What is urban furniture?

It’s easy sometimes to forget that what you do every day in your work and the words you use in your field might not be that clear to those outside it. An important part of our work at Neko is designing urban furniture – but one question we get quite often is what does that mean?

Well, basically it means all the furniture items you find in the outdoors – in our public spaces, streets, parks, shopping centres, housing developments, etc. Things like park benches and litter bins. They’re usually fixed in place and have a specific purpose – i.e. for sitting on, or for throwing your rubbish into.

Sometimes also called street furniture, these items allow people to enjoy a more comfortable experience in the outdoors. They can considerably improve the quality of life for the inhabitants of a city or town – just imagine a park with nowhere to sit. And unfortunately, we have all seen rubbish blowing around because there wasn’t an adequate place for people to throw it away.

But it’s not just benches and bins. Urban furniture can refer to a whole range of items, including bike racks, bus stops, bollards, planters, seats, picnic tables, water fountains, streetlights, parasols; the list goes on. All things which we may not pay much attention to on a day-to-day basis, but which add comfort and character to our public spaces. One thing we love about working in this field is the way that thoughtfully designed street furniture can really be the cherry on the cake of a beautiful urban project, helping to make it more user-friendly and enjoyable.

When designing a project, it can be helpful to divide urban furniture up by function: rest, illumination, waste disposal, shelter, etc. How are people going to use the area and what should we provide for them to optimise their experience? 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 outdoors.

The main function of urban illumination is to give light to an open space at night. Streetlights can also provide a greater sense of security to pedestrians as well as highlight certain areas within a space. For example, a path lined with illuminated bollards can provide a clear, safe way for a pedestrian or cyclist at night.

Furniture for waste disposal includes all kinds of litter bins. There are a huge range of options: small or large; swinging or fixed; with or without lid; for separation of recyclables; for pet waste, etc. When choosing bins it is a good idea to consider the needs of the space – how many people use it? Is it near to a picnic area and easy to get to? How will the rubbish be collected and how often? We’ve seen so many projects with overflowing bins in one area and empty ones elsewhere – the key is to provide enough waste disposal and in the right places.

Shelter elements can include public transport stops, cycle hubs and parasols – elements offer shade and/or protection from rain and wind. They are often installed alongside other elements: for example, a bus stop may include a bench, or a parasol may be fixed to a picnic table. The exact shelter required will depend on the climate – is a parasol needed to protect from the sun or the rain?

Urban furniture is a huge field and this brief introduction by no means covers all the possible options. Every project is unique, but what we do know is that any piece of urban furniture which is thoughtfully designed and well manufactured in quality, durable materials can add great personality, comfort and style to the outdoors. Since 2005 we’ve worked with architects, urban designers and governments to help them discover the perfect solutions to complement their projects. Some like to choose from our range, others prefer a custom design project – and we can provide both. Contact us and tell us a bit about your upcoming projects!

Posted in Urban Furniture.