Southern Exposure – An Interesting Observation

Landscape Architecture for Landscape Architects Forums GENERAL DISCUSSION Southern Exposure – An Interesting Observation

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    Thomas J. Johnson

    Today at lunch, I counted exactly 4 South facing benches, in all of Millennium Park! In Chicago, on a day like today (low 40’s) the sun can make all the difference between eating lunch outside and being huddled indoors. I couldn’t believe that out of approximately 50+ benches, there are only 4 that face the sun! Regardless, I didn’t have to fight for a seat, there was hardly anybody soaking up the rays. I found a nice bench all to myself and watched the patterns dance on the back of my eyelids for 15 minutes… ah, sunshine!


    The Maggie Bench is very comfortable (and stylish) by the way… 

    Trace One

    i just watched the woody allen doc on PBSand he talks about how he had to “of course” bring his own bench for a particular spot under the brooklyn bridge..

    Mr. ed. Bye said a park can be designed with tree stamps and bench stamps..

    the role of the bench is not doubt underrated.

    Like I have previously related, we have one designer who does not do benches..Only seat walls.

    I think a nice bench spot is one of the goals of landscape design. south facing is essential.

    Tanya Olson

    Honestly, Thomas – most people in the midwest don’t sit outside in the winter. You must be one of those crazy nature lovers! ha! Most of the benches are clearly designed for summer use. I wonder if your observation is true for sunnier winter spots? CO, NM, even western SD is waaay sunnier than Chicago….the midwest is usually so overcast that a sunny winter day is the exception rather than the rule….

    Thomas J. Johnson

    Maybe somebody should do a Woody Allen memorial bench in his favorite spot under the Brooklyn Bridge but they should dedicate it while he’s still with us, so he can enjoy it…

    A good bench is a great thing. A bad bench (poorly designed/poorly sited) is an insult to humanity…

    Seat walls are good for grungy teenagers and hobos…

    Nice benches, in nice spots are key… South is good when it’s cool and sunny… North is good if you’re John Denver and prefer sunshine on your shoulders, East is for early risers, West is well, for the West coast sunset crowd… and under a tree is the summer time place to be. 

    A bench for all occasions!



    Roland Beinert

    You might like a book I’m currently reading called Urban Microclimate: Designing the Spaces Between Building by Evyatar Erell, David Pearlmutter and Terry Williamson.

    Rob Halpern

    I didn’t have to fight for a seat, there was hardly anybody soaking up the rays. I found a nice bench all to myself

    The system works! Another successful design


    Refreshing design dialogue here. Good to see again. My own dimes worth….

    Like most of us posting here, we probably pride ourselves on having a well-honed sense of design, biased from whatever sources, inspirations or personal prejudices, but an appreciation of design nevertheless and in whatever form or expression,.

    On this particular topic, I have always wondered why I see, what I consider to be way, way too many benches in public spaces and places, that never seem to get used, no matter what the given conditions are on any given day. Even on the days of premium weather, maximum solar exposure and people attracting events or happenings, we seem to provided too much seating,

    As far as I know, there are no bench seating criteria or ratios (e.g. some many linear feet of seating be it bench or seat wall for so many square feet of plaza hardscape) and I would not trust them even if they do exist.

    My own personal experience and observation is that in many smaller scale parks (smaller in terms of acreage  and mostly at the neighborhood and community scale- we tend to put too many benches in, and concentrate them either in the wrong places or string them out in a nonsensical sort of manner.

    Any one with me, or against me on that ?

    To echo another earlier posting, good to see you back here Thomas,  Your strong landscape construction knowledge and keen observations of site design and the trumphs and maladies (seen and unseen) have been missed.

    Trace One

    landplanner, I am agin ya.. woody allen had to bring his own bench to some great spot under the brookyn Bridge – New York has a population of 9 million and they couldnt’ get a bench in the right spot? My experience is there are never enough benches..Never. And seat walls don’t count – they are for bums, as thomas said..I hate those ‘lounge benches’ on the High Line – very uncomfortable..

    Man, my grandma spent her last years on a bench in the bronx, when she wasn’t yelling out the window from the fifth floor walk-up, to her friends.

    You can’t have enough benches..

    I just haven’t seen it, ever..

    Wyatt Thompson, PLA

    “Benches are artifacts the purpose of which is to punctuate architectural photographs.” – William H. Whyte, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces

    In the same classic book, Whyte gives ratios for amount of sittable space vs square feet of plaza (1 ft. per 30 sq.ft) and provides some guidelines for placement and orientation of sitting spaces.  In my experience of Millenium Park this summer, I don’t recall the number of benches I saw, but I do recall plenty of places to sit (walls, steps, raised slabs, movable chairs) in sun or shade. The variety of seating and how well it was being used that particular day, is what sticks out in my mind. I’m not against benches, per se, but I am against poorly sited benches and poorly planned spaces to put them in.


    More often they’re sited to take advantage of a view or are at the edge of a center of activity…and that doesn’t mean south facing.  In Christopher Alexander’s “The Timeless Way of Building”, he goes on about the importance of south facing outdoor spaces.  That’s all well and good in northern latitudes, but in hot climates, you often want shade!


    I had an interview in Brooklyn on Monday and afterwards I drove over to Rockaway since I had never been there.  I was surprised at how many benches along the bay side water were reduced to just the concrete supports.  What happened? I thought NYC Parks stays on top of that kind of thing and heavily vandalized parks were a ’70s phenomenon.


    If anyone gets out that way, I recommend seeing what they did with the old airplane hangars at Floyd Bennett Field.

    Andrew Garulay, RLA

    I’m more concerned about what is behind me when it comes to comfort on a public bench. I don’t think I’m alone on that.




    Looks like you have (temporarily ?) left the southwest.  How did your job interview go ? Brooklyn is a long way from the Mojave and Sonoran deserts, but maybe you needed the distance and change of scenery. Good luck out there.


    Trace One

    that is a good point, andrew. I hate the configuration that trasit centers all use, of clumping a bunch of benches in the center of a space (nothing to guard your back at all), and placing each bench at a 90 degree angle to an adjacent bench.. the point of public spaces is to avoid strangers..a 90 degree angle makes it almost impossible..Better at a 180 degree, or even directly across..But 90 degrees? that is how friends touch knees, having conversations…

    Rob Halpern

    the point of public spaces is to avoid strangers..   


    I thought that was the point of non-public spaces

    Trace One

    I geuss I need to create a sub-set, rob..the point of transit centers like Penn Station any greyhound station is to avoid people….Or how about the NYC subway system – wouldn’t you agree that you want the least contact with your fellow – riders as possible?

    However, insofar as bars, concert halls – other types of ‘public spaces’ – I would agree, the statement does not apply..

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