Urban Furniture: Social Sofas

Although cities bring people together, urban dwellers may well feel forlorn. “It is a pity there is little interaction between people in the streets,” Karin Bruers argues, “but the current condition of public space does not really help or invite either.” Back in the days, outdoor benches were key places for people to gather, discuss and share the latest gossip. Yet as damaged benches were neither repaired nor replaced, these places of interaction disappeared.

Soon after Bruers had decided to bring back urban furniture to the streets of Tilburg, the Netherlands, the concept of Social Sofa was born. Concrete was used to ensure the furniture’s future, while mosaic designs decorated the benches. The local government purchased some sofas and companies were eager to sponsor customized ‘limited editions’. Within a few years, more than 1,000 social sofas were put in the city of Tilburg alone. Recently, special editions were signaled in Belgium and China.

I value such initiatives to improve the quality of public space. Luckily, the large scale of this project did not lead to endless copies of one design. In fact, the recognizable concrete bodies wear all different skins. Yet while many urban interventions are temporary, the heavy social sofias seem to be permanent footnotes in the city. At the same time, sofas pop up spontaneously with little regard of changing surroundings. I have heard rather practical complaints about the sofas feeling wet and cold. It needs to be seen whether social sofas bring along sunny times.