Design Feature: The Art Institute of Portland

June 22, 2018 | | View Comments

Be inspired by the behind-the-scenes story of local Street Seats entrants from the Art Institute of Portland.


As the Street Seats semi-finalists are well on their way to creating their full-scale benches, we have had the pleasure of learning some of the inspirational backstories of many of our entrants.

One of the 15 semi-finalist benches was designed by a local Portland art student, Dening He. Dening was part of a furniture design course at the Art Institute of Portland that took on Street Seats as a class project for the semester. Industrial Design and Interior Design students worked individually or in teams to create their own interpretation of a sustainable, unique, and aesthetically-pleasing public bench. The Street Seats design brief complimented the school’s larger mission to support the community and provide hands-on experience to their students.

The Art Institute of Portland seeks to create enriching experiences for our students that are rooted in sustainable community initiatives. The [Street Seats] call to action challenged our students to consider what creates a sense of place that supports a thriving community. We were thrilled to be apart of this challenge to work towards shaping the Portland city scape. – Elizabeth Lockwood, Interior Design Instructor at the Art Institute of Portland

Students completed drawings and models of their benches, gradually increasing the size and amount of detail as the semester progressed. Each increase in scale meant more attention had to be paid to the materials used in their design and how the final piece would be constructed. The students found the full-scale fabrication challenging, particularly when it came to using power tools, as many students had never touched a cordless drill before this class.

After months of hard work, the students showcased their full-scale prototypes for all to enjoy and rest on. Read more about a selection of the finished benches below!

Spectrum Bench, Blake Hasbrouck & Tyler Heth

Blake and Tyler were inspired by the the geometry of World Trade Center and the neighboring Salmon Street Springs. The triangular profile came from the World Trade Center, while the circular concrete legs reflect the materials and shape of the springs. The name “spectrum” is derived from the prismatic form and the lines of wooden planks that run the length of the bench, similar to how white light is refracted through a glass prism.

Manifold Bench, Dening He

Dening set out to construct a bench to hold up to the notorious climate conditions of the Pacific Northwest. His hollow design (originally referred to as “The Waffle”) reduces the surface area for rainwater to collect on, which in turn speeds up the evaporation process for any remaining water. No bolts or screws were used in the construction process, as the overlapping planes interlock with each other. This allows the bench to support more weight with less material.

Iconic Portland, Drew Johnson

Drew was inspired by contemporary artist Michael Murphy and his 3D portraits made by hanging overlapping layers of different of colors. When looked at head-on, the overlapping layers combine into a single multi-colored image. To select which Portland icons to include in his design, Drew asked friends and family what they felt was most emblematic of Rip City, and incorporated their favorite places into his final design. This hidden portrait of Portland is made of twelve overlapping multi-colored steel cutouts.

Urban Oasis, Wendy Romine

Wendy took her design inspiration from the World Trade Center. She was particularly captivated by the geometric architecture and the mixed materials used throughout the site. Two planters were incorporated into opposite ends and heights of the design, with one on top of the central concrete post and one below the sloped end. These planters help to absorb surface runoff water, and connect the sitter with the natural world. Wendy’s design provides a relaxing, restful space within the bustling urban environment of Downtown Portland.

You can view these benches and more at our Model Gallery, open through August 31st.

About Street Seats

Street Seats is an international design challenge which will culminate in an outdoor design exhibition and walking tour around the World Trade Center Portland plaza in Downtown Portland, Oregon. Entrants participated by designing sustainable outdoor sidewalk furniture with a focus on reuse, using environmentally-friendly materials and innovative construction methods. Design teams will record and submit their process along with their final designs to, in the end, create the public design exhibition.

Street Seats provides an opportunity to improve the visibility and livability of an urban area while being socially and environmentally conscious. Individuals and groups from around the world design an iconic bench, or ‘street seat,’ for the World Trade Center Portland plaza. The area is a lively destination for residents and visitors alike, with access to Portland’s major financial, government, and business institutions, as well as the Tom McCall Waterfront Park and a burgeoning tourism district.

We are proud to partner with the artGuideBook app for a self-guided family friendly tour. Simply download the app (through Apple or Google Play) and search Street Seats to see an interactive map of all the benches!

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