Portsmouth Bench

This project felt like an unusual commission at the time, as Barber & Osgerby’s work, until then, had been associated with a very contemporary design world. The studio received a call from Suzy Allen, who was in charge of commissioning artists and designers to refurbish parts of the fantastic, 13th century, Portsmouth cathedral, parts of which date back to 1180. Barber & Osgerby were briefed to design some new choir stalls which would allow flexibility for the choir to move position regularly, depending on the type of service. The benches and music stands needed to be easily lifted and moved. It was a surprising and challenging commission and one that came more naturally than was first thought.

  • Year / 2003
  • Manufacturer / Isokon Plus

The idea was to produce an anonymous-looking design so that the bench did not appear either traditional or too contemporary and would both contrast with and complement the architecture. Several prototypes were made in Chris McCourt’s workshop and the design of each one was reduced to the bare essentials, both from an aesthetic and structural perspective. There was a requirement to use oak, which is a heavy wood, but its inherent strength enabled the sections of the bench to be very slim. The end result was an elegant seat that was strong enough to seat three choirboys or two adults. The music stands were developed in a similar language. Portsmouth Cathedral and Suzy Allen were very happy with the benches and later commissioned a set of four curved benches, for another part of the cathedral.