Right in the centre of Uppsala, Sweden’s fourth largest city, White Arkitekter have revitalised the Forumtorget square with the creation of a 65 metre-long public ‘sofa’. Designed to provide space for rest and social interaction, the linear outdoor seating is the centrepiece of wider, 1600sqm improvements to the public realm. The result is an intimate space with a rich expression that invites passers-by to take a break, enjoy a public performance or participate in activities. The transformation of the square has created a space that gives tired shoppers and people on their lunch break a moment of pause, while enriching everyday life with a touch of luxury for all citizens no matter how thick their wallets are.
The design is the result of a seven-year development process following White’s successful entry in a 2011 design competition organised by Uppsala Municipality. The competition aimed to solve problems with safety and maintenance in the dilapidated square while building on the site’s history as a gathering place for youth and political meetings as well as raise the attractiveness of nearby commercial facilities.
Our design consists of three elements: a continuous multilevel sofa, dark granite paving, and a circular plateau with a smooth surface of deep green polished terrazzo – for sitting, playing and informal performances. Together, these elements create a cohesive and attractive new identity for the square that also helps to reinforce East-West connections through the city.
The jury panel of the competition called it “a robust and well functioning proposal that fits into an increasingly self-confident Uppsala, in which history and culture exist in harmony with the present. Forumtorget takes the character of the lanes and the square and builds on them to create an attractive new meeting place for everyone.”
Our idea was to attract more visitors to Forumtorget and its surrounding shopping area by building on the area’s established character as a gathering place. And the newly re-opened square has already become home to a knitting-circle that meets up regularly as well as the many young students protesting inaction on climate change as part of the global #Fridaysforclimate movement who use the green terrazzo stage for their manifestation every Friday.
To realise all the design elements and make sure they came together as a coherent whole we worked truly interdisciplinary. Landscape architects, architects, engineers and sustainability experts worked collaboratively to secure all important aspects made it through from planning to implementation.
The sofa was created using cutting edge computational design techniques in close collaboration with social sustainability experts to be able to create a complex, varied form that provides comfortable seating to all people – regardless of body shape or physical abilities. The result is a uniquely expressive piece, unrivalled in both size and scope in Sweden.
Built using grey glass and quartz composite, the design of the sofa features sturdy, yet refined detailing such as armrests, railings and sockets made of brass, and is double-sided with a variety of seating types provided at different levels. This enables the new seating to bridge the different ground levels within the square by providing an interstitial space between the open square and the shops.
We carried out extensive community consultation and tested a full-scale prototype in the square to ensure that a wide range of inclusive seating needs are met, some offering privacy, some more open interaction. Different ergonomic and seat height options include a reclining bench, a deep platform and a step-up sofa. A variety of backrest styles and brass handrails further animate the silhouette of the bench as it flows through the square. The sofa also incorporates two short sets of stairs to provide access through the continuous form.
Our landscape architects worked in collaboration with White’s Dsearch research network to develop computational design tools to extensively prototype and realise the unusual design concept for this important piece of public realm. This was achieved using water-jet cutters to create 3500 individually contoured, 19mm bench sections of glass-quartz composite. Assembled in segments onto a steel substructure offsite, these were then bolted together in situ and mounted on the concrete foundations.
Robust materials have been chosen with longevity in mind. At night, the sofa is illuminated from within through frosted glass insets that give a warm glow, creating a safer environment for all. Various effects are achieved with the use of several different lighting schemes, including one inspired by the Northern Lights.
The sofa is a homelier and more welcoming version of traditional outdoor furniture that bolsters a sense of community by creating increased opportunities for social interaction at Forumtorget. The result is an enhanced public realm that revitalises the centre of Uppsala.
Landscape Architecture: White Arkitekter
Other designers involved in the design of landscape: Erik Hedman and Johanna Uddén, Konsthuset
Project location: Forumtorget, Uppsala, Sweden
Design year: 2011-2016
Year Built: 2018
Awards: Architecture Master Prize
Photos: Måns Berg