‘Street furniture’ or mobiliario urbano as we call it in Colombia, comprises all the objects that form the landscape of a city and are installed in the public space: Benches, railings, lamp-posts, fences and bus stops - in general, elements created with the common purpose of serving citizens.
In that spirit, modern street furniture isn't conceived, designed, made and installed with a decorative purpose but a functional one. In other words, its purpose is social and most important, interactive. Indeed, according to Sandra Burbano, an industrial designer at the National University of Colombia, “nowadays, there is no sense in occupying public space with an element, if that element does not have a clear function.”
In Colombia, two great cities have been leaders in this subject. Considering several decades of neglect and abandonment of the public space, the massive transformation experienced by Bogotá and Medellin in the last years, is reflective in street furniture and how it changed the face of these cities.
Bogotá experienced a re-creation of the city with the birth of the Transmilenio Bus Rapid Transit system, which followed best urban planning and design practices. Their governments understood that urban transformations do not affect only highways and transportation, but the totality of public space and the life of a city’s population.
Recently Bogotá’s Urban Development Institute created a comprehensive standard of ‘urban installations,’ the first in Latin America, dedicated to standardizing guidelines on which all street furniture is designed.
All these standards are taken from previous mobility studies that have evaluated the needed quantity and sizes of furniture, architecture, tastes and user preferences, together with other studies, such as ethnographic analysis, budgets for temporary furniture, ergonomics and even emotional product design.
However, as extensive this new ‘catalog’ is, it makes you wonder if this type of standardization actually restricts urban planners, architects and industrial designers to be creative and produce examples of good design that is beautiful, useful, innovative and not restricted by guidelines, which will be outdated eventually.
Street furniture changes our cities from the bottom-up and is a crucial ingredient for good urban design. However, recent urban processes like the so called 'guerilla or tactical urbanism’ challenge traditional ways of urban design, and street furniture being an essential part of it, can't escape from this. Standardization again, is conflictive.
The question then, for Bogotá and all cities: Is standardization the right way for defining the appearance of our cities? Is order its goal?
Or should some creative freedom be allowed in how we design the places we live in?
Credits: Images by Luis Lozano-Paredes and linked to sources. Data linked to sources.