An open international contest has been launched for a series of $1,000 outdoor public benches in Portland, Oregon, USA (Deadline: 11 May)
Open to multidisciplinary teams of designers, architects, makers, builders, artists, and creatives, the competition seeks innovative proposals for a range of new sustainable street seats which will be fabricated and exhibited along the historic city’s waterfront.
The project, backed by Design Museum Portland, will see 15 seats temporarily installed at the city’s World Trade Centre Plaza and Tom McCall Waterfront Park this summer. Proposals are expected to harness reusable sustainable materials and innovative construction techniques with the top five designs set to be permanently installed next year.
Knot Bench, Boston by Joseph Chun Jr., Natalie Fizer, Sutton Murray, and Emily Stevenson
According to the brief: ‘Street Seats is a catalyst for designers to use their creative minds and innovative talents to produce a real, tangible, usable object that helps transform the urban environment. Participating designers receive international recognition in the design community and visibility with major organizations interested in supporting the arts, design, and urban innovation industries.
‘Every entry will be featured online and in our scale model gallery. Semi-finalists will receive a grant to fabricate their bench, which we’ll install around the World Trade Center Portland plaza and Tom McCall Waterfront Park — and winning entries will receive cash prizes and additional publicity.’
Portland is home to around 2 million people and widely recognised for its commitment to urban sustainability – featuring 4,000 hectares of parkland, advanced public transport systems and high levels of walkability and cycling.
The city’s waterfront area, providing dramatic views of the Willamette River, is a popular destination for residents and tourists. The district features several financial, government, and business institutions – such as the landmark World Trade Centre Plaza – along with other amenities such as the Tom McCall Waterfront Park.
The competition comes five years after an earlier Street Seats contest was held by the Design Museum Boston which received 170 submissions and saw 20 schemes installed in the city’s Fort Point Channel Area regeneration zone.
World Trade Centre Plaza, Portland
Conceptual designs must be an appropriate size, suitable for all weather conditions, made from renewable or recycled materials, safe, strong and capable of supporting at least two large adults with a combined weight of around 270 kilograms.
Submissions should include a ⅛ scale model which must be delivered to the Design Museum Portland in time for the deadline.
Submitted models will feature in a public exhibition and 15 semi-finalists will be selected in June with each team receiving $1,000 to fabricate their design. The completed schemes will be installed in late July with the overall winners announced on 2 August.
The first prize winner will receive $5,000 and two runners-up prizes of $2,000 each will also be awarded. The seats will remain on site until January 2019 after which five designs will be selected for permanent installation.
How to apply
The deadline for submissions is at 11:59 local time (PDT) on 11 May
Early registration from 18 January to 16 March: $30
General registration from 17 March to 11 May: $75
Design Museum Portland
1355 NW Everett St.
Two-fold Bench case study: Q&A with Kyle Schumann
The partner at After Architecture discusses lessons learned designing a pop-up street seat for Boston, Massachusetts
How did your Twofold Bench project create a suitable pop-up seating solution for Boston?
Twofold accommodates two user groups as well as two different patterns of behaviour. Acknowledging the scalar discrepancy between adults and children, Twofold acts as a bench for adults and a table and chairs for children. The site was located just outside the Boston Children’s Museum, so we invited children to participate by scaling a piece of the built environment specifically for them – an experience not usually encountered outside the context of a school or playground. This strategy also produced new interactions with adults, who made a kind of game of squeezing themselves into a seat made for someone many years their junior.
Two-fold Bench by After Architecture
Which architectural, material, visual and other methods did you harness in your design?
We wanted to address notions of standardized design, comfort, and use by questioning the size of a bench as viewed through a child’s eyes. We also explored material by inverting the traditional application of plywood: the layers are exposed as a single, continuous surface while the finished veneer is reduced to a thin edge and obscured with paint.
Two-fold Bench by After Architecture
What advice would you have to contest participants on designing entries for the latest contest?
Try something experimental: a big conceptual idea or a new material strategy. The world is filled with “normal” park and street benches, and this competition is a great way to bring innovation to an often-stagnant design problem. The most valuable part of the competition is the ability to test out design ideas in the real world – the public will engage with and use your seating in innovative ways which you may not have imagined, and it is a joy to see these activities documented through social media platforms.
Two-fold Bench by After Architecture
Q&A with Sam Aquillano
The executive director at the Design Museum Foundation in Portland discusses his ambitions for the competition
Why are your holding a contest for new sustainable outdoor seating in Portland?
At Design Museum Portland we’re always looking for unique ways to demonstrate the power of design to transform and improve people’s lives — and as a nomadic museum without our own home, we really see the city as our gallery. Public seating is a great way to activate space and bring community together in urban environments — it’s also an accessible design project, design and architecture firms, individual makers, even students can participate. We’ve launched the challenge to bring together a global community and create a collection of amazing public benches for the public to enjoy and experience how good design improves urban liveability.
What is your vision for the new seating?
Our hope is that creative people from all over the world submit ideas to the challenge — resulting in 15 unique designs which we commission to be built and installed on a half-mile stretch extending from Portland’s World Trade Centre plaza to the Tom McCall Waterfront Park on Portland’s Willamette Riverfront. There are some key constraints around overall size and function and each bench must seat at least two people — I encourage everyone interested to read the full Call for Entries. Sustainability is at the core of the challenge, we’re looking for designs that use recycled, reclaimed, or renewable materials, as well as innovative, sustainable fabrication approaches. Design and aesthetic quality are also a major part of the judging criteria — we purposefully require entrants to send a physical, 1/8th scale model along with their entry — our thought is, if they can build a high-quality, beautiful model, they are more likely to build a beautiful, function public bench.
Strataform Bench, Boston by SG&A
What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?
The challenge is open to everyone — all types of architects and designers can take — individuals and teams from around the world. For students and young designers, this is a chance to show off their skills and gain some great exposure, for larger firms this is an opportunity to get their ideas out of the studio while participating in a very public project. Every entry will be displayed on our website, and every model will be on view in our public gallery at the World Trade Centre. Fifteen semi-finalists will receive a US$1,000 grant to help with their final bench fabrication, and three finalists will receive cash prizes of US$5,000, US$2,000, and US$2,000. Plus the 15 semi-finalists benches will be installed on the site as a public exhibition on design, followed by permanent installations around Portland.
Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?
We’re always thinking about the next project — in the recent past we’ve done a competition for new designs of 3D-printable jewellery, and we gathered over 100 designers under a highway overpass in Boston to design solutions for utilizing the forgotten areas under major roadways. We’re constantly looking to tell the best, most impactful design stories in the form of case studies. So if there are architects and designers out there who have completed a recent, impactful project across key areas like cities, education, play, workplace, business, government and more — we’d love to work with them to capture and share those stories to show the world the real impact of design.
Bowsprit, Boston by Rui Chen, Christa Lee, and Sanchit Mittal of the Georgia Institute of Technology
Are there any other similar innovative outdoor seating projects you have been impressed by?
I’m biased, but I love the benches generated from our original Street Seats Design Challenge in Boston in 2013. Back then we were working through our Design Museum Boston branch and activating the space around Boston’s Fort Point Channel, in the newly formed Innovation District. We received over 200 entries from 63 countries — the result was 18 really interesting public bench designs, including Twofold by After Architecture, Strataform Bench by designers at SG&A, and The Cleat by students from Western Washington University. Your readers can learn more about our previous public bench design competition from my TEDx talk.