UW News

June 7, 2023

Video: UW Architecture’s bench project turns an idea into an experience

Picture a bench. Maybe you imagine the wooden seat of a picnic table, the metal of a bus shelter, the plastic of a school cafeteria.

Different materials, different locations, same basic purpose: to welcome more than one person.

This spring quarter, in Architecture 231: Making and Meaning, that was the essential mission of the culminating project: Build a bench, create a social opportunity.

“Architecture is taking an idea and turning it into a reality that someone can experience,” said co-instructor Jim Nicholls.

And so, this month, there were some two dozen benches, scattered around both Gould Hall and Architecture Hall in a pop-up demonstration of student work. There were benches with backs, with ramps, with steps and shelves and swings. Benches in the shape of an L, or a C, or an ocean wave. Nicholls encouraged students to find places that were underused, or even overused, and “help them out with a bench.”

The class started with small, individual projects, made of reclaimed and found materials, such as cardboard and sticks, to teach scale and structure. Then came the bench project, a team endeavor that involved planning and sketching, trial and error, and use of the College of Built Environments’ Fabrication Lab to cut and assemble the lumber.

Sophomore Jasmine Madrigal was part of a group that constructed a bench with squared-off, V-shaped legs and a corner shelf.

“I’ve learned about the materials, that not everything will stay the same as you first conceptualize it, and we sometimes had to compromise our ideas in order to develop it further,” Madrigal said.

That’s the point of the class, co-instructor and Architecture alum Veronica Leanos said – to learn process, collaboration and attention to detail.

“Students come into the class having an idea and think it’s built automatically,” Leanos said with a smile.

While a few benches may find a permanent home at Gould or Architecture Hall, most will be taken apart, so the materials can be used again, in a future class.

Student sits reading on a long wooden bench against a wall next to a drinking fountain.