Street Furniture In The Twenty First Century Cultural Studies Essay

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These objects are often overlooked and are no longer noticed for their shape, colour or design as they have become mundane and have blended into the background of everyday life. My aim in undertaking this project is to make people more aware of the objects around them. I will design my street furniture to not be objects that are overlooked but objects in the street that people who take more interest in and appreciate not just what they are doing there but the aesthetics of them. I will also be researching into one of the longest on-going debates in design; which is more important, form or function? Timo Salli a designer, and the Professor and head of the Applied Art and Design master's degree programme in the Aalto University School of Art and Design, believes that our homes are saturated with objects that we no longer notice and his aim is to create a more direct and meaningful contact between people and furniture (Taschen, 2003).

Function

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Street furniture is to make daily activities of the public easier and more comfortable, for example, street lights to help people to see at night, bus stops so people can rest and stay dry when waiting for a bus, park bench to relax when walking in the park or to sit down and admire a view, bins to avoid littering, bollards to control traffic flow or secure foot paths and other areas.

I will be researching types of street furniture which are encountered everyday by critically analysing and evaluating the design of each object/product and then deciding whether the actual design of the product has focused solely on the function and not so much on the overall form or it.

"There have been many trends in Industrial design. The most common is the purely functionalist approach which exposed elements of the basic structure as the predominant visual theme, resulting in an impersonal look, a neutrality of expression." (Dondis, 1973, p. 170)

By stating this Dondis (1973) believes that the form of a product is overlooked and therefore argues that the function is more important. The Bauhaus school of design operated from 1919 to 1933 before its closure. Bauhaus had a great impact on the design world then and to this day still influences many designers in all aspects of design from architecture to product design and even to artists. The Bauhaus movement and design school became famously known for the phrase 'function over form'. This was believed in the design school and the designers then started to radically simplify forms and focused on functionality so their designs could be machined which would then lead to mass production. The phrase 'function over form' can be seen in many designed products today and these designs will be almost basic and to an extent very simplistic but will do their job or function perfectly. It may not look very good but will work very well. For me personally as a designer I do like to think about the function of something being more important than the form but I don't believe I would use it for everything I design. I would use it where I feel it would be beneficial to my design.

Form

The form of an object or product is something which is particularly important to me as a designer. I believe that the overall form of the product is what makes it stand out from others. Bauhaus believed that function follows form. In an essay entitled 'Tall Office Building Artistically Considered' (1896) by American architect, Louis H. Sullivan wrote,

"It is the pervading law of all things organic, and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and all things super-human, of all true manifestations of the head of the heart, of the soul, that life is recognisable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law." (Heskett, 2005, p. 24)

Sullivan wrote this essay before the Bauhaus design movement was formed and believed that form was more important that the function of an object. In the same essay he also states "It could be argued that form must indeed follow function." (Heskett, 2005, p. 24). His idea was formed on Darwin's theory of evolution and the process he called natural selection which is about the survival of the fittest. Heskett (2005) believes that "Sullivan's concept became encapsulated in the dictum 'Form follows function'; it is possible to speak of an alternative dictum: 'Form follows fiction'." (p.25). Heskett (2005) reiterates this by saying "In other words, in contrast to the world of nature, human life is frequently inspired and motivated by dreams and aspirations rather than just practicality." (p. 25).

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This topic 'form over function' or 'function over form' is a debatable topic throughout design and every single designer will be able to give you their opinion of the most important aspect to consider when designing or even that form and function are equal.

Nevertheless there are however aesthetic reasons for allowing designers to create these products as they are to become part of the everyday environment for the public that they must suit the environment, look good and be enjoyed. I believe that in my project I will be designing my street furniture with no bias to form or function but will decide through my research and idea generation which one would be more suited to my designing. This will be decided on many factors such as the cost of designing and making, the materials used, the position or placing of the street furniture, the complexity of the design and what item of street furniture I will actually be designing.

Sustainable Design

In recent years 'green design' has moved from being a fringe subject to being one of the most heavily discussed and talked about areas in the design world. I believe that as a future designer, sustainable design should be a fundamental part of any designers thought process not just at the start of a project but must stay in the designers mind throughout the whole design process.

"Green design can loosely be defined in terms of a set of objectives: to reduce of use of non-renewable resources, both in the manufacturing process and in the finished object itself; to minimize the environmental impact of the product during and after its useful life." (Fairs, 2008, p. 8)

There are however constraints when designing street furniture these are the cost, materials used, location, planning, as well as the health and safety surrounding each piece of street furniture. These topics are overlooked quite often but when you are designing for sustainability these topics come to the forefront and should be greatly appreciated and treated with caution. For instance, the materials you choose to manufacture something from should be cheap to produce, have a long life span, can and should be recyclable with the possibility of being made into another product or the same product again. In many cases designing for sustainability can also have its flaws; it can limit the designer to particular materials. This means that not only the final outcome is green but the whole process of designing from the designers initial ideas to the research and development stages. Health and safety of my proposed designs are of priority on my agenda for this project as I will have to take into consideration a number of points when designing such as; the positioning of each individual piece of street furniture and where it is exactly going to be designed for. Other points which will be taken into consideration throughout the design process and research development are; the materials used in my design; how people may or may not interact with it; the actual form of my design and whether or not it has sharp edges or points.

Sector

As of Wednesday 20th October 2010 the new coalition government announced their four-year Spending Review to parliament. I have been taking a keen interest in what effect these spending cuts will have on communities and local governments and to see whether these cut will have a detrimental effect on the funding that councils will have on my chosen project area, street furniture.

I will also try to research into the companies who deal directly with the local authorities and councils in supplying the street furniture, the designing and manufacturing of each individual piece of street furniture and the general maintenance of it. I am aware this may be difficult in attaining this research and specific areas such as the cost of each individual item of street furniture to the council and the cost to design and manufacture each piece.

I have also looked at the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) which is the Government department responsible for the production and update of National Planning Policies. These are set out in Planning Policy Statements (PPSs). I have read the Planning Policy Statement 1: Delivering Sustainable Development (2005). This sets out the government's planning policies and need of high quality design. These policies are set out in three different levels, a national level, a regional level and a local level.

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The planning of street furniture is something that many people do not even consider as they the objects are just there. These objects will have been positioned the way they have to enable the public to get the best use out of it as possible. For example the positioning of street lighting will have been a thorough plan to see where the lights should be positioned so they give the best light as possible to people either walking on footpaths or driving along roads. This is the same for seating. The seats will have been planned to be positioned where they are for a number of reasons such as to be in a convenient place for resting, a place to sit and admire a view or to get the person seating on the seat to look a specific way.

Research methods

In order to create my final pieces of street furniture for the public to appreciate I must firstly conduct research. I will also ensure that I have full ethical clearance prior to embarking my research. I aim to use the following methods however, with all small scale research models there is much to consider and take into account; such as bias, observer/interviewer affect, qualitative vs. quantitative data, representation and sampling, and coding of the data collected.

A review of relevant literature will present recurrent themes which will then form the basis of questions for use in questionnaires and semi-structured interviews with professionals in the field. Questionnaires will be a combination of open and closed questions. I aim to pilot the questionnaires in order to clarify the questions asked and to avoid asking any leading questions. The sample for the questionnaires will be members of the public at random. The questionnaires I will be producing will be of sound ethical choice and will be anonymous for the privacy of all participants.

I also aim to target the younger generation and possibly adapt a questionnaire so it can be aimed at school children from the ages 9-16. This will also give me a wider range of views and opinions on my chosen topic and would then help me to further my research and also give me an advantage when designing as I will have considered the next generation whilst designing. In order to hand the questionnaires out in a school classroom will require a CRB Criminal Record check. This is a lengthy process which will also cost money to complete this background check and by doing this may hold up my project so as a result of this the questionnaires will be handed out by teachers that I personally know. I will also have to get parental consent from each child who will be taking part in my questionnaire. I will type a letter and give copies to the teacher so he/she can personally give these out to the children in the classroom or even hand them directly to the parent or guardian of every child in their class. These teachers are two primary school teachers and a secondary school teacher. By using children from different age groups and levels of ability this should give me a wide range of research and possible ideas and inspiration for designing for the next generation.

I aim to interview a number of people, for example; furniture designers, product and industrial designers, local councils and/or authorities and the manufacturers of street furniture. The interviews will follow a set of questions however, due to the nature of a semi-structured interview these may not be asked in sequence or in their entirety. Furthermore observational research will take place in the form of photographs of current street furniture and conceptual designs. These photographs may be used as question prompts during interviews and/or questionnaires.

When analysing the data collected it is imperative to remember that it is an interpretation of the data by a single person and not a representation of the opinion of the public at large. This is due to the nature of this small scale research model. For example when coding the responses to the interviews and questionnaires to avoid bias, and uphold the integrity of the research. Coding also supports the validity and reliability of the data collected.

The anticipated subthemes which may occur as a result of the above research could be: linked design areas (for example; interior, industrial, furniture and architecture), design trends and popular culture, Local Authority funding to the specific area in light of recent governmental change and proposed financial cuts within the public sector and commissioned designs.

Conclusion:

Overall my main aim in this project is to make pieces of street furniture more interesting so that they stand out and can be admired for their form as well as being successful at their function. I aim to change the opinions of the public so that they appreciate both form and function of everyday street furniture around them. These should not been known as 'objects' but as sculptures or individual pieces of artwork for the public to have access too and to admire and appreciate the job that they are doing. My designs will not be suitable for the twenty-first century and would not look out of place in a street today. I hope that by using different research methods and techniques it will give me the information I need in order to design and manufacture pieces of street furniture which will have not only my ideas in the design but will be designing with the general public's interests at heart too. My designs will not be solely based on what I think street furniture should be like but what the general public's ideas of what street furniture should be like.