Every few months, the benches in the subway system — those sometimes-convenient, often-dirty wooden slabs that provide a few minutes’ respite while the subway comes — sneak their way into a news story. Sometimes, we hear about bedbugs in the wood; sometimes, we hear about plans to do away with the unhygienic wood. Still, the wood lingers, attracting gum, spills and other less-than-appealing discolorations.
Out of Philadelphia, though, we hear today of a project a few years in the making. In late 2009, with the support of a federal grant, design shop Veyko unveiled a stainless steel bench that doubled as an Arts for Transit installation. It’s functional, comfortable and, most importantly clean.
Jennifer K. Grosche from the Architect’s Newspaper A/N Blog profiled the bench and its makers recently. She spoke with the team behind the bench. “As a fabricator, you often see these blob forms, but my particular interest was taking that form and putting it in the most caustic situation, which is a major urban transit system,” Richard Goloveyko said. “We wanted to see that form built well enough to exist the wear and tear of a subway station.”
As Grosche notes, the benches have been proven to last:
The benches have resiliency thanks to their bent wire design. The idea for the shape came from the way subway travelers wait in the station: they sit or they lean. By modeling these positions in Rhinoceros and Solidworks, the team created a map between the two postures, and the curved, skeleton-like form took shape. Bench frames were cut using a five-axis water jet machine, while CNC wire forming bent 5/6-inch stainless steel strands to meet exact parameters set forth in the computer model. Wires are spaced at 1-1/8 inches on-center to create a comfortable, structurally sound design that also allows water and small debris to pass through.
The ten, 20-foot-long benches fabricated by Veyko were bolted to station walls using Hilti epoxy anchors, giving cleaning crews easy access to clean the floor beneath. As another sanitary measure, the stainless steel is electro-polished, resulting in a mirror-like finish that resists dirt and bacterial buildup, similar to finishes used on sanitary hospital equipment.
The design of the benches discourages anyone from lying on them, a parameter in the competition guidelines, but “virtually everyone uses them differently,” said Goloveyko. Kids tend to nestle into the seat, some people sit on the area for leaning, and some gather in the small alcoves formed by the arched seat. Now, about a year after installation, the benches show no signs of damage—no small feat for a station that sees tens of thousands of travelers a day.
Goloveyko says the prototype installed in Philadelphia is too expensive to mass market to transit agencies around the country, but he’s working on developing a lower-cost solution to transportation seating woes. Instead, the complex design is viewed as a potential one-off installation for those looking to add style and interesting architecture to otherwise-drab transportation surroundings.
In New York, we’ll continue onward with our wooden benches. They’re cheap to manufacture and seem to absorb everything that gets tossed their way. Maybe when our new subway routes open in a few years, shiny benches will come with them, but for now, we’ll just admire them from afar.