Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
A local design icon is disappearing in alarming numbers.
Some people are so obsessed with Scandinavian design that they’d be prepared to beg, borrow, or steal to get their hands on whatever the latest coveted item is. In Copenhagen, someone seems to be doing just that. Across the Danish capital, thieves are targeting a local design icon—the classic Copenhagen bench. First introduced in the 1880s, the benches are one of those visual clues that Danish people instantly associate with Copenhagen, like the Wallace Fountains of Paris or the now defunct red telephone boxes of London.
Now they’re being wrenched from the streets at an alarming rate. So far in 2017, 45 benches have already been stolen, with at least two other attempts. Someone even removed the boards from one while leaving the frame, possibly to get replacement wood for a damaged bench already stolen.
This isn’t only annoying for Copenhageners who are out and about and want to sit down. With each bench costing 9,000 Danish Krone (a little over $1,400) to replace, the thefts risk becoming a real drain on the public purse. A few benches have always gone missing now and again, but the current scale is unlike anything in previous years. So why is the bench disappearing?
Well, it’s certainly an attractive design, albeit not in the minimal modernist way that is usually assumed to be stereotypically Scandinavian. An elegant, curvaceous seat with a Victorian look to its wrought iron swirls, the bench’s typical combination of dark gray metal and green boards looks somehow even better in moody, gray weather. The most likely destination of the stolen bench are private gardens, whose owners pick them up on the internet.
What makes this especially frustrating is that the benches are actually on sale commercially. One company selling them direct to the public, though the colors differ slightly from the usual combination of dark gray metal and green wood. It’s possible people are buying benches like these without realising it—at least that’s the line being taken by local police, who urge people to be suspicious of buying benches that show obvious wear or graffiti.
Personally, I’m not buying the idea that anyone is naïve enough to think a bench whose woodwork is covered in tags has come straight off the production line. Benches like these must be squirrelled away somewhere in the gardens of Denmark—or possibly elsewhere in Europe—and their new owners likely know where they came from. Let’s just hope they aren’t sitting on them too comfortably.