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Quirky public bench designs offer more than just a place to sit in Winnipeg

THE BENCH project has attracted more than 80 design submissions from as far away as Italy and Mexico.

University of Manitoba architecture students helped install and test out winning bench designs at The Forks Friday, including this submission from designers in Milan.

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski / For Metro

University of Manitoba architecture students helped install and test out winning bench designs at The Forks Friday, including this submission from designers in Milan.

A fall chill is setting in, but that hasn’t stopped University of Manitoba architecture students from building outdoor benches behind Union Station—and testing them en masse.

“It’s nice to have the manpower of 100 students to help build five benches,” said Mackenzie Hammond. The third-year environmental design student is helping organize THE BENCH project with Jae-Sung Chon, a U of M instructor and director of architect promoter Stuff Group. 

In its third year putting the callout for bench designs, the Winnipeg-based contest attracted submissions from all over the world. Eighty were submitted to a blind jury and the five winning picks include two from at home and three from abroad.

“We believe small things like a bench could activate quite a big public space,” said Chon. “The whole point is seeding these into public streets and making people linger and use that public space a little bit more frequently…to create that sort of fostering of ambience on the street.”

The winners from Winnipeg are “Blasst,” a lounge-pad that looks like a golden nugget, and “The Ribbon,” which weaves fabric around links of scaffolding.

“Pipe Dreams,” a submission from Cornell, Harvard, Princeton and Syracuse university grads, looks like a collage of multi-coloured pool noodles, while “Centipede Bench” is an elongated wooden design from Yucatan, Mexico.

Last but not least, “Learning to Use Public Space Again!” It’s a submission from designers in Milan, Italy akin to a public jungle gym.

THE BENCH project is running concurrently with the Winnipeg Design Festival, from Sept. 13 to Sept. 16 (though the benches may stay up throughout September if all goes well). Co-curator Andre Silva said this year’s festival focus is on “design as a mechanism for everything,” from food and drink, to fashion and film.

“Our goal this year was to attract not only the design community, which comes out every year anyway. But we like to have people that may not understand that design does affect a lot of things in their environment and city,” Silva said.

By hosting more events at pedestrian-friendly areas like The Forks and Upper Fort Garry, hopes are for more foot traffic and larger attendance. For the full list of events happening, visit winnipegdesignfestival.net

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