It's easy to take street furniture for granted as its such a ubiquitous component of public transport, but behind the scenes careful consideration, research and design thinking goes into a humble bench seat or bus shelter to ensure it plays its part in improving the commuter experience.

Last time you caught the train or the bus did you sit on a bench seat or stand under a shelter? Chances are you did but may not have taken much notice of it.

Sydney Metro Australias biggest public transport project, focused on street furniture as a key element of consideration when it came to bespoke design for the eight new stations on the Metro North West Line.

The line, which opened in May 2019, is Australia’s first driverless metro line and can move more than 17,000 people an hour in each direction is also a good example of considered street furniture designed to enhance style, comfort and experience of these high-traffic public spaces. 

Industrial design firm Vert Design and outdoor structure manufacturers Fleetwood Urban were responsible for the design and production of a suite of public furniture for the new Metro North West Line.

The original brief was to design a visually coordinated suite of public furniture elements that reflect the visual conceptual expression of the structural and environmental architecture.

Within a short time frame the companies were challenged to deliver furniture with a consistent and refined design aesthetic across eight metro stations that quietly reinforces the Metro brand, while reflecting the individuality of each station. This included public benches and platform seating, bus and bike shelters, bins and drinking fountains.

The design also needed to include:

  • Comfort: considering all ages, weather protection, safety and security
  • Aesthetic styling: in form, material and detail with a contemporary expression
  • Robustness: resilient modularity, resistance to vandalism, ease of maintenance and cleaning and with a design life of 25 years
  • Viability: cost of manufacture for required volume, within budget and cost of maintenance

Vert started the process with extensive research into the environment, identifying challenges and possible solutions. They generated a broad range of ideas to explore opportunities around design language and brand positioning, functionality, ergonomics and user interaction, semantic form and aesthetic styling.

The design was informed by an understanding of customer experience from first principles, the sequence of arriving, waiting and transit to destination, both individually and as a group, taking into account the number of furniture elements required and exploring different configurations, which respond to the needs of customers at each station.

An overarching thematic visual language was created to concentrate the concept work and ensure continuity across the suite of elements and unity with the surrounding architecture, drawing on expression of structure and open space, with linear, parallel and floating geometry. Feature stand-off fittings reoccur throughout the suite to create space and help lighten the elements visually.

A series of concept development rounds allowed Vert to refine the designs further, to include input and respond to feedback from architects, engineers and other key stakeholders on the project, from Hassell Studio and Sydney Metro. Following these development stages, Fleetwood began producing prototypes and managing production for the full suite of furniture.

In their fabrication workshop and pre-assembly facility, they constructed elements of the project. Once delivered to the site, the construction crews worked alongside the design, manufacturing and pre-assembly teams to ensure that the details of the project were all perfectly in place.

Designing for inclusivity was also an important factor. One of the unique features of the drinking fountain is a hands-free floor pedal which allows a further option for operation for customers with limited mobility. They step on or apply weight to the large floor pedal to activate the fountain.

Last time you caught the train or the bus did you sit on a bench seat or stand under a shelter? Chances are you did but may not have taken much notice of it.

Design for longevity was a key consideration with the use of natural and robust materials. Warm natural timber was used for tactile areas of human contact like seats while highly durable materials such as steel have been used to minimise maintenance.

The methodical approach to design, development and production undertaken by Vert and Fleetwood resulted in a functional and visually sophisticated suite of furniture that feels at home within the architectural material palette of local timber and white concrete, under the distinctive blue gum leaf inspired station concourse canopies designed by Hassell Studio.

More than 500 items of furniture were created including 118 seats, 129 bus shelters, 15 drinking fountains, 44 bins, 19 rest shelters and 3 bike shelters.

Theyve been made to last with high quality materials, have a consistent design aesthetic that complements the surrounding environment and meets the specific needs of each station to improve the experience of the customers who travel on the Metro North West line daily.

Images: Supplied

*Charlie Payne is a senior industrial designer at Vert Design and Adrian Trimmer is a project leader with Fleetwood Urban