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Thread: Lightweight, movable chairs in public spaces

  1. #1

    Lightweight, movable chairs in public spaces

    Hi Cyburbia,

    I'm working on a small beautification project in an open plaza in Somerville, MA. Right now I'm putting together a proposal for the addition of about 20 lightweight, movable chairs (and 2-3 tables) in the plaza area, to be arranged by visitors daily and used during events.

    This has been a pretty popular experiment in recent years (the lawn chairs in Times Square, and the 200-or-so chairs in Harvard Yard, in collaboration with the Project for Public Spaces, are coming to mind), and I'm wondering if anyone has had any experience with particular manufacturers/brands of chairs and tables (preferably that come in bright colors, and preferably stackable) that are suitable for public use.

    I know that Harvard used Fermob, which is the same company that supplies the parks in Paris with their lightweight chairs, but it looks like, at about $500/chair, they might be beyond our budget.

    Any ideas? Any general thoughts on this trend? (I did a search for "chairs" in the design/space/place forum and didn't find anything covering this)

    (By the way -- I am a volunteer with a local chapter of Main Streets. I just graduated with a BA in Sociology and I'm hoping to go back to school for Urban Planning in a few years. Working with Main Streets has been my very first, very tiny, introduction to the general field of urban planning/design, and I'm really enjoying it!)

    Thanks!

  2. #2
    Cyburbian cdub's avatar
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    Check out Landscape Forms. They're a major site furniture manufacturer and we use their products on the majority of our projects. Specifically, check out the Parc Centre or Catena chairs. These are stackable and lightweight.

    Landscape Forms

    NYC has a pretty standard chair, though I'm not sure of the source. Here's a link to some photos - sitephocus.com. The green chairs in the upper row are all over New York City public spaces, so I'd think they'd be reasonable.
    www.sitephocus.com ...get the picture

  3. #3
    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
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    I like Landscape Forms as well, but you'll probably find them to be MORE than the other $500 chairs you looked into. I've worked with cities like Somerville and with non-profits, so I know how it goes. You might want to check http://www.keystoneridgedesigns.com/...esigns2009.pdf for some slightly cheaper chairs. If you can arrange for secure storage of chairs at night, as protection from being blown away and from weather, rather than theft, you could even go with some basic resin chairs. If the place catches on, then it might become easier to raise funds for better site furniture.
    Adrift in a sea of beige

  4. #4
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    A naive question: why are the chairs others have used so expensive? Resin chairs like what one would find at Home Depot or Wal-Mart are very inexpensive ($5 to $20, depending on the style), and they're usually made in the United States. It might be something to consider for a pilot program before you drop down the big bucks.

    Would your state correctional system have a factory where chairs are made? Some prison systems have facilities where furniture for state government offices is manufactured.
    Growth for growth's sake is the ideology of the cancer cell. -- Edward Abbey

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I like Dan's idea as it is also likely to result in less theft, or at least less costly theft of the chairs. Be aware that many places have felt it is necessary to chain the chairs to the table or to the ground in order to keep them from walking away.

    It goes without saying that you should also be looking into sustainable options, either in the materials used or through local sourcing, or both.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  6. #6
    Cyburbian cdub's avatar
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    If memory serves, and my memory always seems to be fading, the Landscape Forms Parc Centre chairs were under definitely under $200, maybe under $100. I'll double check my accuracy when I get back to the office.

    Another option I just remembered and see at a lot of outdoor dining are cafe chairs through Design Within Reach. Less than $100, which is cheap for anything from DWR.

    We've done the chain to table to prevent theft as we have a scrap metal recycling facility near downtown and anything metal mysteriously disappears. We've also done free standing on plazas that are managed and staff pull in the chairs each evening. Some time involved, but flexibility makes the seating much more attractive.

    The problem with the plastic resin chairs is what kind of image are you trying to present? There's cheap, and then there's really cheap.
    www.sitephocus.com ...get the picture

  7. #7
    Cyburbian boilerplater's avatar
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    A naive question: why are the chairs others have used so expensive?
    Well, somebody has to pay for all those ads in trade magazines, booths at trade shows, websites, well-paid designers, salesman's commissions, etc. But they really are well made, with heavier guage metals and finishes that can take weather and abuse. A heavier product is also more costly to ship. If you want to give your project that unique look, you can't have just any chairs. Mass production makes things cheaper, but it also contributes to the "Geography of Nowhere" look.
    Adrift in a sea of beige

  8. #8
    Cyburbian TerraSapient's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by boilerplater View post
    Well, somebody has to pay for all those ads
    This just gave me a clever idea! Why not go with a moderately priced chair and auction off space on the chairs to local businesses for advertising?

    No no no, not in the cheap put-a-billboard-on-the-chair routine. But as a themed and artistic installation.

    Perhaps capitalizing on an already existing symbol of your city. Have local artists design the chairs - each unique and incorporated into the theme - and paid for by a small sign on the back of the chair or some such indiscreet place giving appreciation to the LOCAL business (not walmart) that paid for the commissioning of that particular chair.

    This would add an element of interest and uniqueness to the project, as well as increase awareness of local artists and businesses.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    This reminds me of an instance from several years ago regarding placing public improvements that aren't bolted to the ground.

    Just prior to the opening of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles they were in the process of putting down turf in front of the LA Coliseum. Each day they would put the turf down and the next morning they would come back and the turf would be gone. This went on for about three days -- thinking originally that it might be random --, until they decided that the only way they were going to finish the job was to post guards all night long.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Masswich's avatar
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    I would worry about the chairs walking at night- a good design would make them fairly heavy (so they can be moved but are hard to lift into a truck, for example) and might also create a "corral" out of bollards or some such so the chairs really need to be lifted over something tall in order to be taken.

    Back in the old days people couldn't even put copper gutters on their houses in Somerville because they would get stripped, or so I've been told from lifelong residents. Times have changed but loose items in the middle of a public square may beg to be taken.

    In Harvard Yard, as a counterexample, there are very few places to park a truck in order to steal loose chairs. In most public squares its as simple as parking in a loading zone for a minute.

    Generally sounds like an interesting project, especially if its where I think it is.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    As for theft, you can always gather them up at the end of the day. Time consuming, yes, but eminently doable. Countless plazas around the world put chairs out and collect them again at night every day (and it helps for cleaning or mowing the grass as well). One other neat thing about this is that depending on the day and other activities taking place, the configuration of seating changes from day to day.

    Movable seating is hands-down the preferred type for visitors to public spaces. If price is an obstacle, I would also opt for something less expensive. People want to sit first and foremost. If they think the chairs are not so attractive, I doubt they will up and leave. The functionality comes first, so I would say its better to have cheap seating than no seating at all.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

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