Urban punctuationby Lauren Hills on Jan 18, 2009
From benches to bollards, street lamps to bus shelters, street furniture is an essential part of the urban fabric. Lauren Hills reports on its growing importance in the Middle East
Like onset extras, street furniture is one of those elements frequently overlooked but very much needed to make up the whole. If iconic buildings can be called Dubai’s show stealers, then it is its everyday items such as bollards and benches that are its quieter cast members barely visible in the background.
Take them away, however, and people immediately notice that something is missing even if they are hard pressed to put their finger on exactly what it is.
Lining pavements, parks, public spaces and residential developments, street furniture provides the punctuation for open spaces.
Both functional and attractive, it is a driver of pedestrian activity: bollards act as safety elements; benches create rest stops; bus stops provide a form of shelter.
And unlike its flimsier counterpart outdoor furniture, street furniture adds permanence to a city intrinsically helping to create a sense of place.
“Street furniture can make a city look more finished, adding important touches that infuse the areas around the buildings with a sense of belonging; it can make a city feel more complete,” comments Richard Kornmayer, export manager of urban decor design and manufacture company Fundicio Ductil Benito.
Traditionally, street furniture has not held a great deal of prominence in the region, frequently overlooked or put in as an afterthought into developments. This is now starting to change, however, say suppliers.
“Before there wasn’t much thought about street furniture,” says Alex Charawani, managing partner of Gebal Co LLC, which has supplied street furniture for Nakheel’s Dubai Waterfront and Aldar’s Al Raha Beach project in Abu Dhabi.
“People would just put a bench here and a bench there. But what we are seeing now in discussions we have with Aldar and other big developers is that they are saying ‘This is our building, this is our design theme, and we want to continue it’.
We are discussing materials and not only in terms of the quality – the physical thing that you sit on – but in terms of what would look best in a particular area.”
Suvarna Jeetendra, managing director of outdoor solutions manufacturer and distributor Bluestream agrees that interest in street furniture is growing although he says that the amount of importance attached to it varies.
“There are landscapers and developers who are careful with their selection of ornaments for their projects and communicate with us well ahead of time, and at the same time there are firms that only start considering street accessories in the last stages of development thus giving us very little time to design, supply and install the furnishings,” he says.
“Nonetheless, overall there has been a genuine increase in the consideration for community spaces and developments across the region.”
Such interest is vital, he adds, in helping to give a city or development character. “Unlike the more established cities in the west like Paris, London, Madrid or Rome, cities in the Middle East are yet to fully comprehend the importance of proper public furnishings,” he says.
“Some of the cities have taken strong measures in the right direction towards implementing street furnishing that resonate the area’s personality, however, there is still a long way to go before we see anything like a structured city furnishing program like the recent one in Toronto.”
Beyond mere functionality, street furniture is valued for its ability to add to the aesthetical appeal of a development or enhance its brand identity. While practicality is at the heart of the application of street furniture, it is its design that gives visitors an emotional connection to an area.
“Street furniture can be an intricate part of the city or nation’s identity and history,” says Jeetendra. “Much like the red telephone boxes of Britain or the streetlamps of Paris – certain elements of local streetscapes are very strongly associated with the city even on an international level.”
There is a growing market for upmarket street furniture notes Marco Vivan, international sales manager of high-end Italian street furniture company Lab 23.
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