THE MOVEABLE SEAT: A REVELATION


Lively, enjoyable public spaces start with inviting places to sit. Movable chairs offer the option to sit in groups, in pairs, to fly solo, to follow the sun or shade.

Deserted plazas become flexible, accommodating, hospitable, thanks to the introduction of freestanding seats and tables. Places are transformed.

Harvard Yard, Harvard University, Massachusetts. In 2009 the space is a walkway for marching to your next class. The university decides to make it a gathering place where students can mix with the larger community, starting with movable furniture.

“The response was enormously positive,” say Lizabeth Cohen and Mohsen Mostafavi, professors and co-chairs of Harvard’s Steering Committee on Common Spaces.

“Overnight, a vibrant and diverse population was pausing to meet, chat, doze, study, eat, watch performers, or simply sit down.

“The chairs hosted everything from seminar meetings, to the visiting Nobel-laureate capturing a moment of public solitude, to a spontaneous game of musical chairs engaging 70 participants.”

Similar effects are found in Times Square in New York, the city’s Bryant Park in all seasons, and the well established Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. Movable experiments are now popping up in Australian cities too.

Why does movable furniture work so well? Respected urban theorist William H Whyte suggests people appreciate the power of choice.

“If you know you can move if you want to, you feel more comfortable staying put,” he says.

Whyte and his team of researchers studied how people use parks and plazas in New York City in the 1980s. They found that, given the option, people will almost always move a chair before they sit, often just a little and even if it doesn’t seem to accomplish anything.

Perhaps it is a sense of control, of ownership over the seat, that draws people to move it, mused Whyte. You move it an inch forward and sit down and that chair becomes yours.

Do movable seats ‘walk’? Caretakers report that sometimes, yes they do, but losses tend to be minimal, particularly weighed against the value the seats bring to the space, the people they attract. Bryant Park loses just a few of its hundreds of movable chairs a year, and each chair is far less expensive than a fixed bench.

Risk can be mitigated by the level of pedestrian traffic in the area, businesses that also use the space and so become custodians, onsite supervision, overnight security and the weight of the seats. Installing tracking chips is another measure.

Weighed up against the enjoyment the movable furniture brings and the crowds it attracts, the balance is often deemed worth it.

As the populations in our cities grow and urban citizens expect higher quality amenities on their doorsteps, caretakers are investing in public spaces to attract and retain talent and in turn invigorate the economy.

Australians have always celebrated outdoor living, and as our backyards are shrinking public parks are becoming more agile, multi-functional spaces to bring better quality of life and give communities a chance to grow.

The new Forum Seat is designed as a hybrid between a patio and street furniture product, available as fixed or movable to provide the power of choice.

As William Whyte says, “One felicity leads to another. Good places tend to be all of a piece – and the reason can almost always be traced to a human being.”

Whether your felicity is people-watching, being part of the flock, or seeking peace and quiet in a perfect corner, movable seats build flexibility and comfort into a space. It’s your seat, your move.

For more information visit www.streetfurniture.com



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