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Residing in our towns and cities, on our roadsides, in parks, as well as around our schools and businesses, street furniture really is a massive part of our everyday landscape. Individual pieces offer a range of practical, social and environmental functions, dividing themselves into three broad sections:
Often, street design evolves as a response to modern progression. However, other times it encompasses the factor of economy and not that of aesthetic design.
The first “street furniture” landmark was the ‘Maritime Bollard.’ It was the next design progression from the wooden bollard, and came into use in the 17th and 18th century, during the Victorian era. They were reconfigured from disused cannons reclaimed from decommissioned ships and were most notably present in Portsmouth and the London Borough of Camden.
This piece of street furniture was initially introduced to protect pavements and buildings from carriages. They were implemented almost directly in response to this key transportation development.
This is not dissimilar to how roadside bollards are used today, however over time they have become stronger and able to withstand more of an impact. This has come from cars becoming made out of new materials, as well as getting larger. This evolution of street furniture has come as a matter of public safety.
Another structure, relating to public road transport, is the bus shelter which came into use around the same time that regular bus service started. This was in the 1830’s. Early examples tend to be quite robustly built, made of cast-iron, timber and glass. Good examples of this can be found in seaside locations. Mainly along esplanades or promenades .
Seating; another key piece of the street furniture industry, became more popular with the advent of the railways in the 1840’s. The first type of bench associated with the railways was that of the Great Western railway company which connected the midlands with London, the south-west and west of England, and most of Wales. It even has its initials carved into the bench itself!
Pillar boxes, founded in the UK are a piece of street furniture that have become British icons in their own right.
They are one of the most familiar street furniture items in the United Kingdom which everyone instantly recognises. The first four red mailboxes were introduced into street furniture architecture in 1852 in The Channel Islands. Following this, the ‘roadside wall boxes’ first appeared in 1857 as a cheaper alternative to pillar boxes. Most prominently appearing in rural districts.
Another piece of street furniture was the public water fountain introduced by The Metropolitan Drinking Fountain Association in 1859. It made the idea of collective and public water consumption an ordinary, everyday event and fountains became a common street furniture landmark.
In addition to this in 1867 the same association saw the need to provide animals with the same vital source of sanitation for horses and other animals transported to and from towns and cities that were being bought and sold. In response to this water troughs were established in most large towns and cities.
Another distinct piece of historic public street furniture was established in the 19th century. A series of 8,000 ‘Milestones’, otherwise known as pay and stop toll-gates/turnpikes sprung up around England and Wales and were integral to road travel and road maintenance, making them landmarks of highway street furniture.
Over time, street furniture has evolved. This is a result of central governments and local councils starting to modernise street furniture. They felt, it was essential to educate the public on good design and raising standards of public taste.
On top of this, functions of street furniture that used to work in the past have now been re-imagined or even completely eradicated. Therefore making way for new cutting-edge design concepts.
An example of street furniture which has been re-purposed by the forces of modernity is the water trough. The significance of the car, which has contributed to a decreased dependence on horses, and significantly decreased journey times due to better road networks, has meant water troughs are no longer street furniture must haves!
While many of the remaining troughs are listed, they are still being used in some capacity, usually as planters for public flower displays!
Though many local and parish councils still favour the traditional style bench, alternative options can be seen popping up around our larger cities. Many people are seeing street furniture as less of an amenity and more of modern art.
The far from traditional Geo-met seating can be placed in any setting to instantly modernise the area.
These grilles are an excellent example of how street architecture and the environment, humanity and the organic are working in harmony with one another. They are also a stylish way to help to prevent vandalism and theft in urban areas.
One of the latest features in the street furniture industry is the charging station. Charging stations first launched in the UK back in 2012, at Westfield shopping centres. They take away the anxiety of a dead battery on the go as they can charge almost anything!
When a town or city has a wealth of historic street furniture attributes which are located within a specific setting, it’s important to choose furniture that complements the heritage of an area.
Many local councils select ‘traditional’ furniture in ‘green’ locations in order to not detract from sensitive settings. This may include particular listed buildings, important views and riverside locations. A case study of this is in Acocks Green Town Centre, where they implemented aesthetically appropriate,‘Traditional’ planters, benches and bollards that complimented the surroundings, as well as bringing rural style to an urban location.
The use of litter and recycling bins in both rural and urban communities helps to encourage people to dispose of waste correctly. Thus helping to reduce visual pollution and potential harm to wildlife and water supplies.
Interesting and quirky street furniture solutions often work as interesting communal focal points where people can gather and socialise. Benches, planters and interactive furniture of this type can help promote cohesion and interaction.
Installing safe and secure cycle stands can help to advocate the benefits of cycling of which there are an abundance. Reducing emissions, vehicle congestion as well as the associated personal health benefits. Cycling racks also work as a way for people to utilise cheaper transport options.