Home U.S. Transit SystemsSEPTA Building a better subway bench

Building a better subway bench

by Benjamin Kabak

Veyko-designed benches in Philadelphia's subway system meld art and style to create a durable subway bench. (Photo via AN Blog)

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.

The various angles allow those waiting for a train to use the bench as they please. (Image via Veyko)

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.

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Kevin March 8, 2011 - 1:12 am

It looks nice but I feel that it’ll be easy to stuff gum and trash in between the steel.

pete March 8, 2011 - 8:57 am


David in NY March 8, 2011 - 2:18 am

This bench is gorgeous and how could anyway dump their trash near such a functional piece of art.
The wooden benches, when refurbished, are great and there’s a great shortage of benches in many stations. Maybe we add some pride inspiring non-standard design seating to instantly transform a station into something much better?
The cost would be neglible and maybe locally employ some aging hipster artists from Brooklyn.

tacony palmyra March 8, 2011 - 10:59 am

The bench looks nice because it’s clean. It will get dirty if it’s not maintained. It doesn’t look any easier to clean than the wooden benches. In fact, I’d think it’d be more difficult to keep this design clean, since it’s easier to wedge garbage between the slats.

FYI, so we don’t get any ideas about the grass always being greener, a more typical Philadelphia subway station bench: http://world.nycsubway.org/perl/show?17069

Joe Steindam March 8, 2011 - 11:53 am

It looks more than twice as long as a NYC subway wooden bench, but it doesn’t look like it has spots for 12 people that would be accommodated by two wooden benches.

They sure do look nice though. I wonder what a design would look like for an island platform. Would it just be facing one way, or maybe you’d have sections alternating facing opposite tracks, with those leaning ledges opposite seats. Could be an interesting installation.

I don’t think the garbage thing is as big of a problem as others have stated. After all, these are on the platforms, and benches are nearly always placed close to garbage cans on the platforms. But maybe adding nice things will inspire better behavior on the platforms. You never know.

Edward March 8, 2011 - 12:00 pm

Judging by the cleanliness of the floor, it looks like Philly residents are not slobs like NYers. Really, if see one more person throw gum on the floor or spit on the platform, I’ll scream. I’ve ridden subways all over the US and in Europe and South America, and I’ve never, EVER seen riders who are as loose with trash and have a penchant for spitting and eating chicken-n-rice on the subway as I see in NYC.

Scott E March 8, 2011 - 12:24 pm

Garbage is a concern, but so is liquid. Imagine all the water that leaks from the roof of our subways and pools up on the benches. Then of course there are the spills, unidentified bodily fluids, etc.

Scott E March 8, 2011 - 12:28 pm

I still believe that the benches installed at the LIRR Atlantic Terminal (a picture is here) are ideal for the subways. Like the Philly example, they are more durable and allow trash and fluids to pass through. Also, they are attached to the support columns, so station cleaners can easily reach underneath with a broom or mop (should they choose to do so).

Best of all, the MTA already has the design complete, so if LIRR and NYCT freely exchange the information, it should be easy to deploy.

BrooklynBus March 8, 2011 - 2:43 pm

Anything new looks nice. NY would never buy benches where it would be easy to lay down on. Metal is also very cold to sit on in the winter. I sort of like the current wooden benches we have. My only problem is that they are not maintained. Once installed, they are just left to rot. They need a coat of polyurethane once every three years to keep looking new, but that is way too much from a subway that never paints its station ceilings.

Also, they never should have been placed in outdoor stations where they are subject to the weather. There are two at Newkirk Avenue where the station is not covered. They are all weatherbeaten.

Donald March 8, 2011 - 2:55 pm

The MTA will not install those beneches or anything resembling them because then homeless people will sleep on them. The reason they use the wooden benches is because the high arm rests separating the seats prevent someone from sleeping on it.

Benjamin Kabak March 8, 2011 - 2:57 pm

These benches are designed to prevent people from sleeping on them. They’re curved. It’s all explained in the post and linked materials.

As to the wooden benches, they’re designed to prevent people from lying down on them, but I see plenty of folks sleeping while sitting on them.

Donald March 8, 2011 - 3:37 pm

Well, from the photo it looks like one could easily lay down on the bench since there are no armrests in the way.

Donald March 8, 2011 - 5:58 pm

And for clarification, when I said one can lay down on the bench, I was referring to the one on the end since that one is not curved. Only the middle ones are.

Edward March 8, 2011 - 3:32 pm

Is it me, or does that station look REALLY clean? Man, I’d pass out if I ever got off a NYC subway train and saw a floor that shined like that!

gash22 March 8, 2011 - 7:37 pm

My thoughts exactly! That bench is nice, but I was far more impressed with how clean the entire station seemed to be, floor, walls, signage, ceiling, EVERYTHING! I do know that it is possible to keep a big city subway system clean, look at Metro in DC. I’ve actually sat on the floor in a station there, which I would never, NEVER do in NYC. That station looks even cleaner.

Daniel Howard March 8, 2011 - 6:56 pm

That bench is dumb. If you want to lean you lean against a column. If you want to sit, you want to sit on a bench, not on some weird expensive artistic “vision” of human function translated to a geometric plane. Don’t like wood? Grab the LIRR bench pointed out by Scott.

k:ra March 9, 2011 - 11:57 am

The 8th street station is a revelation in PHL as much as it is for NYC – its clean, well lit, and has clear evidence of care with that bench/lean structure. It is a rather busy station and the range of seating/leaning accommodates the many passengers. Its in line with a trend in urban seating toward the slatted design – which as noted, allows for the maintenance and security concerns of public spaces. You can see a few samples of those and other shots of the 8th street station bench here

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