Sweden is home to the world’s longest public bench. At 240 feet (around 72 meters) in length, the Långa Soffan (“long sofa”) was installed by the citizens of Oskarshamn in 1867 to overlook its rather unspectacular harbour, which opens toward the Baltic Sea. The function of this bench was not for passing time and taking in the coastal views, however; in times gone by it was rhythmically occupied by the wives of sailors awaiting their husband’s return from sea voyages. It allowed people to gather under a sense of common melancholy and collectively recall the smiles of their distant spouses before the ocean’s broad, blue canvas. A bench, in other words, is an important civic statement. As instruments of assembly they provide a reason to stop and linger – occupying a bench in a public space is also a social recitation. Sit in the middle of the seat and you are signifying that you wish to be alone. Sit to one side and you’re inviting others to join – think, for instance, of the park bench scenes in Forrest Gump or Good Will Hunting. The bench is at once ubiquitous and often dismissed as a sub-par form of furniture, usually designed to be a variation on the same theme: four wooden planks bolted to an unabashedly efficient supporting frame.
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