Back to Back, Front to Front, by Toni Grilo

To consider urban design is to enter into the inner throbbing of the city, its arteries, fluxes, human relations, the roughness of the dark alleys, the warmth of the nooks and crannies, the cosiness of the alleyways. The noises and the smells, the movement of people, or the hurry of those who go to work, or of those who try not to be late home, as the city is also built of these attentive timings.

There is a particularly telluric relationship between the street furniture and what surrounds it. The building in front or the one next to it, with its particularities, defines the functionality of that urban product established in the place. If it is a historic building, and if it is a bench where we can sit to rest or wait for someone, the equipment is not only an element of rest, but an instrument that allows contemplation, leisure, experience, reflection.

Urban design is an aggregating element between the city’s components, capable of supporting contemporary life. As a guide and connector of spaces or buildings, it attempts to harmonise people’s lives and give them meaning, in the humanistic sense of the word. In an increasingly harsh and affectless urbanity, listening to people and the way they live the city and relate to others is essential.

Sometimes the inhabitants are the best judges, and they determine what is most needed in the city’s alleys, squares and streets. Because they are the ones who live and use them the most.

Designer Toni Grilo, during Lisbon Design Week, installed a complex of symmetrical, adjustable, crescent-shaped seats on the vast pavement in front of the façade of the Cais do Sodré train station. It is a set of benches that, joined together, define interlocking paths, and whose structure, consisting of red metallic tubes, contorts in space, until it forms a subtle drawn heart on the ground, evoking the iconic symbol of Viana and Portugal.

The bench installation soon became the domain of passers-by. People reading, old ladies resting, young people waiting for a date. It quickly became apparent that there is a lot happening in this part of the city, and that a pause was needed, in counterpoint to the features of the square, marred by bustle, transience, and permanent flow of passengers.

Although there are places of rest and leisure, such as some esplanades in the square with music playing, Cais do Sodré is almost neutral, without a trace of permanence. And that is where the charm of Toni Grilo’s piece lies. Apart from all the others.

With its slender forms, it allows passers-by to recover their time and the poetry of the days.

This action embraces the oneiric revival of space, the reassessment of the relationship between buildings, the reinvigoration of the relationship between buildings and public space, and the connection between people.

Back to Back, Face to Face, by Toni Grilo has precisely this connection between people and broadens it to a more social concept of design. The designer conceived the piece to “be popular and for people’s unequivocal enjoyment”.

Back to Back, an undeniably sculptural piece, as well as being a public bench, is also based on a hybrid idea of a design piece that makes an aesthetic impact. It is both a piece of design, but it can also be a piece to enjoy as an artistic object. The curved, stainless steel metal tubes commence their extruded journey, first painted red, and then culminate, in a subtle, light gold, reminiscent of the finest Portuguese filigree.

The sculptural piece will remain in situ until the end of the summer, but the designer wants it to stay permanently: “Since day one I have received messages and testimonies of this nature: Lisboetas have really adopted the piece”.

Carla Carbone was born in Lisbon, 1971. She studied Drawing in and Design of Equipment at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Lisbon. Completed his Masters in Visual Arts Teaching. She writes about Design since 1999, first in the newspaper O Independente, then in editions like Anuário de Design, arq.a magazine, DIF, Parq. She also participates in editions such as FRAME, Diário Digital, Wrongwrong, and in the collection of Portuguese designers, edited by the newspaper Público. She collaborated with illustrations for Fanzine Flanzine and Gerador magazine. (photo: Eurico Lino Vale)

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