AAA BENCH WANTED
Visiting a pleasant Italian town one afternoon in spring, I found a particularly happy solution that had been used by the designers to renovate a town-centre square: some small cast iron armchairs that were not fixed to the pavement so as to be able to leave their possible configurations to the requirements of the users. My companion explained to me that, in reality, those single chairs had been chosen to avoid vagrants being able to lie asleep during the night. Since then I have paid attention to this little considered aspect which is causing the disappearance of the main element of the so-called “urban furnishings”: the bench. The considerable increase in poor people in urban centres is undeniable – charity work demonstrates an unexpected increase in the use of canteens and dormitories – because of complex economic and social factors that often receive simple responses or, better to say, simplistic. To think of solving the problem of begging or camping out by eliminating the benches brings to mind the explanations on syllogisms given in school. Some time ago in the town where I live a public petition was raised to avoid – uselessly – that the historic wooden benches be eliminated from a square as according to the local administration they were at that time attracting beggars and mendicants. For the same reason, in the railway station it is no longer possible to wait for the train whilst sitting down. So, to the torture of train delays is also added lack of comfort. Returning to the benches, it is not rare to see the presence of unusual armrests, missing backs or other solutions to avoid a human being able to lie down on them. Beyond a gloomy vision – what would the novel Caos Calmo be without the presence of a bench? Or the film Forrest Gump? – It would be necessary to ask oneself if benches only constitute a “furnishing” element or allow, through careful arrangement, the catching of glimpses in the landscape, urban or other, that we could not appreciate otherwise. Their positioning in a square or along a boulevard determines the pattern of crossings and waiting and assists the viewing of this or that architecture (like happens in museums in which the seats are placed in front of the pictures that require careful viewing). In the small urban centres where public spaces still constitute the hub of social life, it would be unthinkable to not have benches. In the town where I live, under my studio, there is a square with four benches that, in an alternating way, are inhabited by various categories of people, from the elite to the mother that attempts to get her child to sleep. I believe that without this constant presence of people, the square would be more gloomy and, very probably, easier prey for the ill-intentioned.