Supplement Feature - April 2013
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Design for Living

Site Furnishings to Complement Your Context

By Rick Dandes

In our recovering economy, where municipal and private officials charged with maintaining and developing spaces such as parks and public gardens not only must offer attractive venues, but also keep a sharp eye on their budgets, how the space is furnished can often be the key element leading to financial stability and community satisfaction.

Choosing one piece of site furnishing over another depends on the overall character and design of the space, suggested Alessandra Galletti, director of design, Project for Public Spaces, a New York-based organization whose mission is to create and sustain public places that build communities. "If it is an urban park," Galletti said, the designer should choose amenities that complement city life and accommodate uses accordingly. In a rural area, rugged furniture is more suitable.

Site amenities should be based on comfort and user friendliness. "Seating that is accessible, comfortable, well-maintained and located in the right places is critical to furniture use," Galletti continued. Generally, the Project for Public Spaces believes that movable tables and chairs are better suitable than fixed benches and tables. Also, an attractive color will enliven a space and attract people to use it. Comfort is an important factor in designing a bench.

"At the Project for Public Spaces," she said, "we're anthropological. We look at how people use spaces and then we look at comfort and where a bench should be placed, how long it should be and how people sit in those benches. We look at moveable seats, how people move them, where they move them and to what location, so that they don't get abused and where they'll function best for people."

Meanwhile, when it comes to the actual purchase, "Just like most things you buy, there are multitudes of requirements that help you determine the best product fit, including, style, durability, cost, warranty, reputation and the environment in which they will be placed," said Bryan Marousek, product designer for a manufacturer based in Mifflintown, Pa. "If your product is going in a high-traffic or public space, then choosing a company that specializes in commercial site furnishings will be ideal," he said.

Amenity designs follow trends, as in all the design fields. Many manufacturers are adding more modern and contemporary lines to their classic benches and site furniture. For example, a leading site furniture manufacturer in the United States is currently importing Santa and Cole benches—from Barcelona, Spain.

Some landscape architects design their own furniture for specific projects; very successful furniture gets produced and commercialized, such as the benches and kiosks originally designed for the historic Battery Park in New York City, and now distributed nationwide by the manufacturer.

There are multiple resources for finding the right site furnishings for your public space, offered Ben Shirley, marketing manager at a fencing product manufacturer in Tulsa, Okla. "The first place I would search is an industry magazine or website. Then, research those particular products' websites and try to find how their features and benefits meet specific industry standards (ASTM)—this should give you an idea of how to measure the product's durability or effectiveness, and not just gravitate toward a product because they are good marketers."