Chairs in Jardin des Tuileries, Paris.

31 12 2010

by Jun

William Whyte (1988) carried out the research, collaborated with other designers and sociologists, on how people use urban space by filming people and analyzing the films. His research provided empirical evidence for designing good public space responsive to people’s need and preference. In his book, City: Rediscovering the Center, he explores various urban space elements such as seating, water, light, etc. The topic of this article is ‘chairs’ amongst many other forms of seating.

As Whyte noted, the adaptability of chairs makes them highly usable. People can adjust the position and location of chairs according to the weather, relationships with others, attitudes and preference of each individuals. Sometimes, adjusting chairs works as even very articulate language amongst people in the immediate space.

In the Tuilieries Garden in Paris, a couple of types of green metal chairs are provided for visitors.  Those leaning on chairs, straight back with or without arm-rests chairs are scattered throughout the garden so that people can pick them up, move to where they want to stay and seat or lie on them as long as they want.

The following photos were taken in the last year’s summer. Looking at the variety of how people use the chairs was quite amusing. People choose their preferred positions and some of them almost build their own seating by combining the chairs according to their preferred seating posture, facing or not facing their friends, plants or the pond. Some groups of friends seat closely to each other, one of them look like telling the others an interesting story of the day. One family seat with enough distance to each other, one of them apparently having his face at the edge of the shade facing others who are having sunlight all over their body. All the subtle adjustments show how the adaptability of chairs work well with each relationship among the people and individual preferences.


One of my favourites is two girl’s postures, one of them is having her legs on the arm-rest of the chair leaning her side on the back of the chair, facing each other for their conversation whilst their bodies are facing opposite directions. Probably it won’t be comfortable for a long time, however, it could be the most appropriate way of seating for them at that moment with the help of ongoing adjustments. Also, this is how I seat myself often. click here for the picture




4 responses

2 01 2011

I really impressed by William H. Whyte’s way of collecting information about human behaviour in public spaces through observing and filming people. How they use, behave and interact in the public open space? this study of psychology and sociology aspects is in turn gives the designer of urban space, basic and important criteria towards create a desirable place for the user “human being” who has diverse character and behaviour.
Therefore, it is very good lesson that can be taken from ‎people- watching. Personally, I like to watch people how they deal with any physical environment not just only outdoor space but also in indoor space.

“If there’s a lesson in streetwatching it is that people do like basics — and as environments go, a street that is open to the sky and filled with people and life is a splendid place to be.”
-William H. Whyte.
“Whyte’s work remains a living and usable handbook for improving our cities, our countryside, and our lives.”– Nathan Glazer, Wilson Quarterly

However, during our discussion about this paper in urban design seminar, I remember our group indicated that streetwatching is useful to give the designer a great opportunities in order to create a good useable and preferable place through understanding human behaviour in urban space. Indeed, we suggested that, recently lifestyle has been changed as same as human behaviour, so it can be beneficial to do some streetwatching in order to discover some of these changes.

3 01 2011

In addition to Siham, I loved this article and found it interesting. For me the most attractive part was giving people the choice to decide the location, position and orientation of their sitting behavior in a public place. From my perspective, I believe that by giving people the choice, designers are providing a flexible space which interacts with users according to their moods and needs. If we take sitting under the sun as a simple example, we find that by providing this kind of chares people had the opportunity to decide wither to take advantage on the nice sun and expose themselves to it or avoiding it but still using the space and enjoying sitting in an open space. As a result, people will feel much comfortable in that space and this will make them stay longer or encourage them to repeat the experience and come again, which will enhance the social public life in general and providing better public spaces.

4 01 2011
Lizzie Bird

Jun great photos – very interesting! I also really enjoyed the extract we read as part of the urban design seminars. I really like the idea that if you’re going to make places for people you need to understand how people instinctively use/interact with space. Although today it doesn’t seem a ground breaking idea its something I do think modernism forgot…

After that seminar researching a little bit more about William Whyte and his work I found the website of PPS Project for Public Spaces. PPS, founded in 1975 to expand on the work of William Whyte, is a non-profit planning, design and educational organisation dedicated to helping people create and sustain public spaces that build stronger communities based in New York but working all over the world. The PPS website ( includes some really interesting research & publications (see How to Turn a Place Around; Streets as Places and How to Start Your Business at a Local Market: A Vendor Handbook), is a brilliant source of good case studies (see Great Places), but also the bad (see Hall of Shame) and it even has it’s very own blog(!) – I really recommend a visit.

6 01 2011

Thanks for the link. It’s interesting!

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