Public furniture has gotten more inventive lately — and not necessarily in a good way. Installed, more often than not, with anti-homeless discomfort in mind, furniture built into sidewalks, parks, and public transit hubs tends to be as bare bones as possible. At best, it’s boring. At worst, it’s downright hostile, incorporating features that prevent people from laying down or even lingering for more than a few minutes, like steeply slanted seats.
Ultimately, designs like that just make cities more unfriendly. Not only do they make life harder for people who are already suffering, they discourage all citizens of the city from coming together in public spaces to connect with each other and their environment. Design alone can’t solve social and economic problems like homelessness, but it can help promote compassion and the kind of face-to-face interactions that give us windows into each others’ lives.
A more humane approach to street furniture serves the needs of as many people as possible. Because who are cities for if not their residents? Two cool examples come from HELLO WOOD, a Budapest-based design studio specializing in creating custom-made, temporary, and site-specific installations that everyone can use and enjoy.
“City Snake” is a long, sinuous wooden bench featuring body-cradling curves, integrated shock-resistant solar panels, and built-in USB outlets. Measuring 7.5 meters (about 25 feet) long, the bench invites passersby to congregate, hang out for a while, interact with it from a variety of angles, and make use of renewable energy. It even has integrated Wi-Fi hotspots, a sure-fire way to draw people in.
“Fluid Cube” is a wooden block with built-in seating and lighting that creates a small, private shelter from the elements. It too has solar panels built in, and its curved entrances and exits are large enough to maintain visual contact with the city all around it. It also has a tempered glass roof. Thanks to their wooden construction and fluid shapes, both designs offer a bit of organic softness and warmth to the typically cold, concrete nature of city squares.
HELLO WOOD designed City Snake and Fluid Cube for a Hungarian public school campaign by MVM (Magyar Villamos Müvek Zrt). They’ll be used by students in this instance, but it’s easy to imagine similar designs placed in cities all around the world. The structures are also modular, so they’re easy to transport and install. Made of solid sustainably-sourced wood, they were cut from sawn blocks of wood using CNC technology to minimize waste.
The studio’s official website reads: “HELLO WOOD started out as an art camp in 2010, and over the years, [it] has grown into a global hub for architects, designers, and woodworkers looking to new ways of sharing and producing knowledge. Today we exist both as a creative architecture and design studio and an educational platform for architectural dialogue and experimentation.”
“Our studio projects are driven by innovation, social responsibility, and an unwavering passion for great design. We work with wood and other sustainable materials to create large-scale installations that are not only artistic, but also eco-friendly and socially relevant. Through our work, we aim to raise awareness, encourage community building, and bring architecture closer to the general public.”