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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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Art
5 Things You Might Not Know About Ansel Adams

You probably know Ansel Adams—who was born on February 20, 1902—as the man who helped promote the National Park Service through his magnificent photographs. But there was a lot more to the shutterbug than his iconic, black-and-white vistas. Here are five lesser-known facts about the celebrated photographer.

1. AN EARTHQUAKE LED TO HIS DISTINCTIVE NOSE.

Adams was a four-year-old tot when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck his hometown. Although the boy managed to escape injury during the quake itself, an aftershock threw him face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. According to a 1979 interview with TIME, Adams said that doctors told his parents that it would be best to fix the nose when the boy matured. He joked, "But of course I never did mature, so I still have the nose." The nose became Adams' most striking physical feature. His buddy Cedric Wright liked to refer to Adams' honker as his "earthquake nose.

2. HE ALMOST BECAME A PIANIST.

Adams was an energetic, inattentive student, and that trait coupled with a possible case of dyslexia earned him the heave-ho from private schools. It was clear, however, that he was a sharp boy—when motivated.

When Adams was just 12 years old, he taught himself to play the piano and read music, and he quickly showed a great aptitude for it. For nearly a dozen years, Adams focused intensely on his piano training. He was still playful—he would end performances by jumping up and sitting on his piano—but he took his musical education seriously. Adams ultimately devoted over a decade to his study, but he eventually came to the realization that his hands simply weren't big enough for him to become a professional concert pianist. He decided to leave the keys for the camera after meeting photographer Paul Strand, much to his family's dismay.

3. HE HELPED CREATE A NATIONAL PARK.

If you've ever enjoyed Kings Canyon National Park in California, tip your cap to Adams. In the 1930s Adams took a series of photographs that eventually became the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. When Adams sent a copy to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the cabinet member showed it to Franklin Roosevelt. The photographs so delighted FDR that he wouldn't give the book back to Ickes. Adams sent Ickes a replacement copy, and FDR kept his with him in the White House.

After a few years, Ickes, Adams, and the Sierra Club successfully convinced Roosevelt to make Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. Roosevelt's designation specifically provided that the park be left totally undeveloped and roadless, so the only way FDR himself would ever experience it was through Adams' lenses.

4. HE WELCOMED COMMERCIAL ASSIGNMENTS.

While many of his contemporary fine art photographers shunned commercial assignments as crass or materialistic, Adams went out of his way to find paying gigs. If a company needed a camera for hire, Adams would generally show up, and as a result, he had some unlikely clients. According to The Ansel Adams Gallery, he snapped shots for everyone from IBM to AT&T to women's colleges to a dried fruit company. All of this commercial print work dismayed Adams's mentor Alfred Stieglitz and even worried Adams when he couldn't find time to work on his own projects. It did, however, keep the lights on.

5. HE AND GEORGIA O'KEEFFE WERE FRIENDS.

Adams and legendary painter O'Keeffe were pals and occasional traveling buddies who found common ground despite their very different artistic approaches. They met through their mutual friend/mentor Stieglitz—who eventually became O'Keeffe's husband—and became friends who traveled throughout the Southwest together during the 1930s. O'Keeffe would paint while Adams took photographs.

These journeys together led to some of the artists' best-known work, like Adams' portrait of O'Keeffe and a wrangler named Orville Cox, and while both artists revered nature and the American Southwest, Adams considered O'Keeffe the master when it came to capturing the area. 

“The Southwest is O’Keeffe’s land,” he wrote. “No one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”

The two remained close throughout their lives. Adams would visit O'Keeffe's ranch, and the two wrote to each other until Adams' death in 1984.

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Dan Bell
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Design
A Cartographer Is Mapping All of the UK’s National Parks, J.R.R. Tolkien-Style
Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park
Dan Bell

Cartographer Dan Bell makes national parks into fantasy lands. Bell, who lives near Lake District National Park in England, is currently on a mission to draw every national park in the UK in the style of the maps in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Kottke.org reports.

The project began in September 2017, when Bell posted his own hand-drawn version of a Middle Earth map online. He received such a positive response that he decided to apply the fantasy style to real world locations. He has completed 11 out of the UK’s 15 parks so far. Once he finishes, he hopes to tackle the U.S. National Park system, too. (He already has Yellowstone National Park down.)

Bell has done various other maps in the same style, including ones for London and Game of Thrones’s Westeros, and he commissions, in case you have your own special locale that could use the Tolkien treatment. Check out a few of his park maps below.

A close-up of a map for Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park in central England
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Cairngorms National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Cairngorms National Park in Scotland
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Lake District National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Lake District National Park in England
Dan Bell

You can buy prints of the maps here.

[h/t Kottke.org]

All images by Dan Bell

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