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Quick Reference: Pre-Furnishing Inventory
• Know your climates
• Know your path and walkway traffic patterns, routes and intersections
• Know your trash and snow removal practices and patterns
• Know your trees, shrubs and wildlife
Site furnishings can be found in virtually any contemporary landscape, serving aesthetic and practical purposes. The people who inhabit these landscapes have certain perceptual (aesthetic) and utilitarian (practical) needs that site furnishings fulfill.
In this sense, a successful site furnishing design cannot be fully complete without some consideration to the practical aspects of how site furnishings are used and maintained.
From this standpoint, there are many small bits of advice that can be given to help make site furnishing placements more successful.
When talking about site furnishings, we are referring to consciously-placed objects that have a functional use, like benches, trash receptacles, bollards, bike racks, drinking fountains, lighting, or any other functional object.
So from the beginning, there are choices to consider that can affect people's experience of your project, even before the furnishing arrives on the site.
The consequence of these choices may be felt most often when the furnishing's color and material interact with the location's microclimate. Microclimate describes the natural qualities of moisture, wind, temperature and sunlight that affect a specific location.
The interaction of these traits create conditions that affect the furnishing itself, as well as people's experience in using it.
The color of a furnishing, or its surface coating, affects the amount of sunlight that is reflected or absorbed from the surface. Light-colored coatings and materials reflect sunlight, while dark-colored coatings and materials absorb sunlight.
A furnishing's materials should be weighed against the climate it will be exposed to. Wood furnishings that are placed in dark and moist microclimates, for instance, may develop algae growth, and then a maintenance regime has to be implemented to counter-balance this.
Avoid placing wood furnishings in areas that experience sustained shade and moisture from buildings. Conversely, metal furnishings are more likely to store heat than wood or plastic.
On exceedingly hot days, metal furnishings may possibly become too hot for the human touch. One should avoid placing a dark-colored metal bench in full sun exposure. One way to address this is to allow plantings that provide shade during the summer months.
Recently, the urban microclimate has become an additional factor to consider in furnishing placement. Large, paved areas absorb excessive heat (known as heat-loading), creating an uncomfortably warm environment.
People sitting in benches placed in these areas may become dehydrated or develop heat exhaustion. Excessive heat and exposure to UV radiation can also result in the degradation of paints or applied coatings. Dark colored paints or finishes will inevitably fade when exposed to UV radiation. The color of the bench can help to mitigate these effects.
Ultimately, your vendor should be able to provide further and more specific environmental information about their products, but the key here is that color is an important factor.
Human Nature Placement
Benches are the most humanizing of site furnishings; they invite people to inhabit and occupy a space. There are three main types of benches available on the market: benches with backs, benches without backs and dual-backed benches.
With the types with backs, one must be conscious that there is a front and a back to a bench. While many focus on a bench's front, and what it points toward, one should be equally aware of what the bench has its back to. This can present a liability from a security standpoint, in that people feel uncomfortable if there is movement behind them. One can solve this issue by placing the backs of benches or to planted areas.
When it comes to paths, people often place benches at the path's edge. For our purposes, we'll define a path to be ten feet or less in width, and a walkway to be more than ten feet in width.
Placing benches at the edge of a walkway should not pose any issues, but repeating this placement strategy for a path can be problematic. The nature of the problem hinges on the path's width. People take up an overhang space in front of the bench where their legs extend.
The typical overhang space ranges from one foot to one and a half feet. If a bench is close to the edge of a path, there can be a conflict in the amount of room for passing pedestrians. One way to resolve this conflict is to set the bench back from the edge of the pathway.
A path at a corporate plaza in Spartanburg, S.C., designed by Peter Lindsay Schaudt Landscape Architecture Inc., illustrates this principle, creating simple and private moments along the main circulation corridor. By setting the wood benches back from the path, the surrounding boxwood hedge acts as a protective side-wall for people's extended legs.
In the Long Run
Understanding the maintenance regimes that will be used to maintain a site can help inform site furnishing placement. Knowing how the trash will be collected and how the snow will be plowed, and placing furnishings to avoid conflicts, can save headaches down the road.
This becomes especially important since most projects require footings or security anchors for all furnishings, making it very difficult and expensive to move them after they have been installed.
In an attempt to be cost-effective, some institutions prefer to cluster or consolidate furnishings together to share a common footing. As we will see later, this is not always a good idea. However, the most useful place to cluster furnishings is at intersections or at major entrances and exits.
There are many maintenance-related factors that can affect how furnishings are placed on a site. One factor is the route and frequency of pick-up for trash receptacles. If an existing route exists, trash receptacles could be located to take advantage of an efficient and proven route.
If a route has to be determined, knowing the types of vehicles and their maximum widths helps inform where accessible placements may be located.
Similarly, furnishing locations should be considered with regard to snow removal. It becomes difficult to keep track of the location and distance of some furnishings in deep snow. Knowing the routes and widths of snow removal equipment can help avoid physical damage by placing them back from paths and open spaces.
Peter Lindsay Schaudt Landscape Architecture Inc. placed trash receptacles at either end of a path, knowing the ends of the path would be more accessible than the path itself.
Trash receptacles merit special consideration. They are both necessary in promoting cleanliness by offering an alternative to littering, as well as disturbing in their collection of undesirable garbage.
More clearly, although they are necessary, they can have a disquieting effect when placed near people. No time is this especially true than during hot weather. Heat tends to magnify the potency of trash odor.
One result is the typical image of summer: insects swarming around trash receptacles. Sometimes this includes stinging insects, such as bees, wasps and yellow-jackets. The concentrated odor (as well as the sight) of overflowing garbage can be localized around the trash receptacle.
All three of these conditions may make people feel uncomfortable if the trash receptacle is placed too close to a bench. This is due to the fact that people have an innate aversion to the presence of garbage. Avoid placing trash receptacles next to seating areas and benches.
While one can argue that the frequency of trash pick-up plays a role in such situations, this is not always possible. Considered placement of trash receptacles can help mitigate the negative effects generated by infrequent trash pick-up.
In many landscapes, it is not uncommon to find site furnishings near or under plants. Using both of these landscape elements in a composition adds interest to otherwise banal situations.
There are some aspects, however, to consider when situating furnishings near trees and shrubs. Plants are dynamic in the way they change over time, and also in their temporal qualities, which make them unique and compelling landscape elements.
One should be aware of these qualities, and consider the life of a landscape relative to the plant material that is found within it.
The first question is whether furnishings are to be added to a pre-existing landscape, or if the entire site is to be created from scratch. In the latter case, planting design and furnishing placement can be augmented to adapt to one another in keeping with larger design concepts.
One quality of plants that may impact people's use of furnishings is the bearing of fruit. There are different types of fruit specific to each plant genus. We can organize them as fleshy fruits and dry fruits: fleshy fruits have a crushable exocarp (external membranes) and can be found on Crabapples, Cherries, and Pears; dry fruits have a rigid exocarp and be found on Oaks, Maples, Ash, and Elm.
One suggestion is to avoid placing benches directly under trees that bear fleshy fruit. Once ripe, the fruit can detach from the tree and cover the bench.
The crushed fruit can stain wood bench slats, or create an undesirable surface for people to sit for fear of staining clothes. If such plants are necessary, then the plant should be set back from the bench so that it does not fall within the tree's canopy dripline.
Another suggestion is to avoid placing trash receptacles near areas with high concentrations of dry fruiting plants. One possible consequence could be squirrels, or other foraging animals, invading receptacles while gathering food for the winter.
While it is unlikely that placing a trash receptacle near an oak tree will cause a problem, squirrels are hard-wired to find places with high concentrations of food.
More specifically, avoid placing trash receptacles near clusters of trees that bear abundant acorns, nuts and nutlets. Examples of such plants include Oak, Filbert, Hornbeam, Birch, Sweetgum, Planetree and Hophornbeam.
Just as the proximity of plantings affects the experience of site furnishings, so can site furnishings affect the experience of plantings.
Low shrub and groundcover plants are often planted in larger planting beds. These beds can be walked across in times of high volume pedestrian traffic.
Placing benches at the edges of planting beds can deter people from cutting across by physically blocking pedestrian movement. This technique can be especially useful in plaza applications, where edge seating is desired to look onto the life in the plaza areas. At Daley Plaza in Chicago, Peter Lindsay Schaudt Landscape Architecture Inc. surrounded each planting bed with backless benches to ensure the beds would be protected from pedestrian and vehicular traffic.
Furnishings should support and reinforce the design intentions of a project, which are primarily responsible for determining how people experience and occupy a landscape.
Operating in a supporting role, site furnishings strengthen this intention most effectively when considered from a practical point of view.
People will not use site furnishings, no matter how beautiful, if their placements are not considered practically. Combining practicality with an understanding of how furnishings interact with people, plants, and other furnishings can help produce successful spaces.
Stephen Young is a landscape designer with the office of Peter Lindsay Schaudt Landscape Architecture Inc. in Chicago.