The City of London – the Square Mile that contains St Paul’s, the Barbican, and the Gherkin amongst other architectural landmarks – is known as London’s financial district, yet recently, with the news of Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s concert hall and Foster’s tulip-shaped tourist tower, it seems the City is going in a new direction. Five new home-grown cultural attractions will be found in the City for the month of June – a series of eccentric benches designed by young Londoners with ambitions to add some delight to the daily life.

Partnering up with the London Festival of Architecture, the City of London Corporation and Cheapside Business Alliance commissioned five new benches for the Cheapside area – choosing the winning designs through a competition open to young architects and designers. The challenge was to design an ‘imaginative place for people to rest amidst the bustle of their city surroundings.’

The group of judges (including Ellie Stathaki, Wallpaper* architecture editor) got together to sift through nearly 100 entries from a whole range of architecture and design students, recent graduates and emerging practices. What stood out to them this year – the competition is in its second iteration after its success last year – was bold colour, unconventional shapes, curves, hearts and dogs – all in all, the designs seem to be seeking to bring a little bit of happiness to the streets of London.

Benchtime by Agnese Sanvito
Benchtime by Anna Janiak Studio. Photography: Agnese Sanvito

The five winners were then let loose with budget of £800 to create and manufacture their benches, and as a result, some very unexpected objects have descended on the city. One bench (Whippet Good) designed by Delve Architects with DragonSmoke Construction, is shaped like a giant, curled up whippet dog, plopped onto the pavement. Anna Janiak Studio’s bench is inspired by life-sized astronomical instruments and Armor Gutiérrez Rivas and Atelier La Juntana’s heart-shaped loveseat might just inspire some romance over a Pret sandwich or two over the next month.

The concept of play has been incited by all designers and architects involved: Astrain Studio Architects’ colourful design of interlocking geometric forms was inspired by children’s building blocks, and Sarah Emily Porter with James Trundle’s bench promises to shake up the daily commute with a rhythmic take on the shape lifted from the London tube map.

Correlated Journeys by Sarah Emily Porter with James Trundle
Correlated Journeys by Sarah Emily Porter with James Trundle

‘Together, the benches demonstrate not only the brilliance of London’s emerging architects, designers and artists, but also how small interventions can make such a difference to how people can experience and enjoy London’s streets and spaces,’ says Tamsie Thomson, Director of the London Festival of Architecture.

These benches are simple, creative, democratic urban tools that add to city life in so many ways. Instead of packing people into a lift to ship them up into a bulbous bar above the city, they are open to all to enjoy the city daily – designed by young Londoners with bright ideas, they are pops of colour and humour to uplift the urban fabric, and add to the social layers of life at street level. §

Love Without Borders by Armor Gutiérrez Rivas, Atelier La Juntana
Love Without Borders by Armor Gutiérrez Rivas, Atelier La Juntana
Whippet Good by Delve Architects with DragonSmoke Construction
Whippet Good by Delve Architects with DragonSmoke Construction