Co-Creating Playable Street Furniture To Bring Play + Exercise To The Sidewalk.

Posted on December 24th, 2015 at 4:29 pm by in Our Work

Co-Creating Playable Street Furniture To Bring Play + Exercise To The Sidewalk.

Client Community Design Collaborative and Get Healthy Philly
Location Philadelphia
Year 2015

In the summer of 2015, working with our clients The Community Design Collaborative and Get Healthy Philly, through the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we led a participatory design-build process exploring what happens when play and exercise spill beyond a playground, becoming part of the sidewalk, neighborhood and business corridor. Public Workshop co-designed and fabricated three different scales of prototype play structures with many hundreds of youth, community members, Collaborative volunteers, Get Healthy Philly staff and others. Developed around and in conjunction with our min-park and vacant lot playground project with People’s Emergency Center, these structures—a Fort-Gym, Switchback Bench and Balance Beams—were then installed along the Lancaster Avenue business corridor. The design of the Fort-Gym additionally morphed based off of feedback and use by local residents as well as during Design Philadelphia, when all three structures were temporarily moved to Smith Memorial Playground. The responsive design-build approach to the process meant that many hundreds of people were not only exposed to and felt ownership of this innovative project, but developed new building skills as a result. Indeed, throughout the process, play and design often spilled well beyond the mini-park and onto the sidewalk and street, occasionally slowing down traffic and causing spontaneous dance parties, games and community pull-up contests. The project was truly unique in the diversity of participants who contributed to and became stakeholders in the project–ranging from seven year olds and nearby business owners to drug dealers who made sure the benches were taken care of on the struggling business corridor. In January 2016, Get Healthy Philly, working with the Community Design Collaborative and Public Workshop, surveyed Philadelphia non-profits to find a home for the second Switchback Bench while also assessing demand for playful street furniture throughout the City. To date, over 40 organizations have applied to adopt the Bench, demonstrating a much larger need. Working with our clients and community partners, we will explore how the Switchback Bench might be expanded into a micro-industry under Tiny WPA‘s Building Hero Project. In this scenario Tiny WPA and Public Workshop staff will train and pay local Building Heroes to fabricate Switchback Benches, hopefully not only meeting apparent market demand but also allowing the team to bring play and exercise to the entirety of Lancaster Avenue by building and installing them throughout. We believe this will be an important prototype process and project leading to the development of a wide variety of different types of Building Hero fabricated street furniture that invite play and exercise.

Many thanks to Amuneal, James Sanderson, RKM Architects, MOTU and the Philadelphia Streets Department for helping make the Switchback Bench a reality.

Are you or your organization interested in acquiring a Switchback Bench? Send us an email. At the very least, your interest helps us make the case for creating more.