The urban furniture project explores an emerging way of defining ‘a product’. Traditionally products have been defined by strict drawings and models made by the designer. The project moves away from this tradition by creating a product that has a form that can be manipulated by different people – user designers. This is made possible by advancements in parametric design and automated manufacturing processes. The design doesn’t only consist of the single public bench, but the rules that allow for the creation of hundreds of different variations of the base structure. In the thesis the term design space is used to describe the range of possible forms that the rules allow the design to take.
The concept utilizes CNC-bent steel tube as its frame. Wooden bars complete the sitting surface. The silhouette of the bench can be manipulated within the restrictions of the manufacturing process. In this way, the object can be suited for many different functions while retaining a coherent visual appearance.
The design process merged physical and computational design methods. Every detail was studied with quick mockups and prototypes while updating the parametric 3d model. The modeling was mostly done using Grasshopper 3D, as the idea was that it could also be used as the engine for the modification of the form. Having a parametric model means that once the design is defined rigorously with the program, it can be very flexibly modified. This helps as it is then easy to study the proportions in real-world and very quickly update the model to see the changes in the complete design.
The design was initially made for a design competition organized by the city of Helsinki. It ended up being selected as one of the two winners. The winning designs were exhibited in Helsinki’s central library Oodi in Spring 2021 and for this purpose a prototype was produced.
The project continued after the design competition as a thesis project. The modifiability aspect was developed further in Grasshopper. Also, the modification interface was designed. The tool used for modifying the form should be regarded as an integral part of the design.
The modifiability of the design sparks many design philosophical questions. Who owns the final design? The design space contains forms that can barely be described as benches. What would happen if these designs were implemented in the city? It is interesting to think that even the stranger forms could inspire some kind of behavior and maybe even some new kind of urban activity.
In an urban environment, the design can offer quite interesting opportunities for interaction. I wanted the design to take into account all the surprising uses that people may find for it. These potential uses that the environment isn’t designed for are called affordances. For example, street skaters often find subjective affordances from the environment. By allowing kind of ambiguous urban objects to emerge with the design tool and then implementing them into the public areas, it could be a way to create more lively urban environments.Published in