Challenge 10: The Siitake Chair

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Introduction to the problem space:

Given the recent change in weather, Harvard outdoor spaces are filled with people trying to engage with the sunshine that they’ve missed for the past 6 months. As with most public outdoor spaces, pre-existing seating is limited (if it’s present at all), thus forcing people to sprawl out in the area with little to no support. If the outdoor space does contain seating (such as the benches that line the Charles River), it’s sparse and not the best use of space.

Thus, we’re interested in redesigning the outdoor public seating experience. As this is a massive space (pun intended), we’re focusing on redesigning the public seating experience for Eliot Courtyard–one of the undergraduate houses at Harvard. We chose this space because it’s one of the more popular courtyards for all Harvard undergraduates regardless of house affiliation. Additionally, there is very little pre existing public seating options in this particular courtyard, thus allowing for maximal design liberty.

Current Public Seating Layout:

The seating area in the courtyard is primarily the large grass round in the middle. To one side there is a terrace with about 10 tables and chairs. During the warm weather, students will drag some of the tables into the grassy area to eat. The vast majority of outdoor loungers will sit without formal support in the grass. Some will bring towels to sit on, while others lean against backpacks and rolled up jackets.

The Design of the Siitaki Chair:

Based on our research of current public outdoor seating options available in Harvard Square, as well as in Eliot Courtyard, we identified the following requirements for our seating solution to fulfill. These requirements were compiled by observing why the current public outdoor seating fails as well as what it accomplishes. Thus, the seating solutions must:

  • Work in a grassy space
  • Be built of materials that are summer weather resistant (such as rain, but not necessarily snow)
  • Be light enough that people can move the seating around
  • Be heavy enough that people can lean against it without it sliding or toppling over
  • Be easily used for groups of people
  • Not waste space if only one person is using it (eg, the seat should be designed such that strangers can comfortably share the seat without it being weird, like a 2 person bench)
  • Allow people to lean against it
  • Serve as a headrest for people lying down on the grass itself.  

The Siitake chair fulfills all these requirements. It is a seat which emulates a mushroom in design and can handle up to 5 sitters. The Siitake chair is made out of durable outdoor oak wood colored a friendly light brown at the stem and a bright red at the top.This copies the Amanita muscaria mushroom thereby giving the chair a nice “organica” feel to complement the outdoor setting.

People use the seat by sitting at the base of the chair and naturally leaning against the reclining part of the stem. According to research done by Cornell University, cited below, the most comfortable reclining position is 135 degrees, thus the reclining stem is at 135 degrees.  People can also stretch out on the grass and use the base of the Siitake Chair to support their head, thereby eliminating the need for rolled up blankets. The adventurous person can also clamber up the 4 feet to sit on the top of the chair if they desire.

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The chair is about as heavy as a picnic table, thus it’s heavy enough for people to recline against yet light enough for people to move with the help of friends. The base has a 7 feet diameter, the reclining part of the stem is 3 feet tall, and the mushroom sun cap is perched 2 feet above that. Thus, the Siitake chair is about 4 feet tall.  

Given how wide the base is, strangers can easily share the Siitake chair as it prevents eye contact and gives enough room for people to move around. Groups can also use the chair if they sit next to each other or even drag several Siitake chairs to form a cluster.

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We envision these Siitake chairs to be arrayed similarly to the colorful, plastic chairs in Harvard Yard. Individuals can move them to form groups or to form isolated seating anywhere they wish. We chose to make the chairs colorful to emulate the Harvard Yard chair experience. Additionally, many rooms in Eliot overlook the courtyard. Thus, when they look down on the courtyard during spring, it will be a burst of color that seemingly sprung up overnight–like actual mushrooms.

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