BenchMark at MIT: Smart Furniture Uses Gehl Tools

A collaboration with MIT Civic Data Design Lab

Gehl Institute is proud to announce the launch of BenchMark: a project that uses street furniture to measure the diverse benefits of social interaction in public space. Moveable benches and signs at one of MIT’s busy quads are embedded with sensors for measuring public life according to Gehl methods. Over the course of a few weeks, the team at MIT Civic Design Lab is tracking where each bench is located, if it’s being sat on, how noisy the space is, how many people are in the public space, and lighting intensity. The project team is collecting and analyzing the anonymized information to determine how behaviors are influenced by the scale and quality of the built environment.


The project stems from our interest in social interaction in public space and developing new research methods to better understand how and why people interact in the ways they do. Decision-makers can then use this qualitative and quantitative data to make better public spaces. The project is particularly suited for one-day evaluations of public spaces, allowing cities to better measure how small interventions can change the character of almost any place. So far, the data shows that the benches allow people to inhabit the space in new ways as they use them as focal points for social interaction.


BenchMark was designed and built by MIT Civic Data Design Lab in collaboration with Gehl Institute, with funding by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The furniture was envisioned with modularity and transferability in mind. They can easily be constructed anywhere with a few pieces of plywood, and the project team hopes to set-up the benches at other locations to test them in a diversity of cultural settings. The project will be up outside the Frank Gehry building at MIT until August 5th. Stop by if you are in the neighborhood. Or, if you are interested in launching this experiment somewhere else, email