Out on the streets

Wednesday 15 Jun 2011

Often overlooked by passers-by, WAN considers the importance of street furniture

Street furniture plays a vital role in the day to day running of every city in the world, with park benches, water features, bus shelters, traffic signs and street lamps adding that unique sense of character to the tangible urban realm. As we reported several weeks ago, the city of Mumbai is beginning to experiment with this integral part of the metropolitan fabric by enabling private developers to create innovative installations that aid the day-to-day running of the city in exchange for advertising rights.

In light of this recent news, we decided to ask past WAN AWARDS winners from the Urban Design sector what elements of street furniture they felt were missing from their cities and why. Chris Punt and Helen Buckle from the Auckland Design Team at Boffa Miskell Limited went the extra step with their answer, supplying these detailed renderings (left) to support their views that ‘experiencing the street is an intricate, paradoxical combination of inputs and outputs, chain reactions and responsive relationships’.

The pair were quick to point out the rapidly changing perspectives from which these street adornments are viewed. They explained: “While many of the inherent ways in which we experience space and place may have remained constant for centuries, changing lifestyles are resulting in a growing demand for more responsive environments. These changing attitudes, along with technological advances, are opening new possibilities into the ways we are able to interact with our surroundings, and indeed, how objects themselves can respond to their users.”

Often overlooked in the grand masterplanning process, it is through these smaller essentials to a district’s working life that smaller firms are able to make their mark and demonstrate their creative potential. The resulting designs can be immensely powerful. Few visual images are as synonymous with London as the red telephone box; a suburban home in the United States may be recognised for its mailbox; ornately curled streetlamps are often attributed to Parisian boulevards; and Tokyo is dotted with large numbers of weird and wonderful undulating public benches.

For Peter Fink of Form Associates, this is a major factor in the ‘ergonomic inter-relationships between object and space’ as he expresses a desire for elements of London’s street-scene to ‘become a multifaceted and culturally informed response’ to the city.

A Founding Partner of Form Associates, Fink’s eloquent response demonstrates a deep love affair with England’s capital and a desire to maximise its potential as a centre for the creative industries. He furthers: “The celebration of the underlying cultural plurality and of the rhythm of London as a 24 hour city could make street furniture a potential generator of new environments – a source of new opportunities for social diversity and sociability. By overriding the requirement of uniformity and functionality street furniture could become a creative provocative act, redefining ambiguous and ill-defined areas into spaces which encourage social exchange and interaction.”

Very rarely do the public pay close attention to the minute design details that go into the fixtures that furnish their towns and cities, and yet these inanimate objects together possess the potential to alter the feel and even the future of an urban development.

Chris Punt & Helen Buckle at Boffa Miskell conclude with the following statement: “Street furniture has the potential to be much more than strategically placed inanimate objects in space. The future of street furniture in our city will be ‘Intelligent’ furniture; multifaceted, intuitive and responsive objects capable of morphing into a ‘second skin’.” See left for visualisations of this concept.

What street furniture would you like to see in your city? Let us know in the comments section below.

Sian Disson
News Editor

Key Facts:

Urban design

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