Bring your own chair

Street furniture

HONG KONG — Good street furniture is not one of Hong Kong’s strengths, so when people here can’t find a place to sit outdoors, they do the most logical thing: they bring their own chair.

In natural gathering spots around the city you’ll come across a motley array of household chairs that have been placed outdoors and tied to a post or railing. You can see them at bench-less bus stops, or on steep stairways, sometimes with one leg trimmed so the chair can sit evenly on the steps. I’ve even come across chairs tied to trees in the woods that are never more than a 15 or 20 minute walk from any part of the city.

In the Hong Kong-Shenzhen Biennale of Urbanism and Architecture, which runs until the end of February on a piece of vacant waterfront land, designers Rosly Mok and Vanessa Chan have created a public bench out of discarded chairs.

“The stories behind abandoned furniture are precisely what makes them come alive,” they write as an introduction to their installation. “Their mystery and layers of history create sentimentality, and perhaps extra eagerness nad meaning. In terms of public usage, are the stories of abandoned furniture not more meaningful in comparison with the rows of monotonous and dead ‘public’ benches lined at the park?”

Like laundry drying on a street railing or a shop fronted by dozens of potted plants, discarded furniture domesticates the street and humanizing a public realm that is too often cold, bureaucratic and anonymous in its design.

Street furniture

3 comments

  1. This is wonderful, thanks! It puts me in mind of the ancient Boston tradition of putting an old kitchen chair in the street to save your parking space after you have shoveled snow from it (street plowing being a far less efficient process than in Montreal). Until the snow has melted, that parking space belongs to the person who put the chair there, and if someone else moves it to park in that space he can expect damage to be done to his car. A few years ago the mayor ordered city employees to move the chairs, and those employees refused out of fear for their personal safety.

  2. On the Sunshine Coast (northwest of Vancouver), bus stops are cared for in this way, too. Most bus stops have a pair of plastic lawn chairs sitting next to the sign post. It’s interesting that the furniture in your pics is so ornate and upholstered – do people leave these out in the rain at all? Are they forever demoted from ‘inside’ status? It certainly gives a more grassroots feel than a standardized bench or bus shelter, though I don’t suppose people hang umbrellas above them, do they?

  3. I think most of the chairs are those that had been replaced and would otherwise be thrown away (people don’t really buy second-hand furniture in HK), which is why you see such “indoor” chairs sitting outdoors. The climate here is very humid so most wood furniture has been treated and can withstand the rain.

    It’s also common to see pleather sofas sitting on the sidewalk or street outside some shops, usually under an awning. This is an example of a shabby little dépanneur that has created a nice little terrasse with discarded sofas and chairs:

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