Elisava students create armrests with recycled materials to help the benches in TMB metro stations become more accessible

02 Apr 2023
Exhibition in the Diagonal metro for TMB

Students from Elisava’s Degree in Design and Degree in Industrial Design Engineering, under the strategic direction of Barcelona Design Centre’s (BcD) innovation unit, have promoted a co-creation pilot project focused on the design and creation of armrests to be used on the benches of Barcelona’s metro platforms for Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona (TMB). The initiative, which is part of TMB’s innovation area, TMBinnova and the Accessibility service, was created to provide an object that makes metro stations more accessible for people with functional diversity, and is an opportunity to respond to the Spanish royal decree-law and Catalonia’s new accessibility decree (pending publication), which makes it compulsory to install this type of element.

The project is also part of a circular economy process promoted by TMBinnova to make use of recycled elements from buses that are no longer in service. This adds value to TMB’s objectives in terms of sustainability, giving a second useful life to some of the components of vehicles that are being scrapped. Furthermore, the installation of this co-creation element comes together with the installation of ischiatic seats, elements that allow users to rest their lower back and that are also in line with the Universal Accessibility service of Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona by improving the comfort of passengers and Metro maintenance teams.

The armrests

The armrests are intended to give a new use to discarded products, as they are made from the stainless-steel tubes of buses that have already been withdrawn from service. Industrial processes have been minimised in the manufacturing process, ensuring sustainability and a minimal ecological footprint. This prototype is universal, ergonomic and can be adapted to all benches of the Barcelona metro network, regardless of the type of bench – there are several types of benches. The armrests are made of 30-gauge steel tubes to prevent deterioration and vandalism, are non-porous (anti-graffiti) and do not transmit stray currents. The armrest profile is rounded, as it is more comfortable for the user, and has a rough surface to facilitate gripping.

Two armrests will be installed on each bench at a distance of 50 cm from each other, allowing users to lean on and use them to sit down or stand up. The design has been created with the ergonomics of the user’s hand in mind, and the prototypes are located on the benches aligned with the doors of the corresponding coaches for users with reduced mobility. Nine Elisava students from the Degree in Design and the Degree in Industrial Design Engineering took part in this project, tutored by lecturers Salva Fàbregas and Tona Monjo; Eugènia Marti, director of the Innovation Department of the Barcelona Design Centre, and the TMB innovation, accessibility and user departments.

Ischiatic seats

Along with the aforementioned co-creation process, TMB has started another process within the framework of accessibility plans, which also includes circular economy as one of its principles. It involves the manufacture and installation of ischiatic seats in stations, models that allow lumbar support in these spaces. As with the armrests, the ischiatic seats have been made from bars and sheets from the interior of disused buses, in this case from the 3 300 and 3 400 series. A total of eight seats have been manufactured, with two different designs corresponding to two models of different heights.

A pilot test

Metro users can now test and make use of the armrests at L1 Universitat and La Sagrera stations. The pilot test will run for six months to validate the prototypes prior to their industrialisation and implementation across the entire Barcelona metro network, and will be used to test the users’ opinion by means of online surveys, QR codes near the installed elements and field surveyors.

At Universitat station, the elements will be located at the head and tail end of the train, situated at the front of the platform and following the trains’ direction of travel, where the accessible area is signposted. At La Sagrera, on the other hand, the elements will be located in the seats at the ends of the platform and in the available spaces near the head of the train, following the direction of travel, where the accessible area is signposted. In addition, and given that this station has a central platform, a set of armrests will be placed on a bench located in this area.

Travelling exhibition

With the aim of presenting the co-creation project to the public and explaining its process, conclusions and results, Barcelona Design Centre and Elisava have produced a travelling exhibition that can be visited at three locations owned by the participating entities. The DHUB (Disseny Hub Barcelona), home to the Barcelona Design Centre, will host this exhibition from December 20, with a focus on the concept of designing an armrest for all people (universal design) and under circular design criteria (cradle to cradle).

The exhibition can be visited in this space until January 29 and will then move to TMB’s Espai Mercè Sala, where it will remain from February 6 to April 6. From April 13 until May 12, 2023, the exhibition will be on display at the Atrium Space of the Elisava Faculty of Design and Engineering of Barcelona.