What is urban furniture?

What is urban furniture? / Karime Tosca

After 11 years designing urban furniture and signage projects, alongside design and architecture consultancy, the term ‘urban furniture’ is something I hear every day – I’ve heard it, written it or said it thousands of times. And it always seems strange to me that some people have never heard of it or have no idea what it means – or what kind of ‘furniture’ it is. I often meet people who upon asking me what I do, then ask me a second question: ‘what kind of furniture?’

A quick definition would be: urban furniture refers to pieces of furniture found in public spaces or in the urban environment, for example, park benches.

But in a bit more detail, it refers to all furniture found in public or semi-public spaces, almost always, but not exclusively, outdoors. Often, because of the nature of the space they are found in and their function, they are fixed or semi-fixed in place.

Urban furniture allows people to enjoy a more comfortable experience in their streets, paths, parks, gardens and other public areas. It can improve the quality of life for the inhabitants of a city.

Urban furniture elements are not just benches. The term can be used to refer to litter bins, bike racks, bus stops, bollards, tree protectors, seats, tables, water fountains, street lights, signage; the list goes on. They can be divided by function, which can include rest, illumination, play, waste disposal, protection, shelter, wayfinding and more.

So, for example in the ‘rest’ category we can include all kinds of benches, seats, picnic tables, loungers, etc. The specific function could be to provide a space for rest, reflection and contemplation in the public space.

Some pieces have a ‘play’ function without being children’s play equipment – they have an entertainment element, such as tables with an integrated chess or draughts board.

In the ‘wayfinding’ category we find all the signage elements, such as directional, restrictive and information signage as well as site maps and access signs, which use internationally recognisable elements to allow people to navigate a public space, to know where they are headed as well as the rules or guidelines of the space. For example, directional signage elements use arrows to clearly indicate important destinations.

Another group is illumination; aside from their main function which is illuminating an open space at night, they also serve to provide a greater sense of security to pedestrians as well as highlight certain paths or areas within a space. One example of this would be a path lined with illuminated bollards.

Furniture for waste disposal can include all kinds of litter receptacles, which can vary according to the needs of the space by capacity, use, type of waste, etc. They can be small or large, swinging or fixed, with or without lid, for separation of recyclable waste, specifically for pet waste, etc.

Shelter elements include public transport stops which offer shade and/or protection from rain and wind. They can include benches or leaning rails as well as illumination and space for timetables or advertisements.

And there is still more – additional urban furniture products include advertising posts, drinking water fountains, parasols, planters, fences, bollards, bike shelters, cycle hubs, bike lane dividers, newspaper kiosks, food kiosks and much more.

English translation by Alice Pegman

Originally published on 18 November, 2016
Posted in Urban Furniture.