The Bench Exercise

Raphael Rossel • 02.11.2014

The young industrial designer, Sebastian Marbacher, turns building site barriers into temporary benches, and uses multi-layer boards to create objects that provide a brand new interpretation of the way we use seating in public spaces. What drives him is the desire to question our behaviour in urban surroundings.

What does an improvised bench made from materials traditionally used as barriers on building sites have to do with design? At first glance, very little. But this is where industrial designer Sebastian Marbacher comes in: He uses planks and modified plank brackets from building site barriers to manufacture everyday objects out of nothing. Without any prior warning, he fills public spaces with objects that offer themselves up almost as pop-up benches to passers-by.

In urban spaces where building sites have produced a hectic atmosphere, Marbacher, in just a few simple steps, is creating areas for people to take a short break. Currently, the benches have been built in around 30 locations, mostly in Basel and Zurich. They are mostly tolerated for weeks on end by the builders, much to the delight of passers-by, who use the installations willingly and often.

Sebastian Marbacher describes himself as an «observer, who studies the established behavioural patterns of his fellow humans from a distance and uses his designs to challenge their daily routine.» «What interests me is people’s behaviour, their interaction with the man-made environment and their partly unconscious use of everyday objects,» he says about his role. He revels in intervening in these routines, questioning patterns so as to interfere in a playful way – as in the case of the «Baustellen-Bank» («building site bench»).

This also explains why he enjoys working in public spaces. He applied the same approach in 2013 in his final project at the Zürich University of the Arts (ZHdK). Instead of creating a seat for just a few individuals, he designed a seating installation for larger groups of people. It is devoted to «people coming together, and celebrates the act of sitting together in the open air.»

He used «Bench Exercise» to tackle the concept of sitting in public spaces. The observation that people like to sit on stairs led him to give his seating solution a stepped design. This challenged the public as it did away with precise usage guidelines, thereby experimenting with the social interaction involved in sitting down in public.

Further information about Sebastian Marbacher can be found here:

Photography: Sebastian Marbacher