Friday, February 24, 2006

Just a stack of chairs

click photo to enlarge
"A chair is a very difficult object. A sky scraper is almost easier. That is why Chippendale is famous." Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, German-American architect (1886-1969)

If I asked you to visualise a cafe chair, the sort shown in this photograph is probably the type that would come to mind. This stacking aluminium chair (and variations on it) is becoming ubiquitous. It can be seen outside bistros, restaurants and cafes the world over. Who designed it? I don't know. Perhaps you can tell me!

If I'd asked the same question forty or fifty years ago the chair that would have leapt into your mind would have been Michel Thonet's bentwood design. His chair No.14 of 1855, with its circular wicker seat, curved back and ring of wood joining the four legs to give stability, was for a century or more the archetypal cafe chair across Europe, America and elsewhere. It was simple, strong, elegant, cheap and stackable.

Mies van der Rohe hit the nail on the head when he identified how hard it is to design a good chair. And that's perhaps the reason that early twentieth century designs by Mies himself, or Le Corbusier, or Eero Saarinen, or Charles Eames can still be bought today. It's also the reason that we often find ourselves shuffling in a chair, searching for a more comfortable position, because you see, it's very easy to design a bad chair!

I took this photograph of a stack of chairs outside a cafe in Poulton le Fylde, Lancashire because I liked the repeated curving lines of the arms/backs. The gleam of the aluminium also appealed to me, particularly the way it makes the photograph almost monochrome.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen