This post is dedicated to my friend, Richard – an architect who hosted me in Amsterdam and taught me what I know about making well-used spaces.
When it comes to buildings and landscapes, I’m a firm believer that success in design can be measured in large part by how much people use what’s built. For instance, if you see a wall of decks on an apartment building, and almost no furniture on them, they’re bad decks, no matter how pretty. I see this all the time with north-facing decks and ones with see-through railings that leave you feeling overly exposed to passers-by. When I see decks filled with furniture, people, and plants, I know something’s working well.
This beautiful, tiny park in the south of Amsterdam had some cool steel chairs anchored to the paved walkway. They caught my eye. Cold, unpainted steel is hard to sit on for long, though, and since these chairs could not be moved they only allowed people to gather in a set way. I saw very few people sit on these chairs during my three days in this neighborhood, except in the late afternoon when the seats had been warmed by the facing sun.
What fascinated me was to see how much more people used the surrounding stone walls as benches. These were friendly to groups of any number and arrangement (like a round table), and people really gathered in the concave curves of the walls.
I think these steel chairs would have been used a lot more if they acknowledged the walls as benches by facing them. Then they would complete seating circles, inviting friends to gather ’round.