moveable chair design for New York City, Battery Park

Battery Park | Chair Design

The competition called for a moveable chair for NYC's Battery Park Lawn. We responded with a chair whose movement would be a form of balletic lawn-grooming.

A lawn is an oasis in the city. It's a surface that invites people to play, rest, talk and decompress. This invitation comes from a delicate balance of smooth, flat, soft and firm. But this balance requires constant care: A lawn needs to be seeded, weeded, trimmed, raked, aerated and rolled.

Meanwhile, movable chairs pose a problem for lawns. They poke, scrape or slash the surface and dense root system. As if this were not enough, chair mobility demands lightness, which in turn creates an invitation to theft, not to mention that lightness often means fragile -- too fragile for heavily-used public furniture. Movable chairs in public space are often cheap, flimsy and replaceable.

We envisioned our movable chairs as long-lasting, well-loved iconic infrastructure. A chair that could not walk away, be blown away or crushed by the use and abuse of the city.  

We asked the lawn a question (inspired by Louis Kahn): “What does a lawn want? We think we heard: “To be smooth and firm, a lawn wants to be gently rolled.” So our Lawn Roller Chair does that. Plus it's movable and sturdy at the same time. 

To accomplish this integration of flexibility and security, comfort and durability, we asked what this chair should be made of. We chose three materials for our chair that are present in New York City in vast amounts. Each tells a different story of American reuse and recycling:

Cast iron has been used for centuries to make long-lasting public infrastructure. It is also one of the easiest materials to “recast.” (The civil war poem “Melt the Bells” exhorts the conversion of church bells into cannons.) We wondered how many cast iron cannons or cannonballs it would ake to make 300 chairs. The answer? About three 5"-diameter cannonballs per chair (for 900 in total) or eight average-size cannons. Perhaps this could be a message for our children; that in a place named “The Battery” we recycled artillery to create an infrastructure for friendship and contemplation.

We also found that every day the people of New York City crack open about 1M aluminum cans. We wondered what we could do with one day’s worth -- 33,300 lbs -- of aluminum. Divided by 300, we derived the weight for our cast aluminum roller at 110 lbs each.

Hurricane Sandy provided the material for the chair's slats. We all know that wood cannot be beat as a material for sitting on, and with miles of devastated boardwalk, the city now (sadly) had an ample supply of the best possible reclaimed wood. Reclaimed tropical hardwood will last for decades with no surface treatment.

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