Exhibition Recap • Street Seats

February 12, 2019 | | View Comments

Design Museum Portland’s outdoor exhibition Street Seats: Urban Benches for Vibrant Cities lives on at World Trade Center Portland.

In August 2018, Design Museum Portland unveiled its 7-month outdoor design exhibition, Street Seats: Urban Benches for Vibrant Cities, in partnership with Portland General Electric Company and World Trade Center Portland. The opening was met with excitement and curiosity as visitors explored each bench, rediscovering elements that contribute to urban design from creators around the world.

Street Seats began as an open design challenge, asking designers to reimagine the public bench. From over 200 entries, a panel of experts determined the top thirteen designs to be fabricated and installed, each sustainably sourced and selected from Portland, California, New York, Massachusetts, Iowa, Italy, Gibraltar, the U.K., Finland, and Hong Kong.

Since opening, Street Seats continued to be an iconic and exploratory place for visitors of all ages. Set at a bustling downtown intersection with foot traffic and businesses, the exhibition has been one of the most accessible places for Portlanders to interact with and learn about sustainable and vibrant urban design. Any given day at the World Trade Center you will see business people lounging in Tub(Time), built from a recycled bathtub; snapping pictures on Lookout, a sky-high, bike-friendly bench; and kids playing hide-and-seek on Looplay, a colorful, child-friendly urban play structure.


Over the exhibition’s lifetime, Design Museum Portland broadened the conversation beyond the physical structures in order to expand the public conversation about urban design, identify our role in the urban environment, and inspire the local Portland community to take part in designing their neighborhood.

To inspire the next generation of creative problem solvers, Design Museum Portland held a workshop for children and their families to step into the bench builder’s shoes, and experience the design process for themselves. Lead by local teacher and design enthusiast Beth Bundy, the workshop prompted kids to design a bench from reusable materials (generously provided by SCRAP PDX) that solved a need they sought a solution for. One attendee focused on a pressing issue many youngsters face everyday: annoying younger siblings. In order to combat this problem, she designed the ‘Sibling Separator 2000,’ a bench split in half by a piece of plexiglass. Her creation emphasized the heart of the Street Seats exhibition: how something as simple as a bench can help solve a problem faced by many.

In a culmination of the exhibition’s programming, Design Museum Portland hosted a panel discussion rethinking of Portland’s urban landscape through sustainable design, UNITE: Reimagine the Urban Experience, in partnership with The Joinery. With lively audience feedback, the discussion turned to the practice of design competitions. Open design contests bring together design and public interest, but are met with challenges when addressing deeper issues in the community. The panel’s conclusion left guest’s with a parting thought, how can we design to solve the root of problems rather than to create temporary solutions?

Diving deep into the design-build process, the creators behind the prize-winning bench A Quiet Place to Sit and Rest presented at Design Museum Mornings. The bench was largely inspired by Shel Silverstein’s classic children’s book, The Giving Tree, and focused on creating a healthier urban environment that can better support urban flora. Design team Alyssa and Kyle Trulen spoke to the significance of community when tackling a project of this measure. From encouraging texts late into the night to physically lifting the bench into a U-Haul, there were people contributing at every step of the design process – noted by Alyssa that it “takes a village to build a bench.”

Across the globe, each designer working to recreate the public bench had a community of helping hands behind them. For Alyssa and Kyle Trulen, this was the greatest significance of the design challenge: its ability to create a shared community of people working towards a common goal of sustainable design and vibrant cities.

After the exhibition concludes, visitors will be able to spot several of the benches in different locations throughout the Portland community, including five benches remaining at World Trade Center Portland. If you haven’t had a chance to experience Street Seats yet, now is the time to go out, sit, and see for yourself the difference urban design can make.

Program Website: designmuseumportland.org/streetseats

Additional Information and Images: bit.ly/streetseatsmedia


About Street Seats

Street Seats is a multi-faceted design challenge culminating in a public, outdoor exhibition that celebrates local and international design talent, civic innovation, and sustainability. As cities become increasingly dense, leaders are focused on developing urban spaces that employ creative functionality while preserving identity and celebrating culture. Street Seats activates the visibility and livability of an urban area while being socially and environmentally conscious.

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