Megabench: You've never seen a seat like this before

City of North Vancouver unveils massive bench at the foot of Lonsdale Avenue

Sometimes all that a big idea needs to become a big success is an epic name to match.

Behold, then, a big idea that has taken shape on the North Vancouver waterfront, enhanced even more by a truly cool name: Megabench.

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More than 1,000 red cedar boards make up the structure, smoothly twisted and shaped into a 48-metre-long bench perched on the edge of Burrard Inlet with views of the Vancouver skyline ahead, the Spirit Trail passing just behind, and warmed by the shine coming off the soon-to-be-completed Presentation House Gallery. This is Megabench.  

“The name fit,” said designer Doug Shearer with a laugh. “We just realized we wanted to have a big, bold, emphatic statement on the waterfront, and so ‘mega’ came to mind.”

Shearer and his team at Vancouver-based landscape architecture and urban design firm Hapa Collaborative were hired by the City of North Vancouver to design the bold bench after CNV staffers were told to think big during public consultation sessions about the waterfront project.

Staffers started calling the project Megabench early in the design process.

“It was a literal description of what it is, and it stuck, because it’s fun, and it totally describes what this thing is,” said Heather Reinhold, manager of strategic initiatives for the city. “It was really about having the best seat in the house for the public.”

The bench was unveiled at the foot of Lonsdale Avenue earlier this month and, even though it is currently tucked away behind a couple of construction zones, it has already gotten a workout from visitors keen to sit, lie down, play, eat, drink and generally be merry on it.

“People seem to be drawn to it,” said Shearer, adding that it was a thrill to sit back and watch visitors move in and make themselves at home in many different ways. “That’s the cool thing – we want people to use it however they want. We didn’t want to be too prescriptive. We didn’t want your typical park bench where two people can sit down and they stare a certain way and they put their back against this part. We wanted people to lie on it, sit on it, have a picnic on it. Some people have lain upside down with their feet up on the slanty bits. They’ve put their feet up on top and hung their heads towards the water.”

The boards are all of similar size and all straight as an arrow. Half of the bench follows a traditional flat-bottom design while the other half uses gradual ebbs and flows to create molded spaces to sit, lie down and play.

“The boards rise and fall and the angles that they hit each other change, so that even though every member is straight and none of the cuts is very complicated, the combined effect is this very fluid, sort of curvilinear almost organic effect when you see the whole thing together,” said Shearer, adding that unique, funky public projects like this are a designer’s dream.

“It’s really what we’re doing this for – to do something that will reach a large number of people, that really makes a place joyful to inhabit,” he said. “We’re super happy.”

They’re not done yet either. Hapa Collaborative is busy working on more amenities that will complete Phase 2 of the city’s waterfront project, including a large plaza and water feature that will sit beside the gallery, right behind Megabench.

“Stay tuned because there’s going to be more cool stuff down there,” said Shearer. “I hope it’s going to be spectacular. I really think that whole Quay area, the waterfront in the City of North Van is really dynamic. It’s one of the more interesting urban spaces in the Lower Mainland.”

Shearer also applauded the city for supporting unique urban design and doing something bold.

“I think it’s super important and I think it’s an attractor for people,” he said. “It’s why people put up with the high cost of living here, and the rain and everything. It’s a great place to live, and kudos to the city because really these things don’t happen unless the owner and the client have the vision and the tenacity to be bold and try something a bit risky like this.”

The bench is open for public use. Come down and try it. Bring a friend. Or 100 friends.

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