Nine new public benches have been unveiled in Cheapside and for the first time, Aldgate, to mark the 2021 edition of the LFA’s City Benches competition with Cheapside Business Alliance and Aldgate Connect BID. Designed by an emerging group of international and interdisciplinary architects and designers, these new benches will enliven the public realm across the City with their bold and imaginative designs, as London begins to welcome visitors, commuters and locals back to its streets this summer.
This year’s collection of benches each offers a fresh new take on bringing people back together post pandemic, providing a safe and inviting environments for people to meet again and enjoy the capital with a creative approach to the Festival’s 2021 theme of care. The designs hope to start a conversation on how we can better care for another and our built environment, from telling the forgotten stories of the local area through local landmarks and materials to supporting wellbeing by encouraging interaction and tackling sustainability by challenging views on littering and introducing more planting. In addition to providing much-needed seating, the benches also encourage passers-by to pause, rest and once again make the most of the City and neighbouring Aldgate.
The nine winning designs and their locations are:
1. It Takes Two by 10F (Nomura Building)
As a tribute to the many inventive ways of occupying public furniture under the pandemic’s social-distancing restrictions, It Takes Two introduces a bend to the simple straight bench, creating a see-saw form that encourages dialogue between friends and strangers at either end, while maintaining physical distance. The bright blue recalls the historic colour of public amenities in the City of London, as found in the decommissioned police phone boxes that are still present in the area. The bench is made from Blue Dapple panels and 100% recyclable materials.
To hear Jane and Arthur sharing the story behind their bench, head here.
2. Do you care about your city? by Nick Green (150 Cheapside)
It’s been said that ‘London streets are paved with gold’, but aren’t they also gilded with the riches of the lunch break? This design takes fragments of litter – coffee cups, plastic bottles, takeaway packaging etc – and seals these within concrete and resin, elevating a litter strewn surface into terrazzo. By repurposing the detritus of the transient commuter city into a new object of permanence and status, Do you care about your city? is a reminder that litter is not temporary, and that while much of what we throw out every day is single-use, it still has a lasting impact on our streets and environment.
The bench is supported and manufactured by Smith and Goat.
To hear Nick sharing the story behind his bench, head here.
Quick Getaway highlights travel as a form of care. Unfortunately, many of us have been deprived of this throughout the pandemic, which has been particularly hard for those in dense urbanized cities such as London. The Quick Getaway bench creates a holiday inspired oasis in the heart of the city, providing respite and triggering memories
To hear Alexander sharing the story behind his bench, head here.
4. The Friendly Blob Jelly Collaborative (Bow Churchyard)
The pandemic has affected us in a multitude of ways, depriving us of the opportunity to meet up and socialise. It seems we as humans are now craving these open public spaces more than ever. The Friendly Blob is a proposal that motivates us to take care of not only our physical health but our mental health. The blob encourages people to meet at a social distance and discover the public spaces that London has to offer. Taking inspiration from the dense history of the City of London, the bench acts as a miniature of the Square Mile, encouraging visitors to explore and learn about the architecture of the city.
To hear Kelly and Jennifer sharing the story behind their bench, head here.
5. Sobremesa by Pebble Haus (Royal Exchange)
Noticing the pressure of missing our friends and close ones during the lockdowns, Sobremesa provides a space for interaction where friends can catch up in the most natural way — over a cup of coffee. Sobremesa is the time spent relaxing after a meal to drink coffee, engaged in a relaxing conversation. The bench is made of jesmonite and coffee extracted from residual grounds sourced from local coffee shops, which have suffered a lot during the closure of the City. Pebble Haus invites you to have a cup of coffee, and to enjoy your little piece of sobremesa.
To hear Jerry, Andrés and Dominika sharing the story behind their bench, head here.
Conversation pays homage to the history of material and exchange in the City of London. The design celebrates stone, craftsmanship and its natural architectural qualities while creating a place for connection, inspired by 19th century courting chairs. Conversation is a prototype to advocate the possibilities of developing stone design and technologies -rediscovering the use of stone structurally in architecture. The bench is made solely from stone offcuts, carefully designed and handcrafted, highlighting its natural durability, structural integrity, sustainability and beauty. The stone pieces interlock in a specific order of assembly, connecting and supporting each other, and can be easily disassembled when required.
This bench is supported by The Stone Masonry Company.
To hear Nicola sharing the story behind her bench, head here.
7. A Cuppa by The Mad Hatters (20 Middlesex Street)
From matcha to chai, chá or sencha; tea is more than just preparing a drink. It is a cathartic ceremony that unites people, cultures and communities. Reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland’s Tea Party, where Alice’s fundamental concept of time is challenged, this bench invites everyone to pause and have A Cuppa. The exaggerated scale of the delicate teacup and saucer, coupled with its playful patterns and bold colour scheme, brings a sense of light-hearted bliss to the City. Crowned with lush planting which alludes to the essential elements of tea, the bench injects an additional touch of nature to its setting.
To hear Ryan and Iara sharing the story behind their bench, head here.
Monuments to Mingling are inspired by Aldgate’s rich architectural history and diverse contemporary identities. Each bench is a playful fusion of styles and motifs from a range of key community focal points, both past and present, including the East London Mosque, Aldgate pump and the historic Roman gate. The remixing of these elements hopes to encourage conversations across different communities and age groups. In addition, each bench celebrates a milestone in the government’s roadmap out of lockdown, the dates of which are engraved in Latin, in a nod to the area’s Roman past.
Monuments to Mingling are dedicated to Mary Vaughan Johnson, an inspiring friend and educator who is sadly not with us anymore and supported by Joyce and Joyce Joinery and A Small World.
To hear Sohanna sharing the story behind her bench, head here.
9. Plant Yourself Here by Lisa McDanell Studio (Leman Locke Hotel)
Benches are not very sociable spaces, typically facing outwards onto a busy road or away from a patch of grass. This project instead features two reclined seats that face each other, encouraging visitors to interact while maintaining social distance. The scooping form allows users to recline, enjoy the natural feeling of the cork, and look up at the sky while smelling the scented plants. The project aspires to be a light-hearted piece of street furniture that encourages children to play and provides a spot to have a short break in busy London life.
Plant Yourself Here has been designed in collaboration with Mahers Model Makers.
To hear Lisa sharing the story behind here bench, head here.
If you happen to be in the city, or want to see the benches in person, you can find the benches by using the map below. You can also listen to the designers talking about their designs using our self-guided walking tour style podcast.
Benches moving clockwise:
1. It takes two by 10F [Nomura International]
2. Do you care about your city?by Nick Green [150 Cheapside]
3. Quick Getaway by Ex Architectures with Flu-or Arquitectura [Bow Church Yard]
4. The friendly blob by Jelly Collective [Bow Church Yard]
5. Sobremesa by Pebble Haus [Royal Exchange]
6. Conversation by NVBL [Aldgate Pump]
7. A Cuppa by The Mad Hatters [Middlesex St]
8. Monuments to Mingling by Sohanna Srinivasan [Toynbee Hall]
9. Plant Yourself Here by Lisa McDanell [Leman Locke Hotel]
The final nine team and their designs were selected by an expert jury comprising Yigong Zhang (Urban Designer, Perkins & Will and co-chair, Aldgate BID Public Realm Steering Group), Charlotte Fletcher (chair, Cheapside Business Alliance board and senior director, CBRE), Laura King (director, KPF), Ellie Stathaki (architecture editor, Wallpaper*) and Rosa Rogina, (programme director, London Festival of Architecture & New London Architecture). The project was realised thanks to support from the City of London Corporation and Tower Hamlets Borough Council.
Rosa Rogina, LFA Programme Director, said:
“City Benches is now an established fixture in the London Festival of Architecture’s public programme, and it’s exciting to see how the programme has expanded for 2021. Despite the constraints of the pandemic, this year’s diverse group of emerging architects and designers has risen to the challenge with a fantastic series of installations that enliven the City of London and Aldgate, and bring architectural creativity to new public audiences.”
Zoe Barwick, BID manager, Aldgate Connect Business Improve District, said:
“At Aldgate Connect we are thrilled to host several of this year’s City Benches installations, and to see this hugely successful project extend eastwards into Aldgate. One of our objectives of this year is to bring a joy factor to everything we do; it’s a pleasure to work with Cheapside Business Alliance, LFA and our venue partners to host this year’s installations which offer fun, intrigue and style, and demonstrate the hugely positive impact of well-designed interventions in our public realm.”
Claire Dumontier-Marriage BID Manager of Cheapside Business Alliance said:
“As City Benches goes from strength to strength, it’s a pleasure to be working in partnership with the London Festival of Architecture on this project for a fourth year, and to once again work alongside such a talented new cohort of architects and designers. As Cheapside continues to welcome people back to its streets and spaces, City Benches enhances our appeal as one of London’s best places to live, work and visit.”