In the City of London five new colourful public benches have popped up. These designs are the finalists of a London Festival of Architecture (LFA) design competition for young architects and designers. The benches are refreshing islands of creativity in the heavily built up financial district of the city.

Usually running through June, the LFA saw itself following a more digital format due to the pandemic this year. The new benches are a great opportunity to show how people are slowly returning to the public spaces and the central areas of the city safely.

The annual competition aims to showcase new design talent, and the benches encourage people to stop, observe and spend time thinking about the city in new ways. This year there has been a particularly international cohort of designers involved with studios from Denmark, Belgium, Italy and the UK.

City Benches 2020
A Pineapple for London by Hugh Diamond, Archie Cantwell and Cameron Clarke

Ellie Stathaki, Wallpaper* architecture editor, joined the judging panel, alongside Tamsie Thomson, director of the LFA, and Dieter Kleiner, director, RCKa Architects, and others, to select the most striking and original designs exploring this year’s festival theme of ‘Power’.

In front of the Royal Exchange, Studio mxmxm’s bench made from laser-cut powder coated steel plates and titled 51°30’48.6” N 0°05’17.9” W challenges people to locate the bench through coordinates. The Two-Seater Rule by Iain Jamieson with Dave Drury features two facing chairs, positioned at a safe two metre distance, to encourage conversation. While Oli Colman’s colourful eyeball bench encourages people passing by to look up at the surrounding architecture.

Look Up bench
Look Up by Oli Colman

Two of the benches were inspired by the history of architecture in the City of London. A concrete pineapple bench by Hugh Diamond, Archie Cantwell and Cameron Clarke was inspired by Sir Christopher Wren’s original plans for St. Paul’s Cathedral which featured a golden pineapple atop the dome, and the fruit’s connotations with hospitality, trade and power. While PROFFERLO drew on the typical Victorian house chimney, designing a backrest to the bench from traditional chimney pots.

Thomson said: ‘City Benches is a fantastic programme, giving opportunities for fresh design talent to respond to the streetscape of the City of London, and to engage with the thousands of people who will encounter their creations. This year, creating new seating in the context of Covid-19 restrictions was an additional challenge, and one that this year’s cohort have risen to brilliantly with benches that can brighten any day while allowing more socially distanced outdoor space.’ §