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Design Museum Mornings: The Giving Seat
Come listen to husband and wife design team about the inspiration and production of their prize-winning bench, A Quiet Place to Sit and Rest.
A seemingly radical idea: saving the world’s flora starting with one tree in downtown Portland. This was the vision that drove the design by Alyssa and Kyle Trulen for their bench for the Street Seats design competition.
Their inspiration came from the beloved children’s book, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. Trees provide economic, social, cultural, and physical benefits to all living creatures, but urban trees in particular often face a lack of care and attention that can be deadly for them. The Trulens thus decided to create a bench that could protect urban trees.
The team used thermally modified wood to create a concentric ring design that protects trees from threats like soil compaction and bark damage. This bench represents a hope of a healthier urban environment for both people and trees.
Soil compaction is the most common factor leading to the decline of urban trees. It occurs when the soil loses “large pore space,” or the looseness in the soil that allows the soil to be aerated and drain properly. Additionally, it reduces the rooting depth that trees can achieve. Compacted soil, even if it does not directly harm the tree, can contribute to secondary problems like diseases and harmful pests.
Another significant factor contributing to the decline of urban trees is bark damage. Urban and suburban trees are more likely to have bark damage, or “wounds,” as humans generally cause most wounds. Generally, these wounds are unintentional, such as cars, construction equipment, or lawn mowers colliding with or bumping the tree. Naturally occurring events, like storms or damage by animals, can also cause wounds.
Unlike animals, trees have no way of healing their wounds. Rather than a healing process, trees seal off damaged tissue rather than heal it. The cells in the area surrounding the injury transform chemically and physically to prevent the spread of decay, and new cells combine to create a callus that covers and seals the injured area. Wounds that penetrate the bark will damage the cambium layer, a thin layer of vascular tissue that is vital to the movement of water and nutrients around the tree.
The bench was constructed in two halves so it can be located around any tree to protect it. The three most central panels can be removed to allow the tree to grow, if necessary. Additionally, the designers had the design that the boy carved into the tree in the book carved into one of the central panels. This delightful detail both reminds one of the book and also prompts one to consider all that trees provide for us and how little we think of them in return.
Alyssa is a communications manager and editor with degrees in business and communications. Kyle is a dual-degree landscape architect at Lango Hansen with project experience across the US, Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Cover image courtesy Design Museum Portland.