Industrial designer Heather Mitchell loves the rain. “It amplifies sounds. Everything smells really crisp and it brings out a lot of Nature that you don’t get on a hot, sunny day,” she says.
Heather Mitchell seated on the Rain Bench
No surprise then that the former Emily Carr University student chose to construct a kinetic structure that showcases Vancouver wet stuff as her 4th year industrial design thesis project. Working in conjunction with various agencies including the David Suzuki Foundation, which paid for most of the materials, and the Vancouver Parks & Culture Board, which offered her a few locations, Mitchell chose to build her creation in an urban park close to the downtown core.
“So often you go out to a park to do an activity, to play, to visit friends but you don’t really consider what the trees are doing, the grass, the smells, the sounds,” she says.
Rain Bench is circular bench covered by a tree-like canopy. As the canopy’s canvas petals fill up with rainwater, the weight of the water forces the petals to swing downwards, spilling the water to the ground. Counterweights return the petals to their original position and the process starts all over again. “It’s exciting to see the petals come to life with the movement caused by the rain and the breeze,” says Mitchell.
Check out the video below to see how it works.
Components pre-assembly (Image by Emily Carr University)
Intended as both a refuge and a retreat, Rain Bench amplifies the natural world. “It feels calming to see the gentle water streams run off the tips of the leaves. It makes you stop and think.”
Canopy Detail 1
Rain Bench marries form and function but Mitchell says today’s industrial designers are encouraged to think beyond what the project looks like in favour of its entire life cycle. “Where did it grow? What energy sourced it? What activities does it encourage? For me, industrial design is about community. What are the material choices that you’re making and how do they affect the environment?”
Canopy Detail 2
Mitchell has touched all bases with Rain Bench. She felled the central support by herself and towed it out of the bush with her snowmobile. She learned to spot weld the canopy supports, relying upon commercial fabricators to handle the complicated stuff. She also planed the fir planks which comprise the bench and she salvaged heavy duty canvas from the old roof of BC Place, Vancouver’s downtown stadium, to make the canopy.
Canopy Detail 3
She assembled the bench on site with the help of her fellow students and the area’s neighbours.
Putting the bench together (Image by Emily Carr University)
“To me, industrial design is a career where you’re not just playing with one art medium but you’re working in all art mediums,” says the recent grad about to embark upon her design career. She is now part of Basic Design, a design consultancy. When asked if there could be other Rain Benches in her future she admits to eyeing another location in Richmond, a Vancouver suburb.
Moments of rest and reflection on the Rain Bench