Client: Museum of Science, Boston
Project: Sculptural Museum Benches
Challenge: Designing a bench system that can have arms, backs, and cushions added, with different lengths available, while being easily movable, and have a sculptural aesthetic.
During the architectural renovation of the museum box office and lobby, visitor seating became a hot topic of discussion. The thinking was that we have many different needs within the museum for seating options and our selection had to fulfill these criteria: Bench seating available in multiple lengths, and with options for backs, arms, and cushions. The benches must be durable, comfortable, and easily movable for events-but not so easily movable for visitors. The seating must also group nicely and appear sculptural when viewed from above (we have vistas onto other floors).
What we realized quite early on was that there were no off-the-shelf options that ticked every single one of these boxes, so the team decided to purchase some nice off-the-shelf benches for through-put areas like the concourse, and decided to design a custom sculptural museum bench for the exhibit halls, which we would build the first version for in the new Yawkey Gallery space.
My solution was to design a box of parts- one leg, one arm, and one seat back- that could easily be multiplied. The legs would be attached together with steel tubes and a hard surface top, which could simply change in length to achieve different size benches. The arms could be attached at any interval directly to the bench top, as could the seat backs, which also could easily change in length.
As for the sculptural element, my solution was to angle one of the bench sides at a 60 degree angle, and to use the hard bench seating material to become a fondant-like casing of the metal body. This way, the benches could abut one another in many configurations and make some very pretty designs.
After building and installing the first version of the benches, we learned a couple of very valuable things. The first was that our choice of using Corian as our bench top was spot on- the material is durable and still looks beautiful and sculptural after time on the floor. However, since you need to have a wooden underlay to attach Corian, these benches are unbelievably heavy! Also, although we prototyped the bench with a back, in the final materials, the backs along with the angled-in legs resulted in tippy benches.
The second version of the bench aimed to pare down the design to be less heavy but still as sculptural and durable as the first. We kept the Corian hard surface, but lost the fondant-like draping (this also cut down on cost!). This second bench was pared down to the minimal amount of steel tube and used angle bracket as stays for the seat, and we also squared up the leg design, but kept the angled side so that fun configurations can still be created.