It’s no secret that the functionality and comfort of airport seating are less than optimal, adding to the frustration of travelers juggling any combination of food, beverages, small children, mobile devices, and carry-on bags. Place, a seating system that’s particularly well-suited for spaces where large groups of people are forced to sit and wait, wants to change that. The system was designed by Denver-based Fentress Architects’ CEO and design principal Curt Fentress, FAIA, and industrial designer and former Cranbrook Academy of Art design department co-chair Michael McCoy, for contract seating manufacturer Arconas. It features integrated power outlets and USB ports, extra space to tuck away baggage, a cup holder, and a wide arm—all to put an end to your sandwich-tablet-beverage-baby-bag circus act.
Though the seats are feature packed, the design team wasn’t able to include everything it wanted: “We thought it would be great to have the arms flip up so you can sleep in a row of seats,” McCoy says. “But the airport people [consulting on the project] didn’t like that.” ARCHITECT talked with the designers about how Place’s functionality intends to make long waits at airports and elsewhere more bearable—and possibly even productive.
Fentress: For the last 50 years we’ve had the same chair in every airport—the Herman Miller [Eames Tandem Sling] chair. We think it is kind of outdated. Everyone today seems to have at least one or two mobile devices that need charging. More people are flying on economy airlines, which don’t serve food, so they’ll grab something to eat at the airport. Passengers have more dwell time in the airport than they used to. We decided to create a chair that accommodates these kinds of things—to update what we’re sitting in so everyone has a best-chair-in-the-house.
McCoy: There’s a whole typology of beam-mounted seating. Airports like it because you get a lot of seats and only a couple of legs or supports to the floor, so it’s easy to clean and keep organized. The form factor has been around for a long time and it’s one of the hardest to make really comfortable and convenient because it’s so tight and so constrained.
Fentress: We designed it to be easy to maintain, easy to clean, easy to move around, and easy to sit in and have space.
McCoy: Usually the [support] beam is right underneath the seat, so it takes up all of the baggage space. We moved the beam to behind the seat, which gave us more clearance for bags and maintenance. It also put the beam in a really convenient spot to have integrated wiring for a power pod mounted directly into the chair so cords don’t get tangled in people’s feet. And then you have a [wide arm] where you can set a sandwich or a laptop.
Fentress: This is a major step forward for airport seating. We also see Place being used in applications such as courthouses, jury assembly rooms, and the Department of Motor Vehicles—any place where people have to spend time waiting.
McCoy: I was looking at Curt’s airport designs, with big curving roofs that celebrate travel and flight. Place has a series of arcs emanating from the beam—the back of the beam is an arc, the arm support continues that arc, the legs are arcs, and the seat back to some extent is, too, so it picks up on that vocabulary. It seemed appropriate. It’s not a static orthogonal form. It’s much more dynamic.
Fentress: We’ve really enjoyed working together and it’s been a lot of fun. We’re working on a few other ideas that we hope will improve the quality of life for everyone out there.
The interviews have been edited and condensed.