The Social Seating Experiment At Timbertrain

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1,000 Cool Things About Vancouver is a pretty self-explanatory Scout column that gives equal weight to the common attributes and obscure intangibles that make our city well worth living in. Getting to a thousand is a pretty ambitious goal, but we believe in our city and we’re already well under way…

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by Andrew Morrison | I know this might come as a shock to some, but coffee-loving people equipped with laptops really enjoy working in cafes. Some say it’s a consequence of free wifi, others argue it foretells a dystopian, anti-social future wherein we don’t talk to one another even in what used to be the most social of places. Either way, there’s no escaping the truth: even the very best cafes are macked these days. One way to try and slow the advance of the phenomenon is through design. This has been easy enough to spot locally in the recent preponderance of communal tables, but the biggest swing at bat to date in this regard is hidden in plain sight at Timbertrain Coffee Roasters on West Cordova St. in Gastown.

sketch-figures-3000x677This is where Simcic & Uhrich Arhictects attempted an experiment of sorts when they designed it back in 2013. They deliberately fiddled with the concept of the “booth” by making them the sole access points to a series of little deuces lined up against the wall. While the design doesn’t stop guests from using their laptops or smartphones, many of them nevertheless have to interact with one another in order to get to and from their seats. Marko Simcic confirmed my suspicions by telephone. “Part of it was technical; we had to come up with seats for sixteen people. But there was a social intent that drove the design too,” he explained. They considered communal tables and other configurations for Timbertrain, ultimately coming up with one that affords guest to be “alone and together” at the same time. I know from my own experience that it subtly squeezes even the most focused workers into (at least) acknowledging the existence of their table mates, even steering some to – gasp – actual conversation (true story). It might seem awkward to some at first, but it’s not in the least bit uncomfortable. Try it out the next time you’re in Gastown. It’s a pretty unique arrangement, and one worth singling out for celebration.

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