8 Decidedly Different Benches to Sit On

Just a few yards from my home, a municipal walking trail crosses the river on a refurbished old bridge set aside just for pedestrians. Many cities and towns are seeing the value in providing sidewalks and trails to encourage walking, and a place to sit and rest makes it easier for folks to get into the walking routine -and benches in public spaces encourage socializing as well. Outdoor benches can also be works of art, whether for the public, the privacy of your back yard, or in a museum. Here's a roundup of some recent innovations in sitting benches.

1. Push That Button!

This bench is for sitting, but it's also a real light switch! The work is called "Zet die knop om!" which translates to "Push that button!" The bench itself lights up when the switch is pushed. The statement it makes is about the responsibility we all have to conserve energy, and the hope is that people will use the light when needed, and switch it off when they leave. This arty bench was designed by Dutch studio HIK Ontwerpers in 2008 and exhibited in the public spaces of Utrecht and Amsterdam.

2. Chesterfield

Park benches are usually designed to withstand the elements, vandals, and children. In contrast, Dutch designer Joost Goudriaan built an outdoor bench in Rotterdam that's all luxury. This Chesterfield bench features tufted genuine leather upholstery for style and beauty. How long will it last? Dutch vandals may stop and think before destroying a bench that practically begs you to sit on it and relax.   

3. Truck Tailgate

Kathi Borrego and her husband value the ability to turn junk into useful objects. They built a bench using the tailgate of an old Chevrolet pickup truck that had been in the family for many years. The truck was falling apart, but a piece of it lives on. Read about the process of building the bench at her blog.

4. Books

This bench, photographed by DeviantART member Funnysock, is found in Berlin. It's a lovely picture, and a nice idea for recycling, but just think of the mildew and possible critters housed in this stack of paper.

5. Chair+Chair=Bench

Korean designer Jiwon Choi designed a bench that might be used in the movie Inception. On first look, it seems to be useful in a gravity-free situation only. But it's called "Chair+Chair=Bench." The two chairs can be used from either end (although not both at the same time) to conserve space, and the structure can be laid on its "front" to be used as a bench. Photograph by Andrew Haarsager

6. Huge Sudeley Bench

Pablo Reinoso designed the Huge Sudeley Bench. It consists of swirling steel bars that form arty abstract loops at each end with a real sitting bench in the middle. The nine-meter long bench was commissioned as part of an exhibit of seating outside Sudeley Castle in Winchcombe, Gloucestershire, England in 2010, after which it was auctioned off. Photograph by Pablo Reinoso Studio.

7. Modified Social Benches

Danish designer Jeppe Hein built a series of public benches for the coastal town of De Haan in Belgium. Called "Modified Social Benches," the basic design resembles normal park benches, but each is altered in a way that makes sitting on them a challenge of sorts. The aim is to make the user more conscious of the space and the act of sitting on a bench. They also invite conversation by subtly (and sometimes not-so-subtly) skewing reality. See more pictures here.

8. Polymorphic

Although it is supposed to be outdoor seating, the kinetic interactive bench called Polymorphic may as well be a playground! Made of 119 linked sections, the bench moves and molds its shape to your weight. Put pressure on one section, and the adjoining sections move as well to create a shape conforming to your body. Polymorphic was designed by seven students at Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture. See videos of the bench in action and under construction at the project site.

Bonus: Invasion of the Park Bench

As long as we are thinking about park benches, let's see a couple of slightly-malfunctioning robots try to take over the world. Or maybe, due to their size and the fact that there's only two of them, just the local park bench.

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George Barratt-Jones, Vimeo
This Crafty Bicycle Can Knit a Scarf in 5 Minutes
George Barratt-Jones, Vimeo
George Barratt-Jones, Vimeo

Knitting can be a time-consuming, meticulous task, but it doesn’t need to be. At least not if you’re George Barratt-Jones. As The Morning News spotted, the Dutch designer recently created a human-powered automated knitting machine that can make a scarf while you wait for your train to arrive.

The Cyclo-Knitter is essentially a bicycle-powered loom. As you pedal a stationary bike, the spinning front wheel powers a knitting machine placed on top of a wooden tower. The freshly knitted fabric descends from the top of the tower as the machine works, lowering your brand-new scarf.

Cyclo Knitter by George Barratt-Jones from George Barratt-Jones on Vimeo.

“Imagine it’s the midst of winter,” Barratt-Jones, who founded an online skill-sharing platform called Kraftz, writes of the product on Imgur. “You are cold and bored waiting for your train at the station. This pedal powered machine gets you warm by moving, you are making something while you wait, and in the end, you are left with a free scarf!”

Seems like a pretty good use of your commute down-time, right?

If you're a fan of more traditional knitting methods, check out these knitting projects that can put your needles to work, no bicycle required.

[h/t The Morning News]

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THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images
6 Works of Art That Were Hiding in Plain Sight
An ancient angel mosaic on a wall of the Church of the Nativity
An ancient angel mosaic on a wall of the Church of the Nativity
THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images

Earlier this year, an 1820 facsimile of the Declaration of Independence turned up in Texas. Despite once being owned by James Madison, it had been shuffled among the papers of a family who eventually forgot about its provenance and came to consider it "worthless," at least until its recent authentication. As one of only 200 facsimiles created by printer William Stone, it was a rare document, but what made headlines was a curious footnote in the document’s journey: It had been hidden behind wallpaper during the Civil War as protection.

There’s something tantalizing about a precious object concealed by wallpaper or painted over; it suggests treasures might be hiding anywhere—maybe in our own homes. Here are a few stories of art that's been lost, and found, on the same wall, hidden beneath wallpaper, paint, and plaster.

1. ANGEL MOSAIC // PALESTINE

Conservators who began restoring the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 2013 after centuries of neglect were prepared to clean its mosaics from years of soot and grime. They weren’t expecting to find new ones.

Using a thermographic camera, one restoration worker noticed a shape in the plaster walls. When the team started chipping off the material, they found the brilliant glow of mother-of-pearl tiles. Soon an 8-foot-tall angel was revealed, dressed in a flowing white robe, its golden wings and halo as luminescent as when they were installed in the Crusades era. It’s believed that the angel was covered up following an 1830s earthquake, perhaps to hide damage. Now the lost seraph (above) has rejoined the procession of radiant mosaic angels who are walking to the nativity along the church’s historic walls.

2. MEDIEVAL MURALS // WALES

Mediaeval wall paintings, Llancarfan church, Wales
Chris Samuel, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

During the Reformation, the murals in Catholic churches of the British Isles were often covered with plaster, turning them into more austere Protestant spaces. In covering them so entirely, this art was sometimes inadvertently protected from centuries of decay. In 2010, conservators announced an incredible find in the 800-year-old Church of St Cadoc at Llancarfan in Wales.

Church staff had long been intrigued by a thin red line of paint on the wall. After conservators began the painstaking work of removing 21 layers of limewash, a dramatic painting of St. George slaying a dragon appeared. The discoveries continued with scenes of other popular medieval motifs, such as the Seven Deadly Sins, a royal family, and "Death and the Gallant," in which a rotting corpse with a worm creeping in its rib cage leads an elegantly dressed man to his mortal end. The murals are now on view for all to enjoy.

3. BRETON GIRL SPINNING // FRANCE

Paul Gauguin, "Breton Girl Spinning"
Paul Gauguin, Wikimedia // Public Domain

Now at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, French artist Paul Gauguin's 1889 Breton Girl Spinning is an enigmatic fresco of a young girl dancing at a small tree. In one hand, she is spinning wool; in the distance, above the water and shapes of ships, a huge angel with a sword is flying. In part because of this angelic figure, the painting is sometimes called Joan of Arc.

The work was painted right on the plaster dining room wall of La Buvette de la Plage, an inn in Brittany, France. After being forgotten under layers of wallpaper, it and two other murals (one by Gauguin and one by his student Meijer de Haan) were rediscovered in 1924 during some redecorating.

4. MAYA MURALS // GUATEMALA

While updating their kitchen around 2007, Lucas Asicona Ramirez and his family in the Guatemalan village of Chajul discovered some old interior design—Maya murals, hidden for centuries beneath the plaster.

The roughly 300-year-old artworks in the colonial-era home featured figures in both Maya and Spanish attire, representing a moment of European arrival. One may be holding a human heart, or possibly a mask used in a dance. Ramirez hopes to turn the room into a museum, but needs more funding. Other households in Chajul also have historic murals in their homes, and some are striving to conserve these memories of their ancestors even while local preservation resources are limited.

5. WILLIAM MORRIS RED HOUSE MURALS // ENGLAND

The 19th century British artist and writer William Morris is celebrated for his textiles, writing, wallpaper, and other work in the Arts and Crafts movement. The house in Bexleyheath, Kent, that architect Philip Webb designed for him and his wife Jane in 1859 was intended not just as a home, but an incubator for art. The "Red House" became a hub for like-minded artists, and Morris founded “The Firm”—which produced decorative objects such as stained glass and furniture—there in 1861 alongside several other artists. However, the Red House community was short-lived, and financial difficulties forced the family to move out in 1865, never to return.

When the National Trust acquired the house in 2003, they found that the group had left behind some of their artistic experiments. Behind a wardrobe, under layers of paint and wallpaper, the trust made a most extraordinary find: a full wall of almost life-size biblical figures. Researchers believe they were collaboratively painted by Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, his wife Elizabeth Siddal, and Ford Madox Brown, all of whom were major artists in the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

6. AMÉRICA TROPICAL // UNITED STATES

Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros had just been expelled from Mexico for his leftist activities when he arrived in Los Angeles in 1932. Local boosters commissioned him to create a mural on the theme of "Tropical America" on the touristy Olvera Street, which was an idealized vision of a Mexican market, but he had no interest in portraying some folkloric fantasy. “For me, 'America Tropical' was a land of natives, of Indians, Creoles, of African-American men, all of them invariably persecuted and harassed by their respective governments,” he said in a 1971 documentary.

His América Tropical: Oprimida y Destrozada por los Imperialismos, or Tropical America: Oppressed and Destroyed by Imperialism, was a moody landscape with gnarled trees clawing at a Maya temple. At the center, an indigenous man is crucified, with an American eagle ominously descending over his head. Innovative techniques such as airbrushing gave the tableau a visceral edge.

The 18-by-82-foot act of subversion was soon whitewashed. Still, many people did not forget it, especially as Siqueiros became recognized as one of the most influential of the early 1900s Mexican muralists. Eight decades after it was painted, the city of Los Angeles, along with the Getty Conservation Institute, began a restoration. The whitewash had protected its details from sun and rain and finally, in 2012, its defiant scene was again revealed to the public. It is now the oldest mural in L.A., and the only one by Siqueiros in its original location.

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