The London Festival of Architecture (LFA) has announced a contest to design a series of £5,000 benches across Network Rail’s busiest stations in the capital
The two-stage Sitting Pretty competition invites architecture and design students, recent graduates and emerging practitioners to propose ‘fun and imaginative’ concepts for temporary seating which could be installed in London’s most frequented stations in the run-up to the 2020 festival.
The call for concepts – supported by Network Rail – aims to replace existing ‘efficiency-driven’ seating with ergonomic and memorable solutions. Ten finalists will each receive £400 to draw up design concepts. Judges include AJ managing editor Will Hurst and Network Rail principal architect Franke Anatole.
Anatole said: ‘The quality and style of seating says a lot about the way transport operators care about their passengers. Ergonomics, touch and feel of what we sit on will often determine our degree of comfort and satisfaction with our immediate environment.
‘But many current designs often repeat past faults and are triumphs of efficiency-driven style over substance. Which is why we’re delighted to support this opportunity to empower emerging designers to create a number of prototypes that will challenge current thinking and explore future concepts around the not so humble station and platform bench.’
LFA director Tamsie Thomson said: ‘With the London Festival of Architecture now a year-round celebration of our capital as a hub of architectural experimentation, this competition offers a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate the power of design in everyday places.
‘The challenge is now on to transform people’s experiences of waiting and spending time in train stations into something memorable. We are grateful to Network Rail for sharing our vision and excited to continue expanding our partnership in order to showcase emerging architecture and design excellence in London and its positive impact on the public spaces that form part of our daily lives.’
Network Rail is responsible for the maintenance and upgrading of the country’s 32,000km railway network. The organisation is mid-way through a £38 billion investment programme which will increase electrification and capacity on many routes.
Last year Danish practice Gottlieb Paludan Architects won an RIBA-run contest for Network Rail to rethink pedestrian footbridges across the organisation’s 40,000ha estate. The latest competition follows LFA’s Happy Street contest, also run in partnership with Network Rail, which selected Yinka Ilori to revamp a railway underpass in Nine Elms.
Applications for Sitting Pretty should include a 300-word expression of interest, an initial response to the project and a 200-word practice description. Ten finalists will then be invited to draw up functional and creative concepts for a new ‘safe, durable and low-cost’ seating solution which can host up to three adults. Four winners will each receive £5,000 to fabricate and install their bench next year.
Exact details of the London stations have yet to be confirmed and will only be shared with shortlisted teams in November.
As well as Hurst, Thomson and Anatole, judges will include Paul Priestman of PriestmanGoode and Anthony Dewar, professional head of buildings and architecture safety, technical and engineering at Network Rail.
The deadline for applications is midday, 11 November.
How to apply
Visit the competition website for more information
Frank Anatole, principal architect at Network Rail
Why are your holding an open contest for temporary seating in London’s busiest stations?
We are currently undertaking a lot of research on our station environments, trying to understand why and how they will evolve to serve the varying needs of our present and future users. Having identified significant scope for improving public space within our stations, for us the competition offers the perfect opportunity to test the potential of station seating and capture creative new ideas and perspectives on how this can go beyond the norms of existing seating provision.
Network Rail manages 20 of the largest stations in the UK, and we pride ourselves on continuously striving to improve our experience for passengers as they make their way to their destinations. In turn, we hope to see interested applicants think about how a small-scale intervention can bring joy to our passengers and brighten spaces that they commute through every day. As a result, our passengers will not only get a pleasant new space to sit and wait, but we’re also excited to see our station spaces transform into valuable public realm for all, creating a more welcoming environment that encourages people to stay longer.
What is your vision for the new seating solutions and how busy station environments could be improved?
We’re looking for proposals that can offer a creative and imaginative take on station seating as it currently stands, encouraging this to do more than just offer a place to rest. Aesthetically, we are excited to see applicants’ imaginations run free, though it is important to us that lots of people can sit and wait at once, and that they provide a safe, durable and low-cost solution for our stations.
Innovation and ingenuity are at the very forefront of the competition brief and we are excited to see ideas that can inform a prototype for what the future of station seating may look like and be part of the process of trialling and testing this.
What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?
We very much echo the London Festival of Architecture’s mission to champion emerging talent and this open call is a brilliant opportunity for recent graduates or emerging professionals to get involved and showcase a fresh new perspective on station seating, as the thousands of visitors, commuters and Londoners use our stations every day will use and admire their designs.
Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?
As part of this competition, we are actually hoping to see more design opportunities arise. While the four winning teams will get the chance to deliver their bench, which will be hosted in some of our largest London stations, there is also the potential for the proposals to be re-commissioned by Network Rail and replicated across further stations following the festival. By tapping into the legacy of the project, we’re excited to see the competition continue to offer young creatives a chance to really make a mark on how these seating provisions could be developed.
Are there any other recent innovative temporary seating projects you have been impressed by?
Recently, we’ve been inspired by a number of temporary seating projects, including the LFA’s City Benches project. It’s been fantastic to see how these installations have successfully brightened pockets of public realm In the City for the past two years. Despite being temporary, we’ve seen the benches combine functionality and design to create spaces that not only inspire passers-by but make them want to actively engage with the public realm.
We’ve also recently installed new trial seating (pictured, below) to some of our London stations and have been interested to see how these have significantly modified the behaviour of station users in these different spaces. As we expand upon our partnership with the Festival, we’re now excited to harness the talent expressed in the past competitions and see how these seating proposals can truly make a difference to both our passengers and passers-by.
Network Rail trial seating