White Arkitekter Creates a Space for Everyone with 65-Metre Public ‘sofa’ in Uppsala, Sweden

Uppsala’s Forumtorget square has been revitalised with the creation of a 65 metre-long public ‘sofa’ designed by White Arkitekter.

Designed to provide space for rest and social interaction, the linear outdoor seating is the centerpiece of wider, 1600sqm improvements to the public realm. These have been created by White to attract more visitors to Forumtorget and its surrounding shopping area by building on the area’s established character as a gathering place.

Uppsala is the fourth largest city in Sweden, with a population of 150,000 people. This 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 project reflects both White’s inclusive, people-centred approach to design as well as the practice’s commitment to high quality public realm.

White’s 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.

Built using a grey glass/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.

White 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.

White’s Dsearch research network used 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 off-site, these were then bolted together in situ and mounted on the concrete foundations.   Chosen with longevity in mind, the robust materials should enable the structure to have a lifespan of at least 30 years.

At night, the sofa is illuminated from within through frosted glass insets that give a warm glow. Various effects are achieved with the use of several different lighting schemes, including one inspired by the Northern Lights.

Gustav Jarlöv of White Arkitekter said,

“The sofa is a more homely and 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.”