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Thinking Urban: Furniture & Public Spaces for People


Courtesy of Vestre

In our high-tech society, studies show we’re less inclined to be social. Is that really true? Human beings feel the push to interact and are finding themselves drawn to public spaces. Perhaps the old-style town, based around a public square (think Italy), wasn’t so bad after all. As cities grow, a need for community is growing accordingly. Therefore, how we design spaces matters in order to initiate social engagement.

Urban Furniture

An atmosphere can make or break a space, as it allows or invites a certain feeling that passersby or visitors want to engage with. A critical factor with atmosphere involves how the body is drawn to use and interact with the space and others in the vicinity. The style of the design or the experience that it invites has the power to influence different expressions, attitudes and even new ideas.

Design studio Raw Edges’ recent project Steps which was commissioned by the New Gallery in London, highlights the beauty and power of design, bringing people together through its cluster form. Created from the traditional urban material, concrete, the shape and scale move away from the unexpected due to its bulbous form.

Seeking to improve the quality of the urban interstitial spaces amidst big buildings and highways, Boun puts on a public furniture design competition entitled Urbanscape which very recently released their results.

In line with thoughtful design, Vestre, the Scandinavian company that has been spearheading public furniture for decades considers good design to be the key to creating good spaces; people are drawn to what looks good. Yet, what looks good comes at a price, which is why the company has set the goal to be the most sustainable outdoor furniture company in Europe. Their new series, which was launched at the 2018 Stockholm Design fair, includes the Atlas benches and the Kong table a and is extremely versatile, allowing for unlimited possibilities.

vestra urban furniture cities landscape living

Find Vestra’s 2018 collection here:

Green thinking gets even greener (in color) with Green City Solutions’ recent project City Tree, a moss-covered “living wall” sitting in London’s Piccadilly Square that acts as the back to a bench. Covered in multiple types of moss that naturally absorb pollution, the bench is a biological air filter.

Another avenue connecting people to their surroundings is comfort. Evoking a sense of home in the public sphere, Gripnerhagglund created Cushy, an urban couch recalling Grandma-style cushions. In conversation with ArchiExpo e-Magazine, Sanna Gripner and  Märta Hagglund from the design studio discussed the emotional connection to furniture: 

We think it is important to put people’s needs and necessities front and center. To look at how people behave in groups from a psychological as well as a physiological perspective. Public spaces are much more complex than private spaces since they are open to the multitude of the city and surrounding areas.

Their project is one of several Super Benches, commissioned for the Kalejdohill project, a two-year regeneration initiative in Kvarnbacken, a Swedish park in the suburb of Järfälla amidst a new housing development. 

Spring Break / Soft Baroque

Spring Break / Soft Baroque for the Kalejdohill project—located in Järfälla, led by creative director Andreas Angelidakis

Another Super Bench was Soft Baroque’s Spring Break, a slickly polished stainless steel bench mounted on spring feet. Considering the public park as a space where one can just be, not needing to consume, the designers wanted to invite visitors to have fun. As SB explained to ArchiExpo e-Magazine: 

We wanted to take it to an extreme as well and see how we could change the interaction with such an everyday typological object, like a park bench. In doing that we made an object that is not just beautiful and functioning, but also brings enjoyment to its users. Our park bench is a slick grown-up version of ride-on playground toys. 

Play literally activates space and the people in it, which is how the project Playscapes in Amman, Jordan, evokes empowerment of the community through modular, wooden box-like structures. Designers Sarah Abdul Majid and Sandra Hiari created this low-cost, simple system to respond to need for urban play spaces in the community, but it can be adjusted to fit the demands of various spaces, such as refugee camps. 

Interested in how furniture effects and affects a society, The Hacking Urban Furniture research portal launched an Idea competition in 2017, which sought projects focusing on substantial conceptions of new economic models, functional expansions and civil-societal participation. One of the winning projects that caught our eye, Andres Tremplin’s “Berlin Dough,” was particularly playful as it challenged the expectations of how people interact physically with “furniture.” 

Bird's eye view of Andreas Templin's Berlin Dough. Courtesy of Andreas Templin.

Bird’s eye view of Andreas Templin’s Berlin Dough. Courtesy of Andreas Templin.


When a space is made into a public place, it brings the potential for visitors to not only engage, but to stay and develop a relationship with that space. When defining and building a sense of place, a successful area nurtures a sense of belonging while also balancing an allowance of freedom to engage with it in many different ways and with different activities.

Vestre Fjord Park, designed by Adept Architects, rests in the largest fjord landscape in Denmark. Surrounded by water, the structure synthesizes a connection to the natural environment, the water spaces and activities and the sea. Utilizing architecture to frame the water allows for a more diverse learning experience and dynamic nature adventure. 

Also allowing for an adventurous encounter, 100 architects’ Red Planet in Shanghai is a playful intervention in a privately owned public space within a shopping area. Brightening up the area with the color red, the space is no longer in-between, but has become a place where families come to rest and have fun.

Combining play with place, Czech designers Atelier SAD and Mmcité1 collaborated to create Pinecone, a small pavillion with scales made of plywood. Easily transportable and adaptable, the unit is intended for use as an outdoor classroom, for relaxation or even campfire moments.

About the Author

Erin Gigl is a freelance design and travel writer, editor and artist.

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