A new book published by Gyldendal in August 2009 brings together contributions from a number of Danish design researchers, addressing what it is that makes the chair such a unique design object. The themes cover a wide range, and chair design concerns us all because it makes a big difference in our everyday life, as one of the book’s editors puts it.
By Anna Krarup Jensen
The book Design: Stolen (Design: The Chair) introduces the reader to the history, design and possibilities of the chair through the ages. The main focus is on the industrial chair over the past 150 years. Through an array of ten topics, design researchers guide the reader to a greater understanding of the chair and its importance.
Lars Dybdahl is an associate professor at the University of Copenhagen and has co-edited the book together with Ida Engholm, associate research professor at the Danish Centre for Design Research. He explains why they have chosen to focus on the chair and its design in this new anthology:
“For millennia, the chair has been the piece of furniture that is closest to man. Other pieces of furniture – for example bookcases and tables – store or support objects, but people are directly in contact with chairs. So the design of the chair follows the human anatomy and proportions, and it’s interesting to study how chair design has developed,” he says.
|In the book Design: Stolen design researchers take the readers on a far-flung journey of chair design through the ages. The main emphasis is on the past 150 years, but future chairs as well as chairs that predate this period are also subjected to examination. Featured here are an older American rocking chair and a future chair, Karim Rashid’s new Blobulous Chair. |
Copyright: The Hans Christian Andersen Museum/Odense City Museums and Karim Rashid
The book consists of texts by Danish design researchers at universities, design schools and museums. Anne-Louise Sommer, associate professor and head of research at The Danish Design School, writes about industrial aesthetics from the avant-garde chair design of the 1920s and 30s until today’s postmodern design.
“In the early 1900s, industrial products were perceived as aesthetic. Everything that came off an assembly line was beautiful. That view is reflected in the chair design of the period, as designers were expected to give the new technology and the new production methods an aesthetic appearance,” she says, and continues:
“Designers work consciously with the effects at their disposal and address the design that characterises the current time.”
Anne-Louise Sommer points out that cultural trends leave their mark on contemporary furniture design.
“There is an ongoing exchange between culture and design. Cultural trends provide input for the design process and the design object, which in turn affect contemporary culture,” she explains.
Another chapter in the book addresses modern and future chairs. Here, Ph.D. scholar Pernille Stockmarr from the Danish Centre for Design Research points out that we are now able to accomplish constructions that were impossible for previous generations to carry out.
“Designers are no longer inhibited by the limitations previously imposed by the use of fixed moulds in production. Now, among other things we use flexible moulds that were originally developed for the entertainment industry, for example in animated cartoons. We are witnessing a fireworks of soft amorphous and extravagant aerodynamic forms that abandon the conventional construction of the chair and which are made feasible by the new production technology,” says Pernille Stockmarr.
It is Anne-Louise Sommer’s experience that the general population has a tremendous interest in furniture design. With her contribution on design history in the book, she wants to offer the general public qualified knowledge and a broader understanding of chair design.
“The reader will be able to develop a new perspective on the nature of chairs. A chair is not just a piece of seating furniture; it also tells a long story about production conditions, branding, technology and ideology,” she says.
Lars Dybdahl emphasises that chairs are used as identity-building objects today, which makes it essential to understand what they express.
“Previously, it was good taste to stuff one’s home full of technology. Today, technology is less prominent, so we see a new way of staging the home where the chair plays a key, identity-building role,” he explains.
Pernille Stockmarr agrees and points to the many home design shows on TV as well as the wide selection of books and magazines on design and lifestyle as part of the explanation.
“The chair has become fashionable and an essential component in the lifestyle society. It should express who we are, and seating comfort, price and properties are far from the only selection criteria. The chair has become a showpiece,” she says.
Lars Dybdahl also underscores the importance of communicating design research to a wider audience through books such as Design: Stolen. A similar book, Design: Køkkenet (Design: The Kitchen) about the cultural history of kitchens, was published by Gyldendal in 2008, also edited by Lars Dybdahl and Ida Engholm.
“Design researchers should take part in the general opinion formation concerning design. They should have a purpose with their research to enable it to interact with its environment and suggest avenues for change. Design history places the present into a historical framework, for example with regard to various types of technology and developmental possibilities,” he says, adding
“The book is written for a Danish audience, but it also has a strong component of global cultural history, technological history, etc.”
|The book addresses a wide array of topics. Examples include organic shapes, office chairs, design history, future possibilities and chair design in the public space, as exemplified by these chairs from the Copenhagen Concert Hall. |
Photo: DR (Danish Broadcasting Corporation) / Agnete Schlichtkrull
The broad thematic sweep of the book also challenges the monographic approach to design, says Lars Dybdahl, as the book is not limited to elitist design.
“Design is not only about artistic personalities. It’s just as much about production and consumption, representation and identity – to mention but a few aspects. Design researchers in Denmark operate with a broad design concept, which is not fixated on individuals. The book’s ten themes incorporate the electric chair, a barber’s chair and a Brazilian begging chair, so we really do take a broad and inclusive approach to the topic,” he says.
Facts about the book
Design: Stolen (Design: The Chair) is edited by Lars Dybdahl, associate professor at the University of Copenhagen, and Ida Engholm, associate research professor at the Danish Centre for Design Research.
The texts are written by
The book is published in August 2009 by Gyldendal. It is in Danish only. To mark the release, the Danish Centre for Design Research will host a reception that is to be announced on the DCDR web site under Events.