Benches these days come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Add the element of decorative concrete to the mix and practically anything is possible. Take the cluster of benches that graces the courtyard of the Stamp Student Union at the University of Maryland – College Park, for instance. They resemble a turtle’s shell … specifically a testudo, a diamondback terrapin that’s the university’s mascot.
The testudo benches, designed by Floura Teeter Landscape Architects, made from GFRC (glass fiber reinforced concrete) create the bench. The top of the bench is exotic ipe hardwood from South America. They range in weight from 200 to 300 pounds. Eight benches comprise the shell formation while an additional five curve around part of the courtyard’s perimeter.
“We were really pleased with how well the ipe tops and concrete bottoms came together,” says Greg Hryniewicz, owner of Hyde Concrete in Pasadena, Maryland. The company built the benches in 2019. His fabricator made the wooden tops with CNC templates. To complete the center pedestrian portion, his company cast four oversized matching concrete pavers.
Extruded polystyrene foam cut with hot wire made the single-use forms for the concrete bodies.
“Technically, our hot wire cutter is only capable of cutting two dimensions of foam and we needed to have a three-dimensional shape,” Hryniewicz says. “We overcame this challenge by fabricating different templates to use as guides. As a result, this allowed us to cut the bevels in the bench faces by hand using a homemade hot wire cutter.”
These bevels on the vertical faces give the benches a customized elegant look. “The finish on the pieces has a nice tactile feeling to it. It is a light acid etch that gives a very clean but textured surface,” he says.
Merging the overall vision with the landscape grading in a way that preserved the design intent that ensured the eight benches fit together cohesively was probably the project’s biggest challenge, Hryniewicz added.
“Every architect we have shown these photos to greatly appreciates the clever use of concrete for this application,” he says.