Studio Juju rethinks the concept of public seating with a series of context-specific benches at Gardens by the Bay. Olha Romaniuk writes.
With a penchant for creating playful reinterpretations of stereotypically mundane and utilitarian objects,Studio Juju, helmed by Timo Wong and Priscilla Lui, has become a dominating force in product design, with the studio’s signature products marked by thoughtfulness and simplicity and focused on responsiveness to human interactions. For its latest commission at Gardens by the Bay – a series of outdoor public benches, Studio Juju has responded with a design that is in line with the studio’s overarching design philosophy, coming up with a contextual approach that is as mindful of its surroundings as it is to the user experience.
“Designing in the context of the Gardens’ overall aesthetic and layout is the primary exploration of this project,” says Timo Wong about the overall design concept, “We were determined to design benches that co-exist with the surroundings in a natural way, yet also possess their own character that can be a little whimsical.”
With the series of benches nicknamed ‘Kallang Benches’, the connection to Studio Juju’s earlier project – the Kallang Bench created for the special commission by the Urban Redevelopment Authority out of wooden planks salvaged from the old Singapore National Stadium – is immediate. “We met the client at an exhibition at the URA, where the Kallang bench was showcased,” recalls Wong, “What struck the client was the simplicity of the bench’s design and its resolved construction that prompted the client to approach us to produce more Kallang benches for Gardens by the Bay. We initially set off to design using the planks from the old stadium. Unfortunately, URA had other plans for these planks.”
From the beginning, the client had set expectations regarding the specifications for the benches, with considerations such as comfort and robustness, maintenance and safety, as well as durability in the face of unpredictable tropical climate conditions all playing important roles in the design. Wong and Lui took the specifications a step further by creating eight site-specific designs that responded aesthetically to their immediate surroundings and possessed distinct character that set the designs apart from other typical bench counterparts.
To come up with appropriate design solutions and placements of the benches within Gardens by the Bay, Wong and Lui visited the Gardens at different times to observe the movement of the visitors. To determine the optimal locations of the benches, Wong and Lui studied areas with optimal views within the Gardens and where shading was more permanent.
Reconfiguring the original design of the Kallang bench by designing a backrest version that could be easily joined with the original to form a longer bench, Studio Juju arrived at a total of eight designs that were inspired by the construction methodology of the original bench. Assembled from Balau wood planks, spaced at intervals to fasten the planks together and arranged along various profile configurations of metal frames, the final bench designs provide a coherent statement look that connects the unique landscape of the Gardens by the Bay in a subtle but substantial way.
With each of the eight designs responding to its immediate surroundings, the benches create a articulate design vocabulary while making their users rethink the definition of what typical, utilitarian public seating can be. “We hope that the benches will serve their purpose and provide a good experience to the Gardens’ visitors without being obtrusive,” says Wong about the final design, “After all, the benches were designed to complement and blend with the surroundings.”