Monday, 23 August 2010

Day 235, on which John thinks about designing furniture for public places [23.8.10]

Dag to hundrede femogtredive. Well, it's monday. The week started. That week I was dreading yesterday. But it doesn't seem too bad so far. I managed to churn out a few JOHN Collection items, the first individual ones in quite a while. It's good to know I'm back to doing it, but it's worrying that the year is slipping away and I have only photographed one of the four atmospheric scenes I need for the third Collection. Ah well, keep building away.

OK, public spaces. There's a wide variety of public spaces to design furniture for, but basically it's all based around the same concept: waiting. You need to wait at an airport, or a train station, or in a park, or in a doctor's waiting room. It's all about sitting down and occupying yourself until something happens, and/or making the best use of the public space possible.

We'll start with indoor solutions. What better example to begin with than an Eames tandem seating unit:


The Vitra website where I borrowed this photo from says that the seats are designed for airports or train stations, but I think they're just for airports. Airport seating needs a certain kind of luxury, because you'll be waiting for a plane for longer that you'll be waiting for a bus. The problem with public seating is that, no matter how nice you make it look, it can't look too nice. Not because you don't want people to nick it, but because there's always details unique to public seating which look ugly. Here you can see Charles and Ray Eames have tried their best, but the underside of the seat is pretty ugly. The sleek seats just descend into a boring floor fixture.

But is there any space for style in public seating? I very much doubt it.

Here, the Eames have tried again to include style in public seating. This time the legs are a bit better - still too table-like for me but whatevs. This kind of modernism would not be fitting for many airports or train stations, because so many people are using them. The more people that use the seating, the more opinions on style you have to consider when designing. And that's why public seating turns out bland and boring, so it suits everyone.


But is there any place for function in public seating, beyond providing people with a place to sit? Sadly, no. With function comes specialised parts, such as the legs on these Cone chairs from Verner Panton (a design classic, owned by Vitra, not sure why it's in their Public Spaces set). The function is that users can move the chair around, but that means it can't be too heavy. Which means it could fall over. Which means it could get broken or worn. Which means it will need to be replaced sooner. And public seating is different from private seating in that it should last much longer.

So perhaps we should refine public seating down as far as it can go? Right down to its function. Strip it of form, strip it of 'cool features', strip it of anything interesting. What do you have? A block with a seat on it. You've got to have comfort, so you may as well make it a indented seat or something with a dip for your bottom. You can't make it fabric or leather, 'cause that gets worn. And you need to make it lots of seats in a row, like the Eames' tandem seating. Comfort and sheer quantity are the two things which make public seating perfect. It needs to be comfortable to sit on, and you need to be able to seat a lot of people so they can all wait together. I just wish public seating would be designed more for socialising, because when you're waiting there's nothing better than to have a chat with other people who are waiting.

~John

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