C Fenno Hoffman is one of our favorite Facebook friends. He posted these thoughts on his Facebook page and has allowed us to reprint them here.


Compare two designs. 

1. On the left, a steel bench, with a back and arms, that allows snow to melt quickly, and adapts to body temperature quickly, gives a little when you sit down-making it feel softer, is light and easy to deliver, and locate, and relocate if things change, or you get it wrong (location matters) is bought from a catalog, is affordable, and familiar, i.e. people know it's a bench for sitting. 

2. On the right, a custom stone "bench" (I'm guessing) in three parts, has no back or arms, collects snow, is stained by snow and salt (see the stains after just one snowfall) does not adapt to body temperature ever (It's too cold, or too hot) is very unforgiving (hard) when you sit down, is very heavy, and difficult to deliver, locate, or relocate, is not bought from a catalog, but must be custom designed and custom fabricated (this one delayed project completion for several months due to a shortage in stone of this color and dimension) is very expensive, and is not familiar (people are not sure it's a bench.)

Finally, the steel bench is comfortable to sit on, lean back in, and creates a place to relax, while the stone bench is uncomfortable, makes you sit awkwardly upright, or leaned forward over your knees, and creates an awkward, awful place.

Note also that one of these was specified as part of a lengthy, expensive, collaborative process, involving professional urban designers, landscape architects, business owners, city staff, and millions of dollars of public and private money, and the other was, I believe, the result of a corner restaurant owner buying a bench.

This bench example is symbolic of a larger problem in the architectural and urban design worlds, which involves the design of buildings and urban elements as sculptural things, designed in ways that overlook human needs for comfort, familiarity, and delight, in favor of their being original, unusual, and unfamiliar, above all else. This abandonment of centuries of experience, wisdom, and common sense, in favor of the whimsical shape making of one "difficult" designer, is exhausting and anxiety provoking, because it ignores fundamental human needs. The places that result look like zoo exhibits. These particular benches look like they were designed for elephants.