Monday 2nd December, 2013
I love sitting down. I love people watching. I love urban squares and plazas, and I love leafing through my battered copy of Whyte’s “The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces”. This book, published in 1980, shares a decade’s worth of investigations into the dynamics of urban spaces.
In Chapter 2, Sitting Space, Whyte concludes that popular plazas tend to have considerably more options for sitting than less well-used ones. In the most popular plazas the length of the sitting spaces, when added together, was equal to the length of the entire perimeter of the square. I completely agree with Whyte that choice should be built into the basic design, that any ledge can be designed to be used as a seat, and that ledges and benches are best “two backsides deep” (while 30” is good, 36” is better).
I spent a couple of hours in Leicester Square on a sunny afternoon admiring the gorgeous 200m long granite ribbon bench, designed by Burns + Nice, and supplied by Hardscape. (Leicester Square recently won the Design for a Medium Scale Public Development and the prestigious President’s Award categories at the recent Landscape Institute Awards.) The stone bench, plus appropriate ledges, add up to over half the length of the perimeter of the square. It’s an incredibly popular square for stopping and resting in and not just passing through.
I took many photos of people sitting on the bench. Not just sitting, but squatting, lying back, lying down, people in groups, people in couples, people alone, people sleeping. It’s not prescriptive. It doesn’t say two people can sit over there and three over here. It says use your back pack as a pillow and come and have a nap.