Urban design magazine


Street and domestic furniture: the importance of savoir-faire

Honda seat by Mobil Concepts
Honda seat collection from Mobil Concepts - Photograph by Yann Monel

Street and domestic furniture may at first seem very similar, yet they are in fact worlds apart.

Aside from usage, the main difference lies in the production processes. On the one hand, domestic production is dynamic and constantly renewed in order to meet market demands. On the other, street production draws on unchanging methods that are largely based old habits. Convincing companies to innovate, working with them to create new methods and seeing through these project. Is this the future of urban design?

Understanding materials

The urban designer is faced with the problem of how to vary form and texture with a limited choice of materials. Only wood, concrete, stone, ceramics, metal and, in some cases, glass are able to resist damage from the weather and users. This forces designers wanting to move beyond existing designs – such as two-metre long wooden boards with grey or black metal feet made in the same way for almost a century – to consider how to use these materials differently, whether by engraving, cutting or embossing. At the heart of the designer’s role lies the need understand how to use materials intelligently and creatively.

Yet, it is not enough to simply come up with different possible innovations. The production processes must be capable of adapting to these changes and today companies often seem to find it hard to update their methods.

Questioning production processes

Unlike domestic furniture that benefits from a wide network of manufacturers who produce varied objects, street furniture cannot be as innovative as it lacks partners to contribute their complementary savoir-faire. A large part of the challenge lies in finding the right allies.

Sita seat collection

‘Sita’ seat collection from Mobil Concepts – Photograph by Thomas Casubolo

Which companies are ready to innovate? How can companies question processes when they are sheltered from the sanctions of users? Domestic furniture is constantly updated because it is a direct relationship with demanding customers in search of innovation. Yet, who would want pieces of street furniture in their home?

Collaborating with innovative companies

There are innovative street design companies such as Metalco and its French distributer Mobil Concepts, Tôlerie forézienne, and Escofet in Spain. Regardless of the company’s age, they are all driven by a desire to innovate. For example, Escofet has developed a fibred concrete which transforms a material which has negative connotations with 1970s high-rise estates.

Pattern on "Kelly" seat by Escofet

Pattern for “Kelly” seat collection by Escofet.

For the last three years I have been working on introducing ceramics into street design. In collaboration with CRAFT Limoges (Ceramics and Pottery Research Centre) and the European Ceramic Cluster, we have developed innovative techniques that allow us to create solid and aesthetic ceramics. The challenge was finding an industrial partner to product these prototypes in large quantities.

We were faced with this very problem when designing the new souks in Beirut. In order to meet our clients high expectations in terms of quality we developed several prototypes. Although it was difficult to find the right partner, today we have managed it.

Creating street furniture using a unique approach

All of this obviously requires a lot of time and energy. And, that’s what makes my work and my methodology unique. Driving innovative projects from one end of the production chain to the other, while trying to change existing habits and structures within a reasonable budget. A sketch isn’t enough, you have to see the project through to completion and create something that does not yet exist.

In addition to mastering and producing innovation designs, we are also careful to maintain a high level of quality for the client. Monitoring quality during and after the project is a characteristic of our work that our clients appreciate. I truly believe in creation that not only questions existing design, but also ensures the quality of the innovative end product.

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