Issue DA88 Oct/Nov 2015
Studio Juju’s Garden Benches at Gardens by the Bay marry functionality, wonder and play.
The design scene in Singapore is currently a thriving one. For sure, one of the reasons that contribute to this is the growth of a generation of design thinkers and practitioners spawned from the Bachelor of Arts in Industrial Design course in the National University of Singapore (NUS). Inaugurated in 1999, its graduates have gone one to break new ground both locally and abroad, many winning awards in the process. This has not only put the nation on the global map in terms of design, but has also given local companies confidence to hire local talent.
One success story is Studio Juju and its recent collaboration with Gardens by the Bay. Studio Juju was established in 2009 by Timo Wong and Priscilla Lui, who had spent several years at NUS’ Design Incubation Centre producing noteworthy designs such as the 2010 President’s Design Award-winning ‘Objects around the Tablescape’, before venturing out on their own.
The young firm is recognised for its simple design language tinged with a touch of whimsy. Aside from designing furniture for international clients Living Divani and local brands Foundry and Industry+, it has also created interior concepts for clients such as OCBC Bank. Accolades include being conferred the coveted ‘Designers of the Future’ by Design Miami/ and the Design Report by SaloneSatellite in Milan where they had exhibited trice.
Named ‘Garden Benches’, the duo were tasked by Gardens by the Bay to create a collection of public seating for the park after its CEO had seen Studio Juju’s Kallang Bench design. The latter was created for a project by the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Singapore (URA) in 2013 where Studio Juju was one of 25 local designers and architects invited to design a seat using wooden planks salvaged from the old Singapore National Stadium that was demolished to make way for the new Sports Hub.
The rotund Kallang Bench featured a straightforward construction of planks bolted onto four identical steel braces fastened at intervals along the planks’ length – a technique inspired by the method used for the original benches in the old National Stadium, but upgraded by Studio Juju for better ergonomics.
“We visited the Gardens a number of times and at different times of the day,” shares Wong on the design process. “The layout of the Bay leads people to explore the entire place in clear parts, according to attractions, so there are a couple of transitional spaces that are inevitably the hot spots where people gather. There are also areas surrounded by green where people just want to stay a little longer.”
From here, Wong and Lui created eight different bench designs, including a new module for the Kallang Bench that comes with a backrest. There is Chocoroll, a log-shaped seat that also bears resemblance to its namesake snack; HalfRing that curves half way around a garden patch; MegaRing that hugs the rims of a large, round tree planter; Ribbon, a short, linear bench that curls to the ground at two ends; Ring, which curves around a cluster of plants and is given a floating appearance with its lithe, slim metal rod legs; the elongated and twisting Snake; and Skin, which curves from backrest to the ground in one fluid motion.
The designers started the project with the concept of creating benches that are harmonious with both the garden and the movement of the park users. “This led us to develop the project with a more subtle approach. Apart from the prerequisite of providing rest, the seats were shaped to blend together with the outdoor architecture, planters, pavements, activities, etc.,” says Wong. “The users can find themselves experiencing seats that seem to be describing or referencing its immediate surrounding.”
The sinewy shape of the Snake bench, for instance, breaks up the monotony of the linear path it is set in, while also gently guiding park users along the path’s direction. This is what Wong describes as designing “with empathy”. “These benches, apart from providing just a place to sit, are also where families and friends gather. Therefore, it is important to design and facilitate movement around and on the benches.”
Practicality was a key consideration in the design, which led to the choice of Balau wood planks and galvanised steel frames – ubiquitous of common outdoor furniture – to make the benches. “It also makes sense to use tropical wood from the region as it is accessible, inexpensive and accustomed to our climate. Each galvanised steel frame was bent in various sectional angles to create the curved profiles of the designs. Hence, mounting the wooden planks onto the frame will accentuate the benches’ curved surfaces,” Wong explains.
Beyond function, the benches are also designed to offer users “some room for imagination and interaction,” says Wong. As their names suggest, it is not hard to think of them as abstracted creatures in the wild, thoroughly at home in the landscaped environment. Herein lies the element of delight and play that is so trademark of Studio Juju and that is perfect for the setting.
“Play is being imaginative,” expresses Wong. “When we designed the benches, we imagined them as snakes, caterpillars, fallen logs, ripples, tree barks, slugs, chocolate bars, and so on.” Whether conscious or not, the users are invited to partake in a game when they interact physically with the benches.
For Studio Juju, the user is at the heart of their designs. “The way we design has always touched on the human experience with the physical object. When we design, we also consider what space the object and the human will be in,” Wong affirms. This approach is all the more appropriate as the firm involves itself in more interior design projects, the latest of which is the new Singapore office for furniture brand Benel and a café for Brawn and Brains Coffee.
But perhaps it is in public projects such as Garden Benches where a wider audience can appreciate Studio Juju’s flair. Sculptures in themselves, the benches take the utilitarian outdoor seating a notch further and are also a fine example of how far Singapore’s design talent has come.