Statements, Materials and Technology: Contemporary Chairs and Movements

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Statements, Materials and Technology: Contemporary Chairs and Movements

A designer once made

the perfect chair

so perfect was it

that it was not there

He boasted about its immaculate

form and use

so righteous that it changed

with his flux of thought

A faultless chair was all concepts

evolving at once

but a faultless chair cannot exist

he announced

See! Though a faulty chair

might not be perfect

at least a faulty chair is … there.

-Cheshire Cat- (Wall 1994)

Chan Kah Hoe


Reactions and rebellions against the established academia of the generation has brought forth some of the greatest thinkers and advances in science and technology, stretching back to that Renaissance scientists and artists, Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo, through to the Classicist doctrine of the 18th century. This linear progression marks the growth of human civilization. Experimentation of the new to establish an alternative to tradition has been a driving force in our progress as a species. More specifically, the hunt for newer, more effective materials to work with defines civilizations. Think the Stone Age through to the Bronze Age; the Industrial Revolution that marked the beginning of our obsession with mass production. This essay would chronicle the evolution of furniture of the past 70 years, beginning with the modern movement of the 1930s through post-modernism of the 1960s and concluding with the emergence of supermodernism in the 1990s with a focus on the influences of materials and new technology on industrial design.

Modernism emerged in the 1930s, influenced by the Bauhaus design principles instituted by its founder, Walter Gropius. Stark, simple forms colored in the primary colors of red, blue and yellow were key elements in a time when Adolf Loos declared, “Ornament is crime”. A component the Bauhaus design philosophy, the form must follow the dictates of function and industrial mechanization, was to become a fundamental tenet of the Modern Movement (Fiell 1991). The movement gained an even stronger foothold after the war, developing an architectural style that was to be internationally applicable, to not be constraint by cultural or geographical boundaries - International Style had arrived. Modernity, internationalism and a strong corporate culture met; stark glass and steel buildings decorated with equally austere De Stijl paintings that were to become offices, hotels and skyscrapers were built all over the world (Ibeling 1998). Whatever their design accomplishments, one could argue that their influence was as much the result of their writing and theoretical work. Le Corbusier's notions of the house “as a machine for living” and Mies van der Rohe’s powerfully succinct “Less is more” have become part of our cultural vernacular.

Furniture in particular would represent the greatest step away from previously established styles. New technology and materials gave designers a whole new field in which to create. Most popular during this time would’ve been the introduction of tubular steel and molded plywood. Tubular steel chairs, such as Marcel Breuer’s Wassily chair, also known as the Club Chair Model B3 were introduced to the interiors of domestic spaces. Prior to this chair, metal furniture was reserved strictly for commercial buildings. Charles Eduoard Jeanneret, better known as Le Corbusier, co-designed Grand Comfort with Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Jeanneret in 1928. Even though the heavily stuffed upholstery drew influence from Art Deco, the tubular steel frame maintains a sense of modernity. Charlotte Perriand stated “metal plays the same part in furniture as cement has done in architecture. It is a revolution. If we use metal in conjunction with leather for chairs… we get a range of wonderful combinations and new aesthetic effects.” (Russell 1980). The introduction of tubular steel as a viable production material allowed for mass-produced lightweight designs. Tubular steel also accommodated for reduced designs that follow in Modern principles. Breuer’s chair is an excellent example; clean lines with reduced surfaces devoid of padding. The chair’s exposed construction and structural clarity also implies a clear and direct connection between raw materials and the finished product, yet presents a paradox of visual weightlessness.

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Marcel Breuer                                                           Gerald Summers

Wassily Chair 1928                                           ...

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