Feature Article - March 2003
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Home Sweet Site

Selecting—and budgeting—for the right site furnishings

By Mitch Martin

The Naperville Riverwalk in Naperville, Ill.

Even their names have become synonyms for the unwanted and undervalued: Riding the bench. The trash bin of history.


Names can be deceiving. Architects and other design experts across the country increasingly are finding site furnishings to play an important role not only in how parks, recreational facilities and other public spaces are perceived, but how they are used.

However, these same experts say the seemingly simple task of putting out a trash can, park bench or other site furnishing is often done incorrectly or without thought.

Recreation managers who do this are missing out on a relatively inexpensive opportunity to put a unique stamp on their public areas. Landscape architects and interior designers are stretching and changing the use of site furnishings. In doing so, they are putting the aesthetics in athletics.

Some landscaping professionals say the use of new materials and old, used in creative ways, can enliven public spaces. At the same time, a facility manager provides patrons with a good view and a good seat.

New concepts

When RRM Design Group took on a project in Avila Beach, Calif., it was a unique opportunity. The community was the site of oil farms. After serious contamination problems, petroleum companies paid for a cleanup and re-excavation of much of the community. As part of the new work, RRM Design of San Luis Obispo, Calif., was commissioned to provide architecture and landscape design.

Mike Sherrod, a landscape architect who serves as manager of landscape architecture services, says his company saw a unique opportunity to build a cohesive theme throughout the community, right down to planters, trash cans and public seating.

Photos, left to right: Hood Park in Perrysburg, Ohio; Swan Creek Riverwalk in Toledo, Ohio; and
Metroparks of Toledo, University-Park Bike/Hike Trail

Look at a trash bin or a bench in Avila Park's public spaces, and there is a good chance you find a sea theme represented. Many of the site furnishings were built with concrete precastings that were then sandblasted with a sea motif, including kelp-like lines on the bottom.

"You get a color shift and different levels of relief with the sandblasting," Sherrod says. "And it's a subtle effect, not something that hits you over the head."

Sherrod says his firm strongly favors using custom material for furnishings. (However, he says his company sticks to "the catalog playbook" when it comes to playground equipment, because of liability and safety issues.) The cost is more, but he says once a client purchases the mold, the cost approaches catalog prices when purchased in larger quantities. The effect is worth it.

"It can give a community or a project a unique identity," Sherrod says. "And it gives the people who go there a strong and unique association with their experience there."