The Dutch designer Wouter Corvers doesn't fit into the standardized measurements of public space. At over seven feet tall, he hits his head on the tops of bus stops and street signs, must bend down to access ATMs, and has a hard time comfortably resting his legs while sitting on a public bench. "There are many situations in which my body does not fit," he says.
Corvers realized that he's not the only one who deviates from the norm: Anyone who's on the tall or short end of the height spectrum must navigate an environment that was designed to accommodate the average height of five foot eight inches. Why wasn't public space designed for everyone?
Corvers explored a solution to this problem in his Design Academy of Eindhoven project Scale 1 : 1.16. The project—which is on display at Dutch Design Week this week—is named after a ratio representing the change in public space design standards that would have to occur for Corvers to be completely comfortable.
Instead, Corvers set out to develop a methodology for more inclusively designed elements of public space, starting with the good old-fashioned bench. He realized that by simply installing benches in locations where the landscape was sloped, he could provide a more comfortable bench that would suit people of many different heights. In order to do this, he developed a tool kit that he could take to any location to outfit one of its slopes with a bench. The kit includes four lengths of benches with built-in levels, bench legs of various heights, and various grips to support the legs on different surfaces. Once in place, the bench heights aren't adjustable—rather, the slope is what makes the bench height variable along its length.
An added benefit: Corvers's benches can be installed in odd and non-standard places. For example, in Rotterdam's central train station, the floor is slightly sloped. By setting up a long bench, Corvers was able to create an elevation change of 20 centimeters along its length. Changing the height of public seating changed how people used it: He found that people would often use the higher ends of that bench to adjust their baggage without sitting. At the beach, people preferred the shorter end of the bench to swap their flip-flops for shoes.
Corvers hopes to find investors who will help him partner with architects and urban planners in order to start implementing his research on a broader scale. The idea proposes a fundamental change in how public space is designed—Corvers points to ATMs as another piece of public-facing design that ignores the natural diversity of user heights.
"In my eyes, the public space is a reflection of the society," he says. "So why don’t we change this uniform surrounding into a more inclusive public space? Inclusive design means including all kinds of people, not just the average."