by Caterina Viguera and Alexandra Sonnemans (rotative studio)
The concept of commons resides in language, knowledge, habits. Culture. Cities call for more spaces dedicated to commons. Commons are spaces that stimulate and establish relations between people (from same or different cultures). We understand the concept of commons also as a gesture of generosity towards the public, and find this concept embodied in one of the most archetypical items of furniture that is inscribed
in the language, culture and social spaces of our cities: the public bench.
We imagine a place where people encounter, a free1 and accessible place for everybody, in our public, collective space.2 A place to rest, to wait, to reside, to read, to tell stories, to chat, to play; to be alone as well as to welcome company.
Even though in myriad variations, we can find the public bench everywhere and in all times. Seats have been around in cities for millennia. Before there were chairs, or even tables, there were benches.
It is the very ubiquity of the public bench, its presence in our consciousness as an archetype and its representation of urban life which leads us to propose the public bench as a common.
It can serve as an object for intercultural dialogue, on form, meaning and use. Bridging individuals and cultures, evoking questions on how people live, what their traditions are and how they use public space and its furniture.3
Each culture has its own way to reside in public space and such places vary in form, materiality and meaning. Many interesting examples of benches are to be found. As part of their functionality, they can be lineal, circular or squared; short or long (ranging from 1 to 1000 meters). Made in all possible materials, e.g. brick, concrete, wood, stone - in the most refined manners, or on the contrary, rough and ad-hoc. Beyond their main function, some provide shelter, serve as marks of honor or become playgrounds. Some are isolated objects, whereas others appear as a sum of fragments. Places for meditation in dialogue with nature, or melting into the city. Permanent, temporary, fixed or even mobile.
A simple, yet versatile piece of urban furniture that is and has been essential in public space, everywhere and in all times, that can bring people closer, bridging individuals and cultures.
Task and tactics
To research the (concept of a) public bench as common - Examples
To specify the characteristics of the new ‘intercultural bench’
To analyse the given context through different formats
To design the ‘intercultural bench’
To build a prototype in scale
1 “The bench and, perhaps in particular, the park bench, has become the symbol of the democratic city — of free, accessible and equitable public space provided by the city for its citizens. It is a place to be private in public, a small space in the melee of the metropolis where it is acceptable to do nothing, to consume nothing, to just be.” Edwin Heathcote
2 Public space as the stage for our collective desire; the centre of our spatial thinking and acting. Public space not a result of development, but as a condition for it: a place for interaction, between people, things, capital, knowledge and culture. Paraphrazing Jeroen de Willigen, Stadsbouwmeester Groningen
3 In England people tend to get quietly upset if someone sits beside them on a bench, it spoils their solitary moment. In the Mediterranean, benches are social spaces, places where the elderly sit and talk and watch the rhythm of urban life.