Supplement Feature - April 2017
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A Place for Everything, Everything in Its Place

Furnishing Your Site Effectively

By Dave Ramont


Finding the Right Spot

While product manufacturers may advise customers on things like material and finish durability, they don't normally participate in design or product placement. That task typically falls to landscape architects, park designers, consultants and park staff. Oftentimes, a park's master plan will include recommendations for site amenities, or suggest a style or color scheme, according to Heidi Bringman, senior landscape architect at Minnesota-based LHB Corp. She said it's common practice to include a symbol with an associated label on a schematic design or construction document illustrating exact placement of where a site furnishing should be installed.

"Usually park furniture is chosen during the early part of construction document preparation," said Michelle Kelly, principal and landscape architect at Upland Design, based in Illinois. She added that design development combines site analysis information with the proposed walks and recreational space layout, and site furniture and other amenities are chosen, along with colors and finishes. "This is when the stage is really set to create a deeper look for a park with the site furnishings."

Bringman explained that furnishings are usually situated to supplement pedestrian circulation flows, and their placement is intuitive to the overall design. "Often we ask for community input at a public meeting or stakeholder gathering to gauge what type of site amenities are needed or desired, and then have a discussion about where is the best placement for certain items."

Tables and benches are often placed near building entrances and along walks. Wayfinding signs should be placed at key intersections with considerations taken for angle-of-sun or other weather patterns, and picnic areas with trash receptacles are generally situated close to recreational land uses or near natural resources.

Setting a Standard

Kelly relates how they sometimes suggest that agencies consider using standard park furniture for most of their sites. "Choosing and specifying a standard bench, litter receptacle, picnic table and bike rack can be very helpful for the maintenance staff and shows a unifying look across the park system." Though she said there's always room for exceptions, using the Chicago Park District as an example. They have a standard set of site furnishings, but deviate at some sites such as Maggie Daly Park, where the fun "log" benches in part of the site help to define them as different from other themes in the same park.

Many parks departments do have guidelines for site furnishings—some rather general, some very specific. The Scottsdale, Ariz., guidelines state that one system of amenities should be selected for a park, in order to establish consistency in color and style. The predominant color selection should be similar to the natural tones of the desert, so as not to dominate the existing beauty of the natural areas and views. Accent colors should be the colors of the desert in bloom. Other guidelines state that furniture should be a secondary park element, and shouldn't clutter or dominate. Benches should be oriented to facilitate social interaction. A source of drinking for pets should be included, etc.

The Los Angeles County Park Furnishings guidelines give very specific directions for different amenities, including location, sizes and how they're to be anchored. Some of the many guidelines include: provide benches designed with a center armrest or center break to discourage patron sleeping; provide one barbecue grill for every two picnic tables; all drinking fountains shall be vandal-resistant.

Minimizing Problems

What about vandalism—how can parks and product manufacturers minimize this problem? Bell said site amenity designs tend to focus less on vandal prevention and more on remediation. Most products incorporate mounting fixtures to prevent theft or movement, and coatings are designed to be impermeable and easily repaired or cleaned. "This keeps vandals' artwork as a surface stain, which usually can be removed with cleaning solutions and a little elbow grease." He added that scratches and carvings in recycled plastic furniture can be repaired on-site with sandpaper and a heat gun.

Munro added that furnishings with slats or expanded or perforated metal tend not to be targets as the surface doesn't provide a large canvas.

McCallum believes that vandalism is primarily a security issue, and that proper location, lighting and surveillance are the greatest deterrent. From a product standpoint, she agrees that recycled plastic is more graffiti-resistant due to its closed-cell physical properties, and powder coatings are available in anti-graffiti formulations for an upcharge.

All Inclusive

Inclusive products are becoming more prevalent. Bringman said it's fantastic to see so many choices for universally designed site elements these days. "Some favorites that I've used in my designs include sensory playscapes, raised planting beds for elderly citizens, and ADA-accessible rolling kayak launches."

Simonsen said that wheelchair-accessible products have played a big part in their expanding product line, adding that, "Almost every picnic table we make has an accessible version to it. We also make accessible benches, charcoal grills, campfire rings and camping lantern poles."

Ross and Ogden said their trash and recycling receptacles are also ADA compliant, while Munro said the majority of their products are also available in configurations that allow for universal access. And McCallum pointed out that "Many people envision accessible tables as tables with a missing seat or an extra-long diving board top, which do a great job. But there are other products on the market that offer accessibility without standing out so much."