Supplement Feature - April 2013
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Design for Living

Site Furnishings to Complement Your Context

By Rick Dandes

Material Matters

Choosing materials should be based upon the application. Durability, maintenance and product life are directly related to the product's materials, Shirley said. Try to develop a baseline from current AS standards.

"Consider metal and how that surface might deter people from sitting on benches vs. wood, which is more comfortable because it doesn't get cold and it doesn't get hot," explained Kathy Madden, senior vice president, Project for Public Spaces. "Generally we recommend wood, or removable seating, which provides a little bit more flexibility and comfort," but there are some interestingly designed metal benches in the Jardin du Luxembourg (the Luxembourg Gardens), the second largest public park in Paris, which are very comfortable.

Similar to wood is aluminum, a material that does not become too cold or too hot in inclement weather, and it has the added benefit of color.

Common durable materials include steel, aluminum, concrete, HDPE recycled plastic lumber, and wood like Ipe, teak, or treated pines. There are also colorful plastics or coated metals used for movable chairs, tables and trash receptacles, and recycled plastic used for benches, play structures and deck platforms.

Make Your Choice

Observing how people use amenities will help in selecting the right kind for a particular public space, Galletti said. Two-seat benches will create an environment where there will be single people sitting on each of the benches.

There are also special considerations for various environments, such as urban areas, very rural areas, coastal areas or heavy snow areas. Water fountains in freezing areas, for example, need to be shut down; saltwater can affect certain materials; and urban furnishings need to stand up to vandalism.

In Louisville, Ky., park and recreation officials actually drew up a master plan in which they "mocked up the area, chose a temporary seating arrangement and tested three or four different manufacturer's furnishings before deciding what worked best in our park, and making purchases," said Gary Pepper, landscape architect and director of facilities, Waterfront Development Corp.

"These furnishings sat out there in the elements and were exposed to the general public," he said. "We periodically would ask the people what they thought, and watch them, how they were using the furnishings and what they liked about each one."

That narrowed the field down to two materials. One was wood, one was metal. The wood furnishings were going to be used in the rural setting of the park, a landscaped area, where there were a lot of heavy trees, hills and pathways. In the more urban area, near the downtown with wide open spaces, metal furniture was used.

"What we looked for in the metal furniture was comfort, style and simplicity. We didn't want anything that would look faded over time," Pepper said. "We wanted something that we knew we could get replacements for. Aesthetics was also important. We didn't want furnishings that would look too contemporary or jazzy. Many parks are using aluminum or stainless steel furnishings right now, and that's great, but I wonder what it's going to look like 10 years from now. How is that particular piece of furniture going to change with the use of the park and the maturity of the park? Is that furniture always going to look like it belongs? And not be dated? Those are the factors we used in deciding on the furnishings."