. A tubular triangle with a word balloon on top. Stacked song lyrics from the Queen Song, “Bicycle Race”. But they are more: They are bike racks, created by artists selected through a competitive process by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust to be artistic and functional.
For the completion, which was held first in 2014 and again in 2015, the trust gave each designer a $3,000 budget for design and materials. In addition to the budget, the artists also faced practical limitations on their designs. The racks must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and meet child-safety standards such as not having open areas small enough to trap a child’s head.
View all the Pittsburg Cultural Trust winning art bike racks here.
Connect the Dots
On a former military site in Lyon, France, a new urban park provides access to history via bold, sculptural signage. Parc Blandan, a former military barracks located on 42 acres in the city, is practically new development if you consider Lyon began as a Roman colony in 43 B.C. Built between 1831 and 1853, the site was part of a series of forts designed to protect the city. When Grand Lyon purchased it in 2007, the goal was to provide Lyon residents and visitors with a new urban oasis and make the park’s rich military history accessible to all.
The city hired landscape architects Base, Explorations Architecture, lighting designers On, and, for the site’s signage and wayfinding program, the Paris-based interdisciplinary studio of Nicolas Vrignaud and Analia Garcia-Ramirez. Vrignaud and Garcia-Ramirez’s mission was to create signage that would help visitors navigate the park and bring attention to its historical buildings and fun new features such as a skate park, an imaginary fort/climbing wall, game fields, and other amenities.
A working military base for more than 150 years, Parc Blandan includes a major fort with ramparts, five entrances, and numerous buildings and features of military significance. It was this history that inspired Vrignaud and Garcia-Ramirez to devise bold, sculptural signage elements that would create visual impact against the fort’s stone walls, gravel pathways, and green spaces. Exploring the site at the outset of the project, they discovered a series of red circles stenciled on interior and exterior walls—clearly an old military system for identifying facilities. These red circles became the inspiration for the site’s unique visual vocabulary.
Vrignaud’s system needed to orient visitors to the park as well as tell them stories about the site’s history. His team created a family of five sign types in five diameters to accommodate various functional needs: orientation/wayfinding, regulatory information, site/building identification, and interpretative information to narrate the park’s military history.
The system encompasses 50 signs, including five entrance identifiers, 15 signs interpreting historical features, five outlining the park’s sustainable landscaping and design features, and other facilities and directional signs for playgrounds, a skate park, a dog area, and restrooms. To withstand the exterior environment and urban setting, the signs were fabricated in robust, powdercoated steel and aluminum with silkscreened text.
Vrignaud and Garcia-Ramirez worked with Swiss typographer André Baldinger and his associate Toan Vu-Huu to choose the project typefaces. Inspired again by the red circles, the team opted for Baldinger’s B-Dot family, a pixel font whose letterforms are drawn from dots but are not based on a grid. The result is a highly legible typeface that looks like it was rendered from a dot-matrix printer, but with the smoothness of a classically designed typeface.
Since the park opened in April 2014, visitors of all ages have been coming to learn about its military history, play a game of badminton or soccer, skate in the new skate park, or climb on the playgrounds. The whimsical red circles add to the fun factor and help them enjoy the park even more, especially at night. The project lighting designers bathed the largest circles in red light to draw attention to the visual theme around the park. Visitors feel invited to interact with the circles, and, not surprisingly, they have become a popular photo opportunity.
Responsive Street Furniture
Street furniture prototypes designed to make cities more adaptable for disabled people were on show last summer as part of the Designs of the Year exhibition at London's Design Museum. The Responsive Street Furniture project by designers Ross Atkin and Jonathan Scott uses digital technology to detect pedestrians with different impairments and help make their journeys easier and safer.
Created in partnership with UK manufacturer Marshalls, Responsive Street Furniture uses digital technology to make streets work better for people who find moving around difficult for all kinds of reasons. It brings the adaptability of digital devices like iPads to the fabric of the city, allowing it to change to best suit the needs of the individuals who are using it. These changes include brighter street lighting, audio information, extra places to sit and more time to cross the road.
As part of an adaptable solution, the duo created a system that detects personal electronic devices of registered users. They then designed street lamps with adjustable levels of lighting, mounted foldaway seating, pedestrian crossings with extended time limits, and signage that lights up and talks – all able to detect and respond to the user's requirements through Bluetooth sensors in their smartphone or tablet, or a low-cost fob. If someone needs more light, a streetlight will brighten; if someone needs more places to rest, benches will unlock when they pass. When a blind person walks past a streetlight, the post can read out the name of the store in front. The system can also provide audio information in different languages for tourists.
Some of the changes, like the variable traffic crossings, are particularly tricky to implement, because they have cascading effects on the flow of traffic. Those crossings will likely have the biggest impact on municipal budgets, but some of the smaller pieces, such as the bollards that turn into benches, are already being implemented. The first outdoor responsive item (a talking bollard) has been installed in the Bloomsbury neighborhood of London as part of the “Never Mind the Bollards” exhibition in 2015. And while it's easy to imagine that technology like this could be abused, Atkin says he was careful to limit the functions of the system. No e-mail address, phone number or any other personal details are required to sign up, and the system has been designed to specifically not collect any movement data.
It has been said that what defines the character of a city is its public spaces, not its private spaces. Today’s savvy designers know that specifying the right site furniture can help create visually interesting, functional, sustainable and even interactive public places.