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1. Setting and motivation – Why 7000 benches?
As the title makes clear, 7000 Bänke (engl. benches) has big plans. 7000 is a symbolic amount, especially if you consider that there are about 10000 benches in public space (excluding the ones in parks) in Vienna at the moment.
As well as the number is symbolic also the object itself, the bench, is, resembling the social aspect of encounter. It is best used together and usually stands in an area that was once described as the city’s living room by Danish architect and urbanist, Jan Gehl, and is thus perhaps the symbolic object for participation in public space par excellence.
But the question remains: why so many benches?
From our own experiences and the ones of friends and acquaintances, we know that in many streets in Vienna there are often very little or no opportunities to linger. Often there is only the possibility to sit down at bus stops, cafés or in parks.
↑ Bench in front of Café Nest, Operngasse 25, 1040 Vienna
This is also underlined by a recent study by the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences in Vienna, which examined four big European cities.
The study shows that in Vienna only two out of ten streets have seating opportunities without any obligation to consume – significantly less than in all other investigated cities. Especially in residential areas and streets far from the city centre, public space is simply underdeveloped.
This observation was also confirmed by one of our first interview guests, the Green politician, Mag. Silvia Nossek, district mayor of the 18th Viennese district, Währing who we spoke to for our parallelly initiated conversation format Bench-Talks.
The lack of seating is a big problem, especially for people with physical limitations, as we have learned from several interviews. There is quite a number of elderly and physically handicapped people in the city, some of whom do not dare to leave their homes without help due to the fear of not being able to move around safely.
However, in general, this condition is a bankruptcy declaration to the public realm. Because only when you feel good you will actually stay. So if there are few opportunities to sit and chat, besides in parks, this robs the public much of their quality of life.
2. Collaborative action – opportunity and perspectives
This is why the long-term project 7000 benches wants to function as an activator and work together with initiatives, associations, designers and citizens of the City of Vienna, who are interested in a positive change to public space and the small scale cityscape. Together we will be able to create a variety of benches and seating opportunities for the public and semi-public space (such as in backyards or in front of house entrances).
7000 Bänke as Social Sculpture
"Everyone is an artist." This quotation and the reference in the title of this project come from the German artist, Joseph Beuys, who in the 1980s impressively symbolized his idea of a Social Sculpture with his action 7000 Oaks. Beuys, together with citizens of the city of Kassel, collected a lot of money over several years and planted a total of 7000 oak trees for a green renewal of the city and thus make it more livable.
“Everyone is a bencher.” This thesis comes from us. Because we all use benches and proverbially everyone can build and set up a bench, at least with the help of some fellow combatants. This is also shown by examples such as the initiative of Noah Riemer, who told us in another Bench-talk how a bank, that he built and set up, established and made possible the creation of a house community.
But there are other actions, like the bench-intervention of café-owner Wolfang Maringer, that show how one can create micro-spaces of encounter by simply setting up of a bench without compulsatory consumption.
↑ Bench as socializer:
this inconspicuous bench enabled the foundation of a house-community
The bench as controversial object
Politics and administration, in their efforts to do more for public space, repeatedly encounter human obstacles during the set-up of seating opportunities. Not everyone would like to have a bank next to his or her house. There could be homeless people sleeping on it, junkies causing problems or young people drinking beer and making noise.
This was also confirmed by an interview with Erich Streichsbier, an employee of the municipal department 19 for architecture and urban design, as well as the radio report heard on Ö1 with the title "Kampf ums Bankerl" (eng.: struggle for the bench).
The bench symbolizes a place of encounter, this appeal is intended to help in reducing fear and promote a respectful culture of an important part of public life.
But it is precisely because the bench symbolizes a place of encounter that this appeal is intended to help reduce fears and promote a respectful culture of conflict which is an important part of public life.
With these words: to the 7000!
3. The workshop format – collaborative realisation and spread of the idea
If a bench is a symbol for social encounters (pleasant or controversial) what other format would be more suited than bench-building-workshops to co-produce this (social) space?
Thinking about existing low-threshold strategies and tools to activate city dwellers we came up with a workshop format that is easily organised and realised. The format makes individuals collaborate, tinker with tools and materials and gives them a sense of their craft-potential even if they never had a hammer in their hands. It also adds to the self-awareness that as a group of even as an individual person one is able to shape the city and add-up to it. (in a small scale)
Depending on the group, workshop-structures can be adapted, skill-requirements can be raised or lowered and material use can vary.
↑ Bench-building-workshop N° 1 during the project presentation in 2019
4. Re-Use and Urban Mining
In the latest update of the workshop format we added the dimention of re-use and urban mining as an additional limitation (or opportunity).
Groups of participants where sent out to the neighbourhood to map and identify materials in construction skips with a high potental of reusability, collect and bring them back to the workshop place.
The benefits are obvious: worshop costs are low and no new materials need to be consumed.
↑ Bench-building-workshop N° 2 during Stadtlabor Friederike in Vienna’s 14. district in October 2019
Developed at the Master program in Social Design
at the University of Applied Arts Vienna
In collaboration with David Grüner and Bana Sa’adeh
Project launch: January 2019