This project was based on the Street Seats International Design Challenge for the Design Museum Portland. The goal was to make an outdoor park bench that would be placed at the World Trade Center Portland.
How can a park bench be made to allow two people to comfortably watch the Portland waterfront?
I began by thinking about using sustainable materials like bamboo but I eventually strayed away from the idea because I thought the material was too rough. I then thought about several ideas that used wood.
I eventually kept coming back to the idea of an extruded cross section. I started iterating physically and in CAD.
In the last two renderings above you can see how I explored a continuous line as an extrusion. I liked the cross section of this but after critiques with my professors and classmates I decided it was too heavy of a look and the front view would be too plain and uninteresting. I had the idea to make the thing lighter visually by making it slatted. I explored this idea in CAD and then made a full scale model out of foam.
I decided that this current seat was to short and the back was too low. I made changes and made a rendering of my near-final design in CAD.
I decided that plywood would be the best material to make this out of. I decided to learn how to use the CNC to cut out all of the parts. The pieces for the entire full-length bench fit on two 4′ x 8′ sheets of plywood.
I ran into a lot of problems using the CNC but it makes sense since it was my first time. I messed up a few of the pieces but that was okay because I made sure I had extra pieces cut out. In the time I had on the CNC, I was only able to cut out half the seat. Because of this I decided to make just a chair for one person. The entire bench is an extrusion of the same pieces so I was okay with not showing the full bench. You don’t learn much new about the form by having it be twice as long. I sanded the pieces and taped up the edges to paint.
I was inspired by Gerrit Rietveld’s Red Blue chair and decided to paint my chair red on one side and blue on the other. I thought this would give an interesting color-change effect as you walked by. When I was finished painting, I stacked the pieces up and used a power drill to drive 14 threaded rods through the holes in the chairs. It took a little bit of effort but I was able to get everything lined up. The ends were secured with nuts that compressed the chair pieces together.
The final chair, Blueshift. You may have heard of the Doppler effect when it comes to sound, but it also applies to light! This effect is when light waves expand and compress as an object moves away and towards the observer respectively. When a celestial object is moving towards us, the light waves contract and appear more blue, causing what’s referred to as Blueshift. The opposite is called Redshift. With my chair, as you walk towards it from the left, it appears blue but as you walk past it, it changes to red. This is an interesting effect that always causes people to give a second glance. The chair itself has a seat and back at a largely obtuse angle which allows you to lean back and relax. The seat and backrest are flat but it is very comfortable to sit in, even for extended periods of time.
This project was a huge learning experience for me. I learned how to go from a 3D model to a language that a CNC can understand. I also learned all about troubleshooting on the CNC. If I could change anything about the process, I would experiment with painting the plywood before cutting it on the CNC. This would save a lot of effort that was expended masking and painting the pieces once they were cut out. Though it might not be the best option because I did experience a fair amount of chip-out on the CNC router which required sanding to amend. Going further with this project, I would play with the end condition of the threaded rods that hold the seat together. Leaving them exposed shows honesty in the design but covering the holes could make the form more clean overall. I think a more elegant solution than a nut at the end could be accomplished.
With Blueshift, I have created a form language that can be used with other pieces of furniture. I can see tables, end tables, desks, and stools made using this same technique. I envision a set of furniture created in this same way, each piece following the form language of the original chair.
Below I have placed the poster and video for the Street Seat design competition which give further insight into my design process.