Street furniture is a term used to describe objects and pieces of equipment installed along streets and roads, and includes items such as benches, traffic barriers, bollards, street lighting and public lavatories.

When planning to install any item of street furniture there are several matters that have to be taken into consideration, the first of which is functionality. Whether it is street lighting or a bench, it must benefit those who pass along the way, both at the time of installation and into the future. The design must meet the practical needs of the intended users and those investing in them (often with public funds).

With new innovative technology, there are options for councils and organisations to choose street furniture that go beyond expectations.

Street Furniture Ideas

Smart LED Lighting

As we arrive towards the end of the second decade of the new millennium, the direction in almost all areas of street furniture feeds into the emerging concept of the “smart city”. A future is envisaged in which information and communication technology combined with physical devices connected to the internet of things, optimizes the efficiency of a city’s operations and services. Technology installed in street furniture allows officials to interact directly with a community and the city infrastructure to monitor what is happening around the city. This can be used to enhance the quality, performance and the interactivity of the city’s services, optimising usage, reducing costs, while increasing contact between citizens and government.

Ways in which street furniture designs are already embracing the concept of the smart city is through sensor technology. This can be found in a number of street lighting networks in cities around the world, where LED lighting is rapidly replacing sodium streetlights. Sensors installed as part of the street lamp recognise the sun light has dimmed and this turns on the street lamp. As a result of this technology there isn’t a period of low visibility since the lights come on as soon as the daylight begins to dim. When the sun rises in the morning and the daylight increases, the light sensor responds by triggering the turning off of the street lamp.

These smart street lighting networks also allow operators to change light levels allowing them to fine tune their street lights to switch on when weather conditions lower daylight levels, or dim them when there is a lot of reflected glare from snow cover. Furthermore, LED street lights can be fitted with motion sensors that will switch on lights as a pedestrian or car passes by and operators can even have LED lights flash where accidents or emergencies have occurred.

Aside from the smart technology installed within it, a street light’s design will be influenced by what they need to be used for. A street lamp above a road, for example, will usually be very tall in order that it casts the most amount of light and increases visibility where they are most needed. However, street lighting along walkways can be lower and be designed to produce a softer light to blend in with the surroundings and causes the minimal amount of light pollution. Streetlamp can be both functional and beautifully designed to incorporate modern style and fluid lines. They can cast a soft glow and are ideal for locating around benches to create social areas which are attractive to use at any time of the day.

A particularly cost effective lighting solution for delineating cycle tracks and pedestrian areas is solar powered LED ground lights, which removes the need for expensive hard wiring. This solution can be particularly effective in areas with conservation sensitivities such as those populated by bats where design options reduce upward light spillage, making it a friendly option for flying mammals.

Waste Bins

Another area of street furniture that is turning smart is the humble public waste bin; new versions of which contain in-built solar-powered compaction technology which can increase the unit’s capacity when full and provide collection operatives with up-to-the-minute information on their entire collection route. If a smart bin is only 10% full, it is wasteful for waste collection team to allocate the time required to empty it. Consequently, vehicle movements are kept to a minimum, making areas safer and cleaner, and reducing the cost of waste collection for the local authority. Conversely, bins approaching 85% of capacity communicate directly to the collection teams through the system’s technology platform, alerting them to its status and requesting for it to be emptied.

Bench Designs

Of course, design is more than meeting the practical needs of potential users and guaranteeing future relevance and durability. Street furniture should also be aesthetically pleasing, drawing people to use the facility. Important aspects of street furniture design can be to add colour and fun to an otherwise dull environment, to engage curiosity or to enhance the cultural heritage of a site.

While the public bench designers can now provide users with a Wi-Fi hotspot and phone charging points, other design innovations also look to provide functionality, novelty and additional comfort. Included in these designs is the “rolling/rotating bench” in which a handle on the side allows users, in the event of the seat being wet, to rotate it until a dry area rolls into position. Then there is the “sliding bench” in which individual seats can be slid along a rail to draw seats together or to separate them for a bit of privacy and personal space. Wrap around bench designs, which come in various designs and in various materials and loop in waves that in one part provides seating, while in others provides overhead shelter. Some of these designs are known as “Spiro Spiral”. The “Coffee bench” is a design with adjustable table space inspired by the need to have space to place the coffee cup and a newspaper. The space of the seat and table can be adjusted by rotating elements of the bench. Other popular designs include benches providing seating at different levels and swing benches.

In addition to being functional and innovative, street furniture today must also meet environmental standards. Designs are increasingly eco-friendly, using materials that are fully recyclable or are made from recycled materials.

Security and Street Furniture

At a time sadly marred by the threat of terrorism, street furniture in the form of bollards and concrete barricades have become a semi-permanent feature in the centre of cities, providing an invaluable role in protecting the public from the threat of vehicular attacks as seen in several cities across Europe over the last few years. However, wooden clad street furniture which has been tested to PAS 68 standard to ensure that it can act as a security barrier in the event of a vehicle-borne attack, also doubles as bicycle racks, planters, seats and tree surrounds on the UK’s streets as designers look to present these deterrents in more creative ways.

Reflective materials are also a great addition to street furniture and signage, to help improve visibility for important messages when it’s dark or visibility is poor.

Innovative Public Toilets

Another aspect of providing street furniture that is sympathetic to the needs of the modern urban environment is the effective use of limited space. One innovative design addressing this need is the pop-up public lavatory which can be raised from the ground when needed and lowered at times when not required. These public, pop-up toilets have been designed by a company based in the Netherlands and are particularly popular on Friday and Saturday evenings, when they help to prevent people from urinating in the streets. The pop-up process only takes twenty five seconds and the toilets automatically clean themselves six times an hour. Once submerged in the ground the top of the urinal is covered to fit in with the pavement surroundings and can be walked or cycled over.

Learn More About Lakeside

All in all, there are a lot of exciting, interesting and entertaining design developments in the world of street furniture at the moment, which should make communing in public a more enjoyable and fulfilling experience.

For more on street furniture, particularly solar lighting and reflective material solutions, get in touch with us here at Lakeside today.