History of the Modern Chair
The Modern Chair - A Design HistoryDesign, as any expression of civilization and culture, is not invented from nothing but is based on the philosophy and actions of those that came before us, and traces of these are conserved in our present-day design. If we consider design to be a language then in order to fully comprehend the full meening of forms, we must fist explore design's connections with the past in order to better understand the present.
The Rietveld Red Blue Chair (9) is the topic of the research [here] and is therefore placed in the center of the image above. It is the oldest chair represented here (1917) and is still on the market. The most recent design is the Wing Chair (3)
Bertoia was not the only designer around 1950 thinking about the possibilities of chairs in inexpensive wire mesh, Charles Eames and his wife Ray worked on a similar, even cheaper, model (note 1).These chairs are like webs floating in the air: visual lightness was searched for. The gradual transformation of the curves of the wire net reflects those of some mathematical three dimensional functions.
(2) Lounge Chair and Ottoman by Ray and Charles Eames
The famous of was designed in 1965 by Ray and Charles Eames. Starting as early as 1948 these two American designers worked with bent plywood. They even had their own factory for a short period of time.This chair is probably one of the most comfortable chairs ever made. Eames has assigned in this chair a separate component to every single function, such as a backrest, a seat, a headrest, connecting joints between parts, the five legged support, etc. This has led to the assumption that this chair is a typical expression of American functionalism. The more accurate definition as organic design underlines the flowing form of the elements. Even more precisely we recognize the application of a Hamilton curve, a continuous curve around each part. Such a curve divides the form in two nesting shells.
One half is the active, bearing part, the other is the passive, supported, part. A Hamilton curve divides for example a tennis ball. Eames elegantly solved many technical problems in his products such as the flexible joint between plywood and dye cast parts, the zipper connection between the leather skin and the fiberboard back of the different cushions, and the fixing of the upholstery to the plywood shells.
(3) The Wing Chair by Toshiyuki Kita
The Wing Chair by Kita does not really belong to the Modern Movement Design Classics but represents here its evolution.
In this example we can see that the legs, be it one central column with five feet, as in Eames' Lounge Chair, or the four traditional legs that support most easy chairs such as the Red blue Chair of Rietveld, or two bent pipes, as in Breuer's Wassily Chair, are not fundamental or essential for the definition of the category of Modern Classic Easy Chairs. The general definition of the product sector should therefore rather identify the inclined sitting posture as defined by Kita's Wing Chair.
In one important aspect the Wing Chair differs from other easy chairs: it is somewhat lower. This corresponds to the more relaxed sitting posture of modern, young people and not accidentally it also makes referrence to the sitting habits of orientals. Thus the height of the weight bearing point, (a triangle in the drawing), is [a function of the whole design] in Modern Easy Chairs, rather than being definitive [of the the genre]. The softness and the elasticity of the upholstery, though important to comfort, is also not considered essential as we can see in the Rietveld Red Blue Chair.
Mies is practically a synonym for The Bauhaus. This chair is the result of the current Bauhaus research for the use of new materials and consequently new forms in furniture design.
The famous Barcelona Chair was developed by Mies for the German Pavillon on the World Fair from 1929. This chair is practically the elected symbol of the Modern Movement. In spite of the mass appeal of Barcelona Chairs, they actually can not be mass produced at all.
(5) Eileen Gray, at the intersection between luxury and simplicity
Eileen Gray designed in 1927 this comfortable chair in dark green or red lacquered wood (in the Japanese Wajima technique), chromium plated joints and leather inspired by deck chairs used on transatlantic steamers. The back-rest is adjustable for extra comfort.
It is, as with so many designs from the Modern Movement not really suited for economic mass production, the lacquered wood and the cushions, similar to the upholstery of Mies' Lounge Chair, can only be realized by artisanal production techniques.
Marcel Breuer gave this chair from 1928 the name of his friend and teaching collegue, Wassily Kandinsky. A most elementary transparent form became possible in the age of massive grandfather armchairs. Visual lightness was achieved by this typical Breuer Bauhaus design of an easy chair in bent steel pipe. The broad black leather strips give it a touch of luxury. This armchair is an example of a so called minimax solution: the best use of the specific character of material and form of each element in order to obtain both light weight and maximum strength. Breuer distinguishes in fact between elements that best resist compression, i.e.the tubular frame and those that best resist traction, i.e the leather strips. Examples of minimax solutions abound both in nature, For example in bones, seeds or leaves, and in technical objects, like kites, dinghies and tents.
Generally we find, even if we can not explain the reason, that the form of products that result from the application of the minimax criteria are aesthetically very satisfying. The distribution of forces in structures is one of the arguments of bionics, the interdisciplinary science that studies materials and processes in nature with the intention to apply them in technical products and processes.
(7) Lounge Chair by Le Corbusier
The inclination of Le Cobusier's Lounge Chair by, can be regulated by sliding the supporting rail on its base. Also the headrest can be positioned. The rather narrow cowhide covered cushion offers minimal comfort. The Lounge Chair by Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand from 1928.
The sitting position can be gradually transformed into a sleeping position not unlike the seats of todays astronauts in space capsules. The lack of armrests, actually the most delicate part in the design of chairs in general, is a severe limit to the comfort of this Chaise Longue.
(8) Rietveld's red blue chair analyzed
The iconic Red Blue Chair was designed in 1917 and is still in production by Cassina.
This chair, as a whole, is a sign among other signs. ... This semiotic object, the actual design product, contains in itself ... many connotations such as the intentions of the designer, the commercial and social implications, etc...
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF COLORS All the colors of this chair obey the dogma of DE STIJL, as dictated by its founder, Theo van Doesburg and members like Piet Mondriaan, Bart van der Leck and others, that is the exclusive colors to be used should be red, blue, yellow or black, gray and white. Mondriaan writes in 1917, (in the same year the Red Blue Chair was designed)
In abstract art, primary colors imply color in its most basic aspect. Primary color thus appears very relative - the principal thing is for color to be free of individuality and individual sensations, and to give expression only to the serene emotion of the universal..
The frame is black, befitting its supporting function as unobtrusively as possible, being supporting cast to the main actors, the seat and backrest. We can see this in the japanese puppet theater Bunraku, where puppets are manipulated by men in black clothes whome the public pretends not to see, on the background of a black curtain.
The cutting edge of the single frame rods are yellow, indicating (as he explained to us) the truncation of their virtual extension on the three space axes into un endlessness.
The armrests belong to the same category as the parts which comprise the frame: horizontal, black with yellow cutting edges. For Rietveld they contribute more, to the implied stability of the structure, rather than to the comfort of the chair.
The seat is blue, a color associated with horizontally, passivity and the feminine.
The backrest is red, a color indicating verticality, aggressiveness and the masculine.
As often in semantics, our search for meaning in Rietveld's formal expressions reveals an apparent traditional social pattern suggesting that the fundamentals of human culture are reducible to a few schematic polar categories. This, by the way, is also a fundamental critism of current marketing: to reduce variety of phenomena's of reality, albeit in the interest of product planning, to a few traditional categories like male female, young - not so young, poor - rich, etc., This is not likely to produce consistent affection for the planned products in potential users because reality is far more complex.
The Floating Image
This virtual invisibility of the black supporting frame has the effect, certainly envisaged by Rietveld, of an apparent weightless suspension of the colored seat and backrest. He thus achieved an impression of the main ergonomic elements floating in space.