Park bench reappropriation project in Aldrich Bay Park

In almost all major cities, municipal governments and professionals spend a lot of effort in designing public facilities and facelifting the urban landscape. But the results are often far from satisfactory. Many public facilities fail to satisfy user needs and are eventually underutilized, causing a waste of resources. What if we can bring up an open management model and let citizens modify existing public facilities or even utility infrastructure? Hack-a-bench is a park bench reappropriation project in Aldrich Bay Park, Hong Kong launched by designers Dylan Kwok and Hinz Pak. By bestowing citizens the right to alter public facilities, the process has democratized the privilege to define our cityscape which was once exclusive for professionals.

In the project, Dylan and Hinz has conducted a few design engagement exercises and interviews at the park. The team emphasized design the new benches with the community / users of the park. The new design hacks focus on the sitting postures, facing direction, number and different types of users in the park. 

Bringing urban intervention to the administration level

Instead of parachuting new “designer benches” into the park that don’t match the existing seating style and environment, Kwok and Pak have turned this bench design commission into a modification experiment. Tucked in a peaceful neighborhood, Aldrich Bay Park is a pleasant and award-winning park designed by the city’s Architectural Services Department. “When we were invited to design new benches for the park, what struck us was there was a plethora of benches already. 60 seats actually. But most were underutilized – owing to unfavorable design or positioning that didn’t address user needs. That’s why we’ve decided to alter existing benches instead.” says Kwok.

Riding the tide of citizen empowerment, urban intervention is no longer a novelty in many cities. The likes of urban acupuncture or Park(ing) Day empower citizens to improve their urban environment incrementally – and in most cases, temporarily. Hack-a-bench is different by that all interventions and modifications are officially approved and endorsed by related government departments. “We believe that urban interventions by citizens can be permanent. Of course it takes time and patience to go through all the hurdles and bureaucracies before you can alter existing park benches legally. But salient contributions by citizens should be taken seriously at the administration level and widely implemented in the city,” says Pak.

10 Hack-a-benches

As elucidated by the project name, Hack-a-bench encourages citizens to rig up their ideal bench by modifying existing ones. In this first-round engagement, the designer duo take the helm and realize the wildest dreams of surveyed park users. The end product is a set of 10 ergonomic and sinuous benches that will stay in the park for at least 3 years.

The team has “hacked” / redesigned 10 of the current benches. The project has taken users by surprise with simple twists and modifications to the conventional park furniture design. Transforming a generic artistic motif into new social clusters throughout the park, the artwork strives to maintain the overall architectural harmony of this award-winning park.

The Users / Community

Hack-a-bench is a project with no boundaries, the only limitation is your own imagination. The design duo’s ultimate goal is to make it a regular policy such that citizens can modify and improve public facilities anytime. Not just one-off or in a single commission project – but part of the regular management policy. They hope other parts of the public sector can see the benefits and adopt an open management policy, letting citizens transform utility infrastructure and public space incrementally.