PLUPA IS A WINNING CONCEPT MADE FOR A BENCH DESIGN COMPETITION FOR THE CITY OF RIJEKA, CROATIA.
By Jelena Azinovic & Jaša Zelmanovic
Photos by Andrija Zelmanovic, Ivan Dorotic, Lucia Peso
For this project, I teamed up with a talented sculptor Jelena A. Her skills and thinking beyond established patterns really helped us achieve great results. With this interactive bench, we have tried to intervene in the former port area, highlighting its transformation into an urban area. Interaction is achieved through the various capabilities of modular deployment of the bench elements. We used the concept of boat fenders, or buoys, to transform the function from objects of everyday use and “maritime” features into the new urban context.
Boat fenders are fastened with iron U-profiles in the substrate, and thus allow them to change position within the object space to be adaptable to the current user/users. With color (current object is the prototype) that occurs through separate fenders, we tried to refresh the former industrial space, and thereby connect the symbolism of Rijeka as a carnival city. The competition was organized by the portal Pogledaj.to & Rijecki Val.
"Port area is becoming public space and we need public space equipment"
Citizen association Rijecki Val from Rijeka started an initiative of reviving public areas in the city. Their first step was aimed at Molo Longo, a pier in the city of Rijeka that was recently converted from a port to an urban area and it was lacking the conditions to become used by its citizens. The goal of the competition, “Rijeka’s bench,” was to propose an element of public furniture that would signalize the transformation of the port to the public space. Benches would be set up in the area of the promenade Molo Longo, and later in the rest of the coastal zone of the city of Rijeka
This piece of furniture has been approached so many times, we decided to use an exploratory research method to find out if there is a hidden gem somewhere. We wanted to create something that was a bit more fun and interactive than a regular bench, as it would fit the city that has branded itself as a carnival city. We went to our neighborhood and talked to few people that were sitting on local benches. With thorough casual interviews, we found out a lot about their needs while discussing different scenarios.
The main outcome was that sitting on a bench is an experience that you approach either alone, looking for relaxation, or a social activity with 2 or more people. The latter was exactly the use case we wanted to narrow down to – a younger group of people that will use this bench actively. We were sure that we wanted to build a bench that was flexible, comfortable and served a group of people.
Based on the assumption that the bench is a social experience, we explored few different ideas. We presented these to our friends and talked about their sitting habits in the group. Conversation as an activity came across as a common pattern. As we were exploring the surroundings where this bench would be placed, we found a common element – a buoy. This was an interesting building block – it is sturdy, flexible and fun!
Sketches & Prototypes
We were not capable of 3D rendering and had to think in a medium that we were familiar with: graphic design and sculpture. We created small prototypes that helped us with our vision. In the beginning, we started with mimicking a bench and then went all out and made an assumption that the bench should be fully flexible and configurable to fit needs of a group of people, emphasizing a place of interaction between people.
We got really excited at this point. Let’s make concept a reality. We explored different buoy vendors and found a perfect resource – a webpage with dimensions, types and colors – it was just what we needed! We were even able to estimate the costs and offer a really plausible solution. We thought of it as a nice, colorful concept to liven up the industrial surroundings that were used by joggers and young people.
Jury selected our concept for the first place of the competition – sweet! Now what?
We were talking to the organizers about building the prototype, doing some testing and tweaking the concept. The organizers of the competition were too sweet – kudos to them! We received an email one day basically saying, “Hey Jasa and Jelena, we built a prototype from your blueprints – do you want to come to Rijeka and see it? Oh, we are also hosting an exhibition where we will present the results of the competition and the prototype will be there.” So exciting!
The Exhibition opening was our testing ground! We received a lot of good feedback and saw a lot of happy kids – and adults. The organizers proposed that when the project goes live, we use a soft surface like in playgrounds so the experience and perhaps “in-proper” use make the experience more pleasant in the case of hitting the surface.
We proposed a longer distance between elements as we found out the conversation space was a bit too close between people.
After obtaining all the permits and certificates, the project was given the green light and the realization started. Due to the availability of different colors, we started out with just red and white. We hope Plupa will find it useful in more places with time, perhaps coastal cities, playgrounds and other ports. Meanwhile, the prototype traveled some distance with Croatian Holiday 2012, even to Milano Design week.