The Central Park Conservancy works to restore, maintain, and enhance New York City’s Central Park, one of America’s most beloved (and with more than 40 million visitors a year, most used) public urban spaces. With a grant from the Alcoa Foundation, the Conservancy enlisted Landor Associates’ New York office to collaborate on a new trash and recycling initiative. Based on industry research and in-the-field intercepts, the Landor team helped the Conservancy develop a multi-pronged approach to address the park’s recycling and sustainability challenges.
Landor’s design had to simultaneously encourage visitors to recycle, make the collection of trash easier for The Central Park Conservancy gardening staff, cohabitate with Olmstead and Vaux’s 19th century vernacular landscapes and architecture, and increase visitor awareness of the Central Park Conservancy’s role and contributions to the park. These criteria were all factored into the design along with other concerns such as rodents, birds, raccoons, urban miners, robustness, maintenance, and operational safety.
Ultimately there were two very substantial challenges for the Landor team, the first in designing the new trash bins in a manner appropriate to the park's mission of environmental stewardship. Equally difficult was designing furniture to function as an agent to change behavior and to educate park visitors.
The Landor team developed several prototype designs, drawing inspiration from different aspects of the park’s landscape and architecture. The chosen candidate design drew its inspiration from the iconic 1939 New York World’s Fair bench designed by Robert Moses and ironmonger Kenneth Lynch. In keeping with the Central Park Conservancy's mission of environmental stewardship, the Landor team consulted with the Alcoa Technical Center and was able to design with specific materials and fabrication methods in mind, resulting in bins that are physically robust but efficient and sustainable to manufacture. The bins were hand built in the USA from corrosion-resistant, aircraft-grade aluminum alloy, supplied by Alcoa and containing 30% recycled content, which is in turn infinitely recyclable. The bins were finished with an environmentally friendly, and proprietary, triple-layer powder coat developed by the fabricator, Landscape Forms. As a result of this considered design and manufacturing process, and local sourcing, the bins can be included for LEED certification points in future architectural projects.
To help change visitor behavior, the design team employed color-coding and different-sized apertures to make the act of self-sorting recyclables more intuitive. The tilt of the vertical slats, the spiral gesture of the barrel and lid, and typographic placement were all utilized to draw the user’s eye up and into the receptacles’ apertures, and also to reinforce decision-making as users approach the bins.
The Central Park Conservancy receptacles have received praise from the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, the Public Design Commission, the press, and park visitors. But their true success has been proven by the measured 35% increase in recycling since their deployment.
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“With a grant from Alcoa, the city was able to achieve a new street furniture vocabulary that we hope will be adopted by other cities. The cans are a perfect marriage of form and function; they make it easy to participate in recycling. They are non-intrusive to the environment. In fact, they meld into the surroundings. And still, they have shown a 35% increase in participation. The cans transcend their peers in any other urban center that we know of, respectful of the environment. They’re a call to action, as well as placemaking elements.”
Anthony Deen (creative director, lead designer), Mike Boylan (senior industrial designer), Craig Dobie (creative director, lead graphic designer), Lady Tanmantiong (graphic designer), Brad Scott (senior director, project lead)
Stephen Leonard, Alcoa Technical Center (material and fabrication)
Robb Smalldon, Landscape Forms, Inc. (all fabrication)