How to design a sidewalk? The key role of street furniture

How to design a sidewalk? The key role of street furniture

If the paving of a sidewalk is a key element for the organization of flows, the street furniture chosen to compose the public space is responsible for qualifying the place, creating more user-friendly spaces. Dumpsters, flowerbeds, signboards, benches, lighting, bike racks and so many more help transform a space which, although it is only a passage, is also the only public space in the most cities.

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The urban fabric as we know it today is mostly occupied by private lots, so streets and public spaces fill the remaining space between these lots. In some cities where urban planning has succeeded in guaranteeing a designed territory, public spaces are more generous, with parks and squares distributed over allocated areas. In other cities, characterized by highways, the streets are above all designed to meet the needs of cars, resulting in few generous collective spaces. Over time, society has understood the importance of qualifying the public spaces available, sidewalks being the most abundant of them.

Urban furniture, used to qualify collective spaces, consists of equipment and objects made available to the population or to support city services, meeting the requirements of collective life. To organize the flows and indicate the rules of a given place, the city needs general signage such as traffic lights, signs and informative totems. To ensure cleanliness, trash cans are needed and streetlights are needed to illuminate the roads at night. On sidewalks, where space is scarcer and more congested than in squares and parks, the furniture adapts to the different possible configurations.

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© Jorge Fernandez Salas on Unsplash

Although the material may vary, being mainly composed of concrete and steel, street furniture must be easy to maintain and very durable, in addition to being positioned away from people walking on the sidewalk. Without hindering the circulation of passers-by, they are given the lane closest to the front of the lots and the one closest to the streets. Some equipment is necessary for the organization, such as signage, bins and lighting, while others are interesting to better qualify the place, offering pedestrians spaces for rest, contemplation and support, such as benches, bike racks and flowerbeds.

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YARN FUKUOKA / MURAYAMA + KATO ARCHITECTURE shop. Image © Yasuhiro Nakayama

However, all of them are either close to roads or close to facades and shop windows, leaving it to town planning to define which are the most suitable places, considering that the furniture must also be compatible with water, sewers, gas and electrical infrastructure. However, all of them are either close to the roads or close to the facades and shop windows, leaving it to town planning to define which are the most suitable places, considering that the furniture must also be compatible with the water, sewers, gas and electricity. To ensure good quality sidewalks, it is essential that the architectural project take into account the street furniture along the facade, favoring the pedestrian path and ensuring lighting, shade, cleanliness, etc.

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Building Siga Moema / FGMF. Image © Fran Parente

In this way, it is important to consider that the street furniture of the sidewalks should not be secondary in the architectural project, since it is part of the communication between the building and the street. In some cases, it is possible to offer more complex developments that aim to meet the demand for collective public spaces such as squares and parks while seeking to qualify less active spaces, such as the All Colors Sidewalk.

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Axonometric – All Colors Sidewalk / Zoom Urbanismo Arquitetura e Design + LAO Engenharia & Design
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OOP Café, Loja and Torrefação / Balsa Arquitetura. Image © Henrique Queiroga

In addition, street furniture can also be mobile, being installed only at certain times of the day, to comply with local legislation, especially in busy streets or sidewalks. Temporary, mobile or permanent, street furniture contributes to improving sidewalks and providing more quality of life to citizens; therefore, they are a fundamental part of any good sidewalk design.

About Gertrude H. Kerr

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