On benches.

In a tiny village in southeastern Germany is a short wooden bench. The top and the legs are weathered and rough. Even with hand tools, it could be built from log scraps in an afternoon. It’s functional. It was, at the time it was built, everyday furniture.

There are benches along the walking trails that surround that village and connect it to other villages miles and kilometers away. There is an implication that the people walking on the trails are going to need places to sit and rest, or eat, or look around. The trail may be less for getting from one place to another quickly (for which you would use a car or bus) and more for being on a journey.

In a church in Strasbourg, France, there is a small pipe organ that Mozart played. In front of the organ is a bench, which may or may not have been a bench on which Mozart sat. It’s much smoother than the bench in the village, less resistant to weather than the benches along the walking trails.

In Frankfurt, along a sidewalk that faces the river, there is a bench. The legs are 2×2, the seat and back are flat, with none of the curve we expect from a sitting bench. But if you are wanting to be helpful for people who may sleep on park benches, it’s perfect.

None of the benches were built to be particularly interesting. The builders did not think, “Someday, I want my bench to be in a museum.” They didn’t assume that tourists would notice them. What they did was build benches to hold people off the ground for whatever task they were doing.

That is, perhaps, the best measure of a bench: does it quietly, consistently, do what it’s built to do?