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Bent stainless steel benches in Philly’s SEPTA station are designed to stand the ultimate urban test.
A subway bench never proves itself on the first day. That was one of the things that interested the designers at Veyko, a Philadelphia-based metal fabrication shop, when they set out to compete for a federally-funded Art In Transit commission to design benches for Philadelphia’s 8th Street SEPTA station.
“As a fabricator, you often see these blob forms, but my particular interest was taking that form and putting it in the most caustic situation, which is a major urban transit system,” said Veyko founder Richard Goloveyko of the team’s design, which won the commission in 2005. “We wanted to see that form built well enough to exist the wear and tear of a subway station.”
The benches have resiliency thanks to their bent wire design. The idea for the shape came from the way subway travelers wait in the station: they sit or they lean. By modeling these positions in Rhinoceros and Solidworks, the team created a map between the two postures, and the curved, skeleton-like form took shape. Bench frames were cut using a five-axis water jet machine, while CNC wire forming bent 5/6-inch stainless steel strands to meet exact parameters set forth in the computer model. Wires are spaced at 1-1/8 inches on-center to create a comfortable, structurally sound design that also allows water and small debris to pass through.
The ten, 20-foot-long benches fabricated by Veyko were bolted to station walls using Hilti epoxy anchors, giving cleaning crews easy access to clean the floor beneath. As another sanitary measure, the stainless steel is electro-polished, resulting in a mirror-like finish that resists dirt and bacterial buildup, similar to finishes used on sanitary hospital equipment.
The design of the benches discourages anyone from lying on them, a parameter in the competition guidelines, but “virtually everyone uses them differently,” said Goloveyko. Kids tend to nestle into the seat, some people sit on the area for leaning, and some gather in the small alcoves formed by the arched seat. Now, about a year after installation, the benches show no signs of damage—no small feat for a station that sees tens of thousands of travelers a day.
Inspired by the SEPTA bench design process, the Veyko team has now entered similar proposals in other public transit competitions across the country. While the SEPTA bench design is too complex to be viable for commercial sale, similar iterations may not be, and the company plans to develop its own line of urban furniture sometime soon.
Above video: An example of CNC wire bending.