While watching a YouTube video today, I noticed this public/park bench somewhere in the USA: XXXXXX

It looks strange to me the way the arm rests on each side are so far into the bench, wasting a rather large combined space if you count both sides.

Why aren't the arm rests located in the very ends? Usually when I notice something weird like this, it has some kind of logical explanation. I hope this is the case this time as well, and that it's not just somebody's misguided idea of "design" at the expense of utility.

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    $\begingroup$ Take note of the location of the legs. If you sit at the very end, you'll be outboard & potentially tip the bench over. Not likely given the lever arm for this particular bench, but it's a factor. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 26, 2021 at 12:09
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    $\begingroup$ @CarlWitthoft plausible for a privately-owned bench, but most municipal benches would be bolted down, or secured into concrete. Don't want the benches to walk off, or be put into the street, etc. I've also seen benches on grass that are tethered to a post via a chain, so they can be moved a short distance to permit mowing. $\endgroup$
    – Criggie
    Commented Feb 26, 2021 at 21:03
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    $\begingroup$ Never attribute to intent what can be blamed on "designers" $\endgroup$
    – Criggie
    Commented Feb 26, 2021 at 21:04
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    $\begingroup$ A great many public-space features are designed to thwart people sleeping there, or skateboarders. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 26, 2021 at 21:06

5 Answers 5


I am not sure about this particular design. But in public places, the benches are designed to provide temporary comfort but discourage using them as a vagrant or homeless hang out, hence designed subtle discomfort.

Also, they have to be easy to scan by security cameras and not have hard-to-see corners easy to hide contraband material or even explosives! Usually, they are designed using open planks/slates or wire mesh to make it easy to see if something or somebody is behind them.

Lastly, they are designed as part of the general scheme of the space to conform esthetically with the other features of the park, railroad station, or sports arena, etc.

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    $\begingroup$ w.r.t. discouraging vagrants/homeless: which is why so many of them (not the one pictured, though) have a third arm rest smack in the center - to deter using the bench as a bed. $\endgroup$
    – davidbak
    Commented Feb 25, 2021 at 20:44
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah that pic in the op is definitely an example of an anti homeless measure (or someone cluelessly copying a design meant for that). $\endgroup$
    – eps
    Commented Feb 25, 2021 at 22:20
  • $\begingroup$ They could be anti-skateboard as well. $\endgroup$
    – Dave X
    Commented Feb 25, 2021 at 22:32
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    $\begingroup$ @davidbak This is also the explanation for the backless "barrel-benches", where the seat is not flat but curved like the outside of a barrel. This makes them fine for sitting on, but impractical for lying down. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 26, 2021 at 14:50
  • $\begingroup$ I think this particular bench is not designed this way for this reason. I think it's just how the bench is constructed. Notice how the armrests line up with the legs. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 28, 2021 at 14:12

Benches are not usually engineered as such. They are being made by furniture designers, (landscape/interior) architects etc.

Now generally these professions put a lot of work into making their items novel in some way (Even if that novelty feels stupid to you). Reason for this is that they are being selected that way from catalogs, trade magazines and display galleries by people who look for novelty and certain look and feel.

Without novelty there would be not much need for designing new benches we have a back catalog of designs to last us a millenia. So in this way furniture design is more like fashion design than engineering and public furniture is more like choosing a unique dress to a ball than being practical.

Now when this novelty need hits some external requitement it does not necceserily choose the "most efficient" form. After all part of the glamour of things is the empty space around your object. Im fact the bench would work for this purpose even if the hand rest was in the middle of the bench if it would work for the requirement.

  • $\begingroup$ "Benches are not usually engineered as such. They are being made by furniture designers, (landscape/interior) architects etc." Downvoted, because this is wrong. There's a lot of work that goes into engineering park benches, primarily to make them uncomfortable for homeless people to lie on. $\endgroup$
    – nick012000
    Commented Feb 27, 2021 at 11:10
  • $\begingroup$ Theres a lot of work that goes into everything. Wheter its engineering or not is debatable. And yes i know i work in a support role for amongs other thing furniture designers as a engineer. $\endgroup$
    – joojaa
    Commented Feb 27, 2021 at 12:14

In the bench that you show, the slats are supported and held in alignment by the end brackets. The armrests are supported by, and in line with, the legs. You could incorporate the end brackets into the leg structure but this would make for a more complicated moulding that either doesn't allow the same mixture of materials or has too many holes drilled in it for fixing bolts.

Of course some benches do this

enter image description here

  • $\begingroup$ Your image looks like what I'm more familiar with. $\endgroup$
    – Barmar
    Commented Feb 26, 2021 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ The pictured bench you provided also illustrates perhaps the reason behind the design in OP's picture: by having the arms affixed to the legs rather than just to an arbitrary position on the planks, they have much more support and strength, for example if a child were to be climbing/standing/etc on them. Being attached at only two points means much more stress would be put on the attachment points by such activities and thus having them attached to metal gives them additional reinforcement. $\endgroup$
    – Doktor J
    Commented Feb 26, 2021 at 17:57
  • $\begingroup$ This is the proper engineering answer, or at least part of it. The unclear part is how the OP's design is simpler to build than this one. (The slats still need to be affixed to the leg support structure in the OP's design as well, right? The end metal is rather a means to protect the front face of the slats and probably does not contribute much stability -- for example it is not affixed to the actual support structure, is it?) $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 27, 2021 at 18:25

Here is another thought. Have you had your arm on the armrest and someone walked by with a bag or otherwise just carelessly bumped into or smashed your arm?

It might be nice to have a little of the bench sticking out to make passersby not cut in so close.

I guess spikes like they put on chariot wheels might be more effective, but this design looks nicer.


What appears to be missed here is the amount of wasted space. Would the bench have enough room for another person if the arm rests were moved to the edge? From looking at that picture there may be enough room but it would need to be a smaller person and possibly a child.

There is also the consideration of how many people are expected to sit on it at once. Is the seat going to be generally fully used such as you would see on public transportation or is it more likely that a few will use it at once and if they don't know each other spread out somewhat from each other.

What is important when designing something like this isn't how much space is available but how that space is intended to be used.

As was mentioned in another answer they are also designed to prevent certain uses such as using them as a place to sleep.

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    $\begingroup$ Well yes, but why would one build a large bench and then only use 80% that size if a simpler bench 80% of that size would do? That is actually the OP's question which you don't really answer. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 27, 2021 at 18:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Peter-ReinstateMonica In the case of that picture it appears that more than 80% of the bench is useable as there is only a small gap on each side. If you really want to get picky why even put arm rests on the side in the first place? It isn't like you need them on a public bench and there are plenty of designs that don't have them at all. $\endgroup$
    – Joe W
    Commented Feb 27, 2021 at 18:48

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