We Shape Our Seating, Thereafter Our Seating Shapes Us

Zurich 2001: Art as seating: Amazing, Revealing and a lot of Fun

In the summer of 2001 we arrived in Zurich. Almost immediately we discovered that the city had sponsored a seating exhibit where they created a box structure where artists could design a bench that would be placed in various locations around Zurich.

This is an extraordinary set of images.

We started taking pictures (slides) of every bench we could find. We found 51 different benches. We took just one image of each bench, trying to get a full survey of every bench that artists had designed, placed throughout Zurich. When we came back to New York, we began to look at each image and began to see that almost every bench was occupied when we took the image. Only 6 images did not have people sitting on the collection of benches we took.

What we found was a big surprise. Each image showed a dramatic difference between types of benches and their users. Each bench had its own personality and the people sitting on each bench reflected that unique quality...This speaks loud and clear...people thrive in place that reflect their personality and where they can be seen in ways that others understand something about who they are. Different people need different settings. Diversity of seating is a basic need and varies for each place.

Two benches below present that stark reality. The two very different cultures below would never be caught sitting in the other bench.

Our Takeaway:

Each bench image shows people fully engaged. In fact--they seem to be almost performing or acting as though they were sitting on their front porch or in their living room. The benches represent and respect their personalities (and perhaps were chosen for exactly these reasons). The people were clearly having fun, having found in each bench a place to show they were happy and content.

Contemporary benches where "Trendy" people thrived:

Benches that seemed to cater perfectly to families:

Some benches seemed more suited to couples:

Certain benches attracted older people more than other users:

While some benches served people with children in tow:

Meanwhile, a few benches weren't occupied:

There was only one bench that created a group setting:

Single people also found their place:

There was one unusual one...it had no character, no soul...just an object. So we were not surprised that groups did not choose it.


These photos powerfully show how people’s behavior is shaped by their environment and how sensitive people are to choosing an environment that respects, supports, and draws out their personality and identity.

As we can choose where to be, where to invest, and where to live more than ever, it is places that allow us to be comfortable, to express ourselves and the opportunity to further shape them that will attract people – especially people that want to help further shape the place to attract even more people.

The virtuous process of Placemaking often starts with seating that shapes people or people that shape seating.


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The mission of the Social Life Project is to incite a renaissance of community connection in public spaces around the globe. Through our online publication, presentations, campaigns, and catalytic projects, we can create transformative impact on communities everywhere. Our work grows out of more than 50 years devoted to building the global placemaking movement. It is an initiative of the Placemaking Fund, along with PlacemakingX — a global network of leaders who together accelerate placemaking as a way to create healthy, inclusive, and beloved communities. We gladly accept donations to advance our work.

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