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Making the Public Bench in Times Square Serve More Than Tourists

Public benches are usually the unsung heroes of public spaces. They are important for getting people to spend passive time in a park or public square, but dramatic designs for them are few and far in between, and mostly limited, sadly, to discouraging the homeless from getting too comfortable on them. But Norwegian design firm Snøhetta had a unique challenge when they were asked to design benches for New York City's Times Square, as several different purposes meet in that very spot.

This famous bowtie-shaped interaction has recently received attention for becoming, well, a little too vibrant. Amid costumed characters trying to accost children and get their parents to pay for photos, as well as the daring desnudas, Times Square is having difficulty serving that mundane purpose that thousands of New Yorkers who work in Midtown need it for: getting from point A to point B.

Snøhetta's design endeavors took this into account. The form of their benches is unusual: they are granite slabs that rise at various heights, sometimes at an angle, and their placement is unusual but strategic—with the goal of directing pedestrian traffic the way rocks direct fish in a stream. They also have a more covert feature that will help keep Times Square's entrepreneurial spirit alive: a discreet system of fiber-optic cables and conduits that will tap into the city's power grid, providing clean energy for food vendors, performers, and more.

The 400-amp, 200-amp, and 20-amp power sources aren't there for you to charge your iPhone, though, they will be protected by Department of Transit-issued locks and only accessible with a permit.

"The benches will service the over 350 events that take place in Times Square each year, ranging from rock concerts to Solstice in the Square, where hundreds of yogis gather in Times Square," said Snøhetta’s Anny Li.

"Twelve times as many events take place in Times Square as the next busiest square in the city." Perhaps, if you've grown tired of the place, it will be time to re-visit Times Square soon.


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