Bench press in Providence

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Top park bench, in Vocklabruck, Austria, on viral list. (Postize.com)

The above photo is the first on a list of benches from “14 Most Creatively Perfect Benches and Seats from All Around the World,” on the website Postize. The list of benches has gone viral, if not postal.

Since I cringed my way through these fascinating benches a while ago, they have boomeranged back at me through email from local citizens interested in new park benches here in Providence. I am concerned about pressure to go wacko in the redesign of one of the city’s sweetest little parks, Prospect Terrace, on Congdon Street. Replacing its old benches is high on the agenda, and they should be replaced – with new versions of the classic bench style.

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Old bench at Prospect Terrace. (ryan.norbaugher.com)

All of the benches that have gone viral are creative, some of them combine creativity and usefulness. Some of them combine one or both of those qualities with beauty. But most of them combine either or both of those qualities with a sort of sculptural dissonance with their surroundings that would under- mine the beauty of Prospect Terrace. The best of them are way too expensive and most of them look like maintenance nightmares, and some have safety issues. Some of them look comfortable and some others quite the opposite. But I am not sure that comfort, or at least too much of it, is high on the list of objectives for city benches in Providence!

The old-style benches reliably combine utility, efficiency and beauty – and, yes, creativity. These days, with difference for the sake of difference as the conventional wisdom, a certain dare I say boldness characterizes the strategy of going with the benches we all know and love.

I am sure most of the dozens of people who recently received the viral benches list probably think so, too, especially if they live on Congdon Street. Or if the bench were to be installed in front of their own house. Of course, most of them will insist otherwise because of the overwhelming ambient pressure in our culture to be “cool.”

Sorry. Most of these benches are fun to look at and maybe fun to sit on but for how long? Go with the tried and true. That is often the best strategy.

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Benches at Prospect Terrace, circa 1900, before Roger Williams monument. (PPL)

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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6 Responses to Bench press in Providence

  1. I have to say, that Austrian bench has got to be one of the coolest structures I have ever seen. A little unsettling in a way. But you do make a good point, benches need to be functional first. You need to be able to keep them clean and safe. Then you add the flair….

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    • I would agree that then you add the flair, but you have to be careful that the flair does not detract from the elegance of its setting by overdoing the flash. Not all but almost all of the pictured benches would undermine their setting unless their setting was already wrecked by its surroundings.

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  2. Frederick Thurber says:

    Hi Dave,

    My wife and I went to Mohegan Sun for the first time a couple of days ago and were flipped out by the architecture / art work and appalled by what was happening on the casino floor. The conference center was so massive I was thinking of the Reichstag or some soviet era monument….

    On Tue, May 23, 2017 at 12:29 PM, Architecture Here and There wrote:

    > David Brussat posted: ” The above photo is the first on a list of benches > from “14 Most Creatively Perfect Benches and Seats from All Around the > World,” on the website Postize. The list of benches has gone viral, if not > postal. Since I cringed my way through these fascinating” >

    Like

    • Great to hear from you, Fred. I’ve never been to the Mohegan Sun, just the other one, Foxwoods, and just once. Or maybe I did see Tom Jones at Mohegan, I’m not sure. It was many years ago. By “flipped out by” you mean over the top good or bad? I would assume that it is all extravagantly bad, but I don’t know for sure.

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  3. How would he go about consulting with his ancestor. Do I hear a theremin in the background? What would H. P. Lovecraft think?

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  4. Charles Dexter Ward loved Prospect Park as it was 100 years ago. I’m sure he wouldn’t approve of a “creative” bench, and perhaps he would consult with his ancestor Joseph Curwen for a proper remedy….

    Like

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