The Beauty of the Beam: How Theory Transforms Simple Structure Into Elevated Transit Experiences, With Designer Scott Klinker
From the start, Theory has centered around the idea of “the beam,” looking to build out from this humble structural component a collection of streetscape elements that complement one another systematically yet are each uniquely expressive in functional and sculptural impact. But the design evolution of Theory—its specific collection of forms and the logic in the way these forms work together—has been a long creative journey of iteration and collaboration between designer Scott Klinker and the Landscape Forms design team.
Theory consists of a scalable shelter, adaptable thin bench system, stackable thick beams, and a supporting cube element.
"Looking back to the very origins of Theory, it actually begins with an interesting coincidence. It turns out that both Kirt Martin, Landscape Forms Chief Innovation Officer, and I had been playing around simultaneously with ideas for a beam-based seating system,” says Scott Klinker. "So, when he visited my studio and saw a prototype beam system I had made for interior applications, his interest was piqued. He asked if I wanted to interpret this concept as an outdoor product, and I said ‘absolutely!’”
In the process of design collaboration, editing and iteration, Scott Klinker and the Landscape Forms design team honed the focus for Theory, and a new guiding mission emerged—enhance the experience of public transit. Referencing Charles Eames’ famous discussion of design and constraints from the 1972 short film Design Q&A, Klinker says that a clarified focus on transit experiences and the constraints that entailed offered ways of thinking about Theory.
Thick beams stack and intersect to create sculptural installations open to their users’ interpretation.
"I began to see the project through the lens of the traveler’s experience, trying to create a hospitable environment for the traveler and trying to find new ways, both large and small, to enhance their experience,” Klinker describes.
In looking through the lens of the traveler, Klinker describes exploring the intersection of two key concepts—the push and pull between prescriptive and non-prescriptive design and the enhancing of different modes of waiting—as being a creative turning point. The exploration of these two concepts, the way they interact, and the way they support one another became the guiding logic of Theory.
"Our entire human-made world often feels like a series of built rules. Because of this, I think people appreciate things that are more open to unique, personal interpretation—it invites a sense of playfulness, creativity, and discovery,” Klinker describes. "Theory was created to present this spectrum of design in the outdoor environment, functioning intuitively yet also inviting new possibilities for choice.”
Theory elevates traditional transit forms, incorporating elements of public art, to create welcoming and multi-functional settings for people on the move.
Combining some of the familiarity of recognizable transit forms with the striking, sculptural beauty of public art, each of Theory’s elements occupies a different space on the design spectrum mentioned by Klinker. The Theory shelter is refined but clear in its purpose—an angled aluminum beam raises two shelter panels to create an elegant, contemporary vision of the familiar transit shelter. Theory's thin bench seating system functions like a conventional bench but employs a high degree of configurability to create different and uniquely purposeful alcoves throughout an installation. Theory’s thick beams and cube juxtapose the more traditional transit elements to create truly non-prescriptive settings with artful presence. Thick beams can intersect and stack up to two high in asymmetric configurations, enabling people to interpret the installation how they see fit—a place to sit, stand, lean, lay, set up a laptop or have a quick meal on the go.
Modular thick beam configurations offer layered seating and surface for rest, mobile work, socializing, and on-the-go dining.
As further inspiration for Theory’s open-ended design, Scott Klinker describes an embrace of “group waiting” and “active waiting” as aspects unique to the collection and the new logic it brings to transit site furnishing. "A lot of transit furniture is focused on individuals in public, but that’s not always the case—you could be traveling with friends, family or kids, and often the transit setting does not support a more communal experience,” says Klinker. "In offering settings that are more open to interpretation and how you’re going to use them, Theory welcomes group waiting and a more socially-focused transit experience.”
“Similarly,” Klinker continues, “people now can work from anywhere and no longer necessarily see waiting as downtime. But a lot of transit design hasn't adapted to this reality,” he says. "Therefore, it was important we created provisions to the system such that all throughout there are spaces where people can sit down, read, work, or comfortably use a laptop. Even something as simple as providing a wide variety of surfaces, in different heights and different postures, where people can eat a quick breakfast really speaks to the idea of active waiting.”
Bold and geometric, Theory can be color-coded to signify transit spaces and provide a unique, branded visual identity for campuses and municipalities.
With its unique functionality, its focus on creating social settings, and its strong graphic quality, Klinker is excited by the idea that Theory can enable transit systems to play a larger role in helping define visual identity of the settings they occupy. "The collection has obvious applications for public transit settings like bus stops, train stations, and airports. But Theory also makes sense for a wide variety of other applications. From corporate, to education, to healthcare, to hospitality settings, I’m excited to see how other designers interpret Theory to enhance a range of public spaces,” Klinker concludes.