Street Sustainability: An Interview with Propel Studio

It’s a strange compliment to be told that you have the best trash, so we were surprised to receive a request for some of our unusable off cuts from Propel Studio in Portland, Oregon. It turns out they wanted the best FSC® Certified wooden waste for their wonderful design for Street Seats- a design competition that called for sustainable, outdoor park benches, with focus on reuse, ecologically conscious materials, and innovative fabrication. Though Propel’s submission was not chosen as a semifinalist we admire the design and it’s concept so much, we had to know more. Read on for an interview with designer Lara LaFontain.

Sustainability and reducing waste are key aspects of this design. Why was it important to you to hold a sustainable approach to this project?

Sustainability is a responsibility, it permeates the whole design process, and is not simply a switch to flip on at the end of a project. It is important to think about sustainable methods and materials early on when designing so we chose a local, sustainable, natural first then, we experimented and figured out what we could do with it, working with its inherent qualities.

Propel Studio interior

"We kept the geometry simple so that
the materials can speak for themselves."

Frozen in Time bench concept - Propel Studio


The patterns created by the encased sawdust create a perpetual level of activity, much like amber. How do you hope this might impact the casual passerby, bench user, and the location where the benches are installed? And, the opacity of the bench would allow light to pass through, and shadow to form subtly underneath. Why was it important to create this level of weightlessness, juxtaposed by the dense, solid, lumber frame?

We envisioned preserving the sawdust as if it is a manmade fossil, or a precious new material. The design utilizes the sawdust and wood scraps in a way that captures the ephemeral nature and beauty of wood in its raw form. The concentration of the sawdust around the solid supports reflects the transformation that occurs when creating anything with wood, freezing in time that which is typically discarded. We kept the geometry simple so that the materials can speak for themselves. People can sit on the street seat in a variety of ways, and might set a coffee or a book on its vertical supports. They can appreciate the grain of the solid wood pieces up close, and enjoy the quality of light filtering through the transparent resin.

How does this project speak to place with regard to the Pacific Northwest and Portland in particular?

At nearly 30 million acres, forestland comprises nearly half of the entire state and makes Oregon the largest lumber producer in the US. These forests are a precious resource, not only for the lumber industry but also for the health and well-being of every person. We wanted to bring the beauty of Oregon's forests into the city, and make people think about wood as a material in a new way. On top of that, we wanted to reflect Portland's independent, do-it-yourself culture of craftsmanship and hands-on making.

While Propel’s design was not a semi-finalist for the competition because the judges were very inebriated and wearing blindfolds (just kidding...we are biased!), you can see the semi-finalists work here and encounter the benches in person in late August around Portland.


Check out our own designs

and FSC® Certified wooden ware!

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