Ossining 026, 2013
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Landscape architects tell me that although outdoor seating areas are actually designed to be used by people and that great attention is given to layout, views and the design, comfort and durability of the seating itself, many are never used that way. Some of this is because the design isn’t good or the seating isn’t comfortable or appropriate for the needs of people. But some of this, I’m told, is also because sometimes it’s okay if the outdoor seating is only seen and not used.
Huh? It’s okay to have a beautiful seating area that no one uses?
The answer, I’m told, is “yes.” In other words, a park bench or comfortable chair in the garden or on the lawn is more an illusion, a visual cue, a fixture that reminds you that you could sit there if you wanted. The mere imagination of that use is enough to create a momentary illusion of the tranquility, privacy or whatever you would have hoped to have achieved had you actually gone outside and used the bench or chair.
The benches shown in the photograph above are in a quiet little neighborhood park overlooking the Hudson River north of New York City. I don’t know if anyone ever sits there. They’re affixed to the ground and are arranged in a linear way that discourages conversation. Much of the river view, too, has become obscured by trees and the most direct sight line to the river requires that you ignore the guard towers at the nearby Sing Sing Prison that stand in the intermediate distance.
We recently had a chance to visit a very lovely home just up the hill from this park. The home has a wonderful lawn and shaded garden at the back. It’s the kind of place that makes you want to find an excuse to use the word “sylvan.” The property is at the bottom of the steep wooded hill. There are several levels to the garden, some with their own comfortable seating areas and lots of stone walls to keep everything in this elevated landscape in its place.
The main public rooms of the house look out onto that beautiful scene. The owners are very busy professionals. After a long day of work I could easily imagine them wandering out into the garden with a cool drink on a warm evening and sitting in one of the seating areas to talk or just listen to the wind blowing through the trees. When I asked the lady of the house whether they do this, she chuckled and responded, “[Husband] creates these little ‘views.’ We don’t ever actually use them.”
To see, perchance to sit. That’s not exactly what Hamlet said. But aye, there’s the rub.