Transformational Seating

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Example of Movable Tables and Chairs (Bryant Park, NYC) © 2013

GOOD recently posted a brief story that captured the power of movable seating. The piece served as reminder of why movable seating is so important to successful public spaces. The focus of the article  was about a new initiative called “The Building Hero Project” by public workshop in Philadelphia. The initiative is a program that enables young adults to improve their neighborhoods through design by starting a micro-business to manufacture and sell a designed product. If that isn’t cool enough, the product is intended to be one that can improve local public spaces, schools, or neighborhoods. 

The Building Hero Project’s first class chose to make a simple wood bench.  The author described the experience of bringing their benches to Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia during a music event. The group recognized  their was a gap between the crowd and the group of performers activating the space. Since the benches in the space could not be moved, the performance as the author put it “…was more of a spectacle than an interactive experience.” The students brought their benches and filled the gap. For those using the new benches, the result was a more immersive and interactive experience with the performers.


Example of Fixed Benches (Millennium Park, Chicago) © 2013

Examples like this demonstrate the opportunity lost when site furniture can’t be moved and adapt to the dynamics of a healthy public space. The arrangement of fixed site furniture is the designer’s best guess as to how the space will or should be used rather than providing a solution that can easily be transformed to meet the needs of the space as demands on it change. “How many people will want to sit together?”, “Where will they want to sit and in what arrangement?”, and “How close together are they comfortable being?” are all questions that must be answered correctly the first time around if the seats can’t be moved. It is an unfortunate dilemma designers are faced with time and time again due to the overwhelming concern of theft. Designers end up having to make a choice and hope it will meet the majority of the users needs. Unfortunately, no matter the choice, it limits future possibilities.

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