Campus bench layout not stimulating to interactive, socialized environment

Students walk past a solitary bench in front of McAllister Building. Many students don't utilize the benches on campus for social interaction.

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Clara Goodfield (sophomore-nursing) said she never noticed a lack of benches on campus, but as she sat on the steps of Pattee Library she noticed all the people around her also sitting on the steps without a bench in sight.

Arthur Goldschmidt, professor of Middle Eastern history, has noticed a lack of benches grouped together and situated in a way that allows people to sit down and face one another.

"Where do you sit down? It's really a campus for extreme introverts," Goldschmidt said.

About half of the benches on campus were donated by the class of 1900, and since then most have been added through private donation, Office of Physical Plant spokesperson Paul Ruskin said.

When the class of 1900 donated 50 benches there were 433 students at the University, according to the Office of Alumni Services. The number of benches has approximately doubled, said Ruskin, while the number of students has multiplied about 90 times to 39,571 enrolled this semester.

Not to mention the 15,028 employees that share the walkways with students.

"Everyone either has to sit on the grass or on steps," said Stephanie Bowman (senior-journalism), adding that she does not want to sit in the mud.

The benches from the class gift are mainly located on the Mall as they were built when the campus was also much smaller, Associate Director of the Annual Giving Office Sue Powell said.

Benches have many more functions than just a place for people to sit and talk.

Mark Battaglia, professor of landscape architecture, who worked on both Lederer Park and Central Parklet, explained that the location of a bench plays a significant role in its aesthetic and functional value.

Located off University Drive, Lederer Park creates a natural, contemplative setting so the benches were purposely isolated, Battaglia said.

The benches in Central Parklet, on the other hand, are intended for a more interactive environment and are "made to take a beating," he said.

"It's kind of a two-edged thing," said Battaglia, explaining that architects have to be conscious of personal space and look at the social function. While donation is the primary source for additional benches, Powell said it is not a common gift idea.

More common, said Powell, are memorial trees and academic contributions.

"OPP knows that there is an interest and a need for new benches," Ruskin said. "There haven't been enough (donations), I guess."

Battaglia said he sees a lot of areas on campus where there is a lack of benches, but he has also noticed that people have found alternative places to congregate, such as the wall between Old Main and College Avenue.

"That seems to foster a lot of conversation," he said, referring to the U-shaped inlets which are part of the wall.

Situating benches in a such a U-shape at a 30 to 35 degree angle would stimulate more interaction, Battaglia said.

The HUB, for example, a place where students frequently travel and gather, is an area where Battaglia said he would design the benches differently, paying more attention to the social function.

"The HUB is probably the best place (to sit), but even that's too crowded," said Mike McMullen (junior-journalism).

Battaglia pointed out that the benches around the HUB are made of a synthetic material which gets very hot in the sun and becomes difficult to sit on.

Whatever role benches may play in group interaction, Battaglia has noticed a trend in the way individuals use them on campus.

"When (benches) are exposed people tend not to use them, but when they are more hidden people use them," he said.