Project 3—Group Project—Modular Public Seating

–Phase 1–

New York is filled with communities. We have abounding cultures, companies, universities, districts, and religions that provide bodies for human grouping and connection.

Photo of MTA bench

While some of these communities may operate without struggles and difficulties, many of them do. For Project 3, we chose to focus on the community of people who use the MTA Subway.  Outdated and underwhelming design in Subway stations leaves many commuters disadvantaged—especially if they have disabilities.

In many ways, some of this design discomfort is intentional. It’s called “defensive design” and is often times used to minimize loitering. Subway users, however, are paying customers and deserve the comforts of intentional, human-empathetic design.  Although some people such a professor Len Mayer are clear proponents of dehumanizing designs, I believe such strategies are immoral for public spaces like subways. There are other strategies for preventing loitering other than harsh, uncomfortable dividers.

Our last contention for Subway seating is flexibility and collapsibility. Since the Subway can quickly become cramped during rush hours, seating between veins of high commuter flow would benefit from having the ability to expand, contract, and reshape with regard to foot traffic.

Good design needs to address the needs of people with disabilities, integrate well with foot traffic, and foster community on multiple levels by removing harsh barriers. 

With the $250 million Manhattan-wide subway renovation plan in action, now is the perfect time to redesign MTA seating strategies.

Our initial design inspiration comes from simple forms, streamlined shapes, and adaptability.

Mood Board


NYC subways get $250 million cosmetic upgrades package

–Phase 2–

When I started sketching ideas, I was inspired by linear designs that built form from stacked planes. I was also inspired by Russian dolls and designs that nest within each other to collapse. What I arrived with was a rectilinear design of 3 nesting chairs that all have 45-degree corners to hold slots. I made multiple 3D design models that had different slotting methods and different leg thicknesses (one which was solid). Once I decided that I liked the thinner legs, I created an orthographic drawing and made my laser file to cut the cardboard precisely.




3D Models

3D models

Technical drawing

–Phase 3–

Once I created the laser file, I set up multiple laser appointments to cut the cardboard. In total, I spent about 13 hours in the laser lab cutting 109 sheets of cardboard.

Once the cardboard was cut, I began laminating each leg with 6 layers so that the thickness was 1 inch by 1 inch. I used wood glue to laminate the pieces.

With everything laminated and dried, I then began to put slots into the legs where they were pre-slotted. I designed the chairs with 6 slots to keep them sturdy at each side.

Once the chairs were slotted in, I nested them all inside of each other to remain compact.

In terms of packing, the 3 chairs can reduce to 22 by 16 by 2 by removing the slots and nesting all of the pieces within each other, so it can be shipped in a very efficient manner.

Process photos, measuring, cutting, laminating, and slotting (in order)

Final chair, showing expansion

Final chair – detail

Final chair – detail

Final chair – detail


Final chair – modeling photo

Final chair – modeling photo

Final chair – modeling photo


Final chair- in contextual environment.

–Phase 4–

I made the final presentation and took all of the photos for the group before we presented in our final critique. Bellow is the powerpoint.

Project 3–Noah, Elle, Yoohwan-2hx8nob


Group photo

Group photo

Group photo


To be honest, I am happy to be finished with this project. It caused me a lot of stress, having to deal with people who did not want to work or communicate. My group members spent very little effort outside of class working on their projects, causing me to help build their chairs in my spare time and take care of many of the project components completely on my own. No one voiced their opinions or communicated effectively, which left me with filling in the blanks and making choices for the group on my own. When I pointed out quality concerns and offered to laser cut the cardboard for my members if they made the file, they refused, and when I set a deadline to finish all the chairs by Wednesday so we could review and tweak the final project, they were late by an entire day, only leaving us with time for pictures.

I am satisfied with my design. It is very clean, aesthetically satisfying, and can be functionally sat on when collapsed. I essentially made three chairs by myself, which I think demonstrates my time management skills. Considering that my chair is made out of carboard, I think that it is also more impressive that it can hold human weight compared to material like wood or ply.

Reflecting on my own design, I think that there are two places where it could be improved. The first is the thickness of the legs—I think if I made my chair with thicker, wider legs, it would be more sturdy and possibly be able to hold the weight of a human even when the chairs are extended out. The second is material—innitally, I wanted to use craft-ply, but all of the stores were out of the size I needed, so I resorted to cardboard.  I realized too late that I could have purchased normal plywood and justed used the CNC routers to cut my pieces. In fact,  I like my design so much, I will probably make it out of plywood with the CNC routers over break.

Addressing our final critique, I was slightly turned off by the manner in which Prof. Len Mayer chose to talk to our group. His feedback was esoteric and, in many ways, biased, and the length of his feedback fell closer to a speech, providing me with no time to counter any of his arguments. I am well aware of how seating is used in liminal spaces such as subways, and understand that chairs need to sometimes prevent the use of loitering, what he failed to understand (or rather didn’t give me a chance to explain) was that my design encompassed all of these concerns. In place of dividers, my chair has changing levels, which would make it uncomfortable to sleep or lay down on. Additionally, because my seats have free space between each leg, backrests can be placed in each chair accordingly yet still provide leeway for overweight users to sit, unlike the traditional benches. Lastly, he told me that I lacked an understanding of “time” in relation to the function of the chair in a subway. While I understand what Len was saying, I care more about making sure that people with disabilities and shapes of all forms can sit comfortably, especially if there is a delay or a train breakdown.  I can’t speak for the rest of my members on this matter, but I also did extensive research and hands-on observation of subway seating and chose a true community, not a generic market.

It is sad to end an otherwise great year on this note, but the culmination of my group’s lack of effort and the distasteful critique of Prof. Mayer has left me with a sour taste in my mouth.

In total, I am proud of my chair and the work I produced, and I feel confident enough in my ideas to disregard other’s negativity.

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