With all the functionality our cities need to provide, our streets have become cluttered with ugly infrastructure. A quick stroll down my block reveals an urban mess: mismatched bus benches, ad hoc utility poles, and god-awful streetlamps. What if benches and streetlights could not only improve the sidewalks, but provide a sense of unity for the city? That’s the vision behind sTREEt, a new type of street furniture designed by the Danish firm KiBiSi, which will be featured at the Gwangju Design Biennale in Korea this fall.
The sTREEt concept hopes to bring an organic element to Gwangju’s cityscape for the duration of the biennale with giant, modular trees. But unlike a real tree, a sTREEt tree can adjust its form and function to the specific needs of every corner. The urban furniture system features vertical elements ranging in size from a “sapling” that dots the sidewalks, to a “mother tree” found in parks and public spaces. A series of “branches” can be added to create shade and shelter, as well as provide seating and planters — there’s even a tree swing. And like their natural component, sTREEt’s trees generate energy, featuring solar panels that feed the sTREEt lighting at night.
KiBiSi’s concept feels like a great solution for any city or neighborhood undergoing redevelopment. While many cities would love to add rows of trees to their sidewalks — like the rows of trees marching down Baron Georges-Eugene Hausmann’s redesigned Paris — many places are short on funds as well as the time it takes for trees to grow. sTREEt adds the benefit of a tree plus value to the infrastructure with something that likely costs as much as a streetlamp. Cities get shade during the day and light at night, plus a sculptural element that can help make the streets more tolerable — even as the real trees grow in.
Creating a modular street furniture system has even more serious potential for our city streets. Instead of the multiple single-function poles that litter our sidewalks — on the block outside my house I count power line/telephone poles, streetlights, stoplights, and street signs — many functions could be consolidated into one good-looking tree. I can even imagine different shaped “trees” representing each neighborhood — with different “branch” shapes or colors — that create a beautiful and welcoming wayfinding system throughout the city.