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CityBench

Winner - Silver

Competition: Spark:Product
Designer: Ignacio Ciocchini - Vice President, Design
Design Type: Streetscape Furniture - Public Bench
Website: www.bryantpark.org

Design: Ignacio Ciocchini, Industrial Designer | Client: Chelsea Improvement Company, Daniel A. Biederman, President; NYC Department of Transportation, Janette Sadik-Khan, Commissioner, Andy Wiley Schwartz, Neil Gagliardi, Nick Peterson | Advisors: NYC Public Design Commission, Jackie Snyder, Signe Nielsen, Paula Scher | Manufacturers: Landscape Forms / Studio 431, Robb Smalldon, Denise Smith. The CityBench program is a collaborative effort between the design team, the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Public Design Commission (PDC) to provide the citizens of New York City with attractive, durable benches in heavily pedestrianized areas such as bus stops and retail corridors, and areas with high concentrations of senior citizens. Launched in 2011, the program will add 1,500 benches to locations through the city’s five boroughs. The CityBench had its origins as a bench designed and developed for placement at various locations in NYC’s SW Chelsea neighborhood. As the “Chelsea Bench” was going through the approval process with DOT and PDC, those agencies expressed interest in adopting it for DOT’s fledgling CityBench program, which aimed to install benches throughout the city. Soon after the bench’s successful introduction in Chelsea, DOT officially announced that its design would serve as the basis for CityBench. The design team, DOT, and PDC were united in the ultimate goal: to make urban sidewalks and streets more accommodating to seniors, the mobility-impaired, and other pedestrians by providing them with plenty of comfortable, attractive benches on which to sit. While designing the CityBench, the designers studied existing public benches in New York City, and the way that people used them. The team surmised that the existing seating did not allow for sufficient social space between users, did not accommodate different body types, and did not visually relate to the city. All street furniture must be designed with cost and durability in mind. Besides these imperatives, design team’s challenges were threefold: to create a bench that provides adequate social space; that is comfortable for a variety of persons; and is distinctive yet harmonious with its surroundings. To ensure adequate social space, the designers placed two dividers on each bench, creating three discrete seats, each with generous proportions of 26 ¾” wide. Users with different body types can sit, change positions, and make other movements without bothering or touching their neighbor. Most can also place belongings next to them – purses, bags, bottles, lunch boxes, etc. While they do not appear unfriendly, the seat dividers also deter “urban camping” and can be used as push-up handles by users rising to stand. Aesthetically, the benches are a vast improvement over their predecessors. Their characteristic “moving” laser-cut pattern is not only visually striking; it also performs an important identifier role by relating the bench to New York City’s energy and constant movement, and also to its skyline. The laser-cut perforations are also functional, as they allow for heat dissipation in the summer, and help drain away rain and snow melt. The bench’s carbon steel arch base relates it to NYC bus shelters and is very strong while giving the bench a floating, lightweight appearance. The design leaves the sidewalk under the bench free of legs or other support mechanisms, greatly simplifying sidewalk sweeping and snow removal. A clean and simple surface-mount system hides all hardware. After DOT adopted the “Chelsea Bench” for its CityBench program, the design team was charged with making the bench conform to DOT and PDC design requirements and to make its cost conform to DOT budget requirements. The latter proved the bigger challenge. Working closely with DOT, PDC, and the fabricators, the designers made adjustments in materials and production methods that lowered the cost of the bench from approximately $4,500 per unit to the $1,648 per unit. This price is in line with the current market for urban benches, which has price points at $1,500; $2,500; and $3,500, and makes CityBench an attractive, affordable option for urban management entities. One of the main challenges for urban planners is to make cities more livable. The CityBench delivers on several levels: it’s attractive, functional, and, as DOT’s adoption of it indicates, applicable in many different sections of a city. Installation of 1,500 units has begun and the bench is already appearing in neighborhoods across the city. Materials used – A. Seat Panels - ¼” thick ASTM A-36 HRP&O Steel – Laser cut & CNC Formed. B. Seat Panel Brackets - 3/8” ASTM A-36 HRP&O Steel – Laser Cut & CNC Formed C. Bench Supports - 6” x 2” x 8.2# ASTM A-36 HR Steel C-Channel. D. Arms - 3/8” ASTM A-36 HRP&O Steel. Street benches, of course, have been around for centuries. The innovation that its designers brought to the CityBench lies in their attention to the needs of the people who will use them, as well as the bench’s sleek, evocative look. The CityBench is the first bench to be adopted for use throughout NYC, and the design team worked closely with DOT and PDC to place them at appropriate locations. Justin Davidson, who wrote the New York Magazine piece, quotes legendary urbanist William (Holley) Whyte: “A dimension that is truly important is the human backside. It is a dimension many architects ignore…” This is a dimension that the collaborators have taken into account. Davidson captured the essence of the goal of all the organizations involved in designing, developing, and implementing the CityBench program: “The benches look tough, cool, and modern, but the effect of installing 1,500 of them on sidewalks in all five boroughs will be to make the city a more relaxed, inviting place.” Already a fixture in Chelsea and on 34th Street, the CityBench will soon be making the city more livable for people in all five boroughs.