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Design Museum Boston opens Street Seats, where the city is the museum

Posted by Chad O'Connor  April 24, 2013 11:00 AM

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Another installment in our ongoing series to help innovative MassChallenge companies get the word out about what they offer and get connected with what they need to thrive.

[The We are the Creative Industries series: The Creative Industries - video game companies, design, marketing and architecture firms, and talented people who write books, design houses, shoot movies, make art and record music, just to name a few examples - are an important part of Massachusetts' economy, with $1 billion statewide impact and over 100,000 workers. Click here to learn more.]

Back in 2009 I was running an organization focused on professional development for product designers. As we collaborated with other design industry groups more and more, it became abundantly clear that there is an incredible amount of creative work happening in Boston, but that there was no one talking directly to the public about design.

Design Museum Boston is a startup, nonprofit museum founded in 2009 to educate the world about the role of design in our lives. Design is completely ubiquitous: buildings, products, signage, websites, and services are all designed — we produce exhibitions, events, and programs to show the who, why, and how behind the things we see and use everyday. We aim to highlight the positive impact good design and innovative thinking can have on literally everything. You don't need dark-rimmed glasses to visit Design Museum Boston's exhibitions — they’re free and open to all!

Design is everywhere, and so are we. We put exhibitions in places where people already go. You may never go to a design museum, but I'll bet that you've been to City Hall, Prudential Center Mall, and Logan Airport — we've had exhibitions at all three. Instead of locking all the amazing creativity in the world into one single building, we turn the museum inside out and turn the entire city into the museum.

That's never been more true than with our latest exhibition, Street Seats: Reimagining the Public Bench — opening April 27th. In the summer of 2011 we received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to explore how design could help make Boston's burgeoning Innovation District a more livable place. In talking with city officials, neighborhood leaders, and residents we began to focus on Fort Point Channel as a focal point of the neighborhood. We uncovered the Fort Point Channel Watersheet Activation Plan. Written in 2002 by the Boston Redevelopment Authority in collaboration with residents and businesses around the Channel, it is a vision for what the Channel could become: Boston's next great public place. From the plan:

"Fort Point Channel can become Boston's central park, its defining public space of the new century, connecting the city's future to its seaport history. Larger than Boston Common, its fifty acres of quiet water are being newly discovered within the heart of downtown. As the South Boston waterfront emerges as the city's newest neighborhood and development frontier, the Fort Point Channel waterway, long forgotten, is springing back to life."

What we hoped to do was support the idea that the Channel itself is a park — hence the idea for new public seating on the Channel’s beautiful Harborwalk. Public seating is incredibly important for a city — it sets the scene for chance encounters, people watching, connecting with nature, or just taking a break. It creates a place where people can gather and take in the beauty of the waterfront.

To engage local residents and businesses, as well as the design community at large, we launched an international design competition in September to gather the most innovative designs for public seating. The response was overwhelming. We received over 170 entries from design teams from across the globe — in all, 23 countries and 26 states are represented. Each team submitted a poster, scale model, and a video showing their design process. The designs range from benches that reflect Boston's rich maritime history to whimsical sculptures for sitting. You can see all 172 models at our Design Innovation Gallery at 63 Melcher St. through the end of April.

At a special museum members' event in February we gathered our judging team consisting of design thought leaders like Bruce Smith, Design Director for Seating at Steelcase, and local experts like Tom Ashbrook, host of WBUR's On Point. The 14 judges were tasked with choosing 20 Semi-Finalists based on aesthetics, innovation, environmental sustainability, and functionality. You can see their choices on our website: The Semi-Finalists received funding from the museum and our sponsors to go off and build their full-scale bench — each will be installed around the Channel, transforming the area into a large, outdoor design exhibition.

Street Seats: Reimagining the Public Bench opens this coming Saturday, April 27th, with an Opening Celebration from 1-3pm at the Gillette Public Dock on Fort Point Channel. The exhibition is a unique opportunity to think differently about public seating and to learn about how the world around us is designed. The event is free and open to the public — visitors will get a chance to see the judging team pick the two finalists and vote for their own finalist. All three finalists will receive cash prizes.

Next to each bench is one of our Beacons — illuminated signage that provides more information about the design process and how the bench was built. QR codes link visitors to our mobile web app — folks with smartphones can access additional content like photos and videos showing the design team as work. You can also access the app by visiting on your mobile device.

Our hope is that visitors to the exhibition will see public seating, and their city, in a whole new light.

If you love design or simply want to learn more about how everything around us is envisioned and created, visit our free exhibitions at Logan Airport Terminal E, 63 Melcher St. in South Boston, and of course, Street Seats along Fort Point Channel. And to support Design Museum Boston and our programs consider becoming a member to access even more great design programming:

Sam Aquillano is Co-Founder & Executive Director of Design Museum Boston.

[We are thankful for Global Business Hub’s support of the Creative Industries. Please note: This article does not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development or its Creative Economy Industry Director for the Commonwealth, nor is it an endorsement of any views, products, or opinions contained therein. The author is solely responsible for the content.]

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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