Urbastyle is a bit of an anomaly on the design scene. The Belgian company specializes not in the outfitting of interior enclaves with layer upon layer of upholstered foam (as so many do) but rather in an unprecedented sort of exterior adornment—they create benches, retaining walls, seats, steps, planters, and enclosure posts. The company characterizes this niche endeavor as “concrete solutions for public spaces realized throughout Europe.” They also say that their team of some five designers each “find great fulfillment in blending artistic design with urban needs.”
Soft Seat. Designed by Urbastyle.
This happy fusion of public utility and art is particularly exemplified in Roel Vandebeek’s Soft Seat, a cube-shaped bench of acid-etched cast stone with some passing similarities to both Edward Tuttle’s Edwards Collection and Frederick Kiestler’s iconic Party Lounge. As it turns out, however, the resemblance here is only skin deep, as anyone who attempts to move Vandebeek’s 800 kg bench will quickly apprehend. The piece is a novel take on the classic look of an upholstered expanse segmented into different geometric configurations: is it a stretch to say it recalls capitonné? the traditional upholstery adornment that uses large buttons to create a patterned surface? Maybe that’s pushing it a bit, even though Soft Seat is definitely having a bit of fun with an aesthetic that’s common to modern pieces.
The blocky, geometrical look is especially apropos given the medium. Like other outdoor furnishings fashioned from concrete or stone (see Komplot’s Concrete Things, for instance), Soft Seat makes overt reference to the rigidity, solidity, and sheer bulk of the medium, even though Vandebeek indulges himself a bit with the ironic moniker. But I think we all see the humor: like right-handers called “Lefty” or 300 pound guys known as “Tiny,” the truth of Soft Seat is all in the name. Just remember it’s made from one of the world’s hardest substances, so don’t let its seemingly pillow-plush contours trick you into vigorous luxuriating. Just enjoy it for it what it is: an exceptionally rigid and rather handsome “seat” that does justice to our valued public hardscapes.