Update to an earlier posting!

The results of the One Good Chair competition came in, and if I had a greater attention span, I might have caught this a year ago. The winning entries are a bit dull, though the runners up are pretty cool. I particularly enjoyed Catherine Pena’s design for bus stop chairs. Simple, practical, not based on some reified notion of proper ergonomics. I think what most appealed to me was her presentation, which consisted of a few photos of the prototype in action, and a few pencil drawings :

This is such a welcome departure from the usual design boards which feature ultra-clean, computer-generated renderings with as many colors, font sizes, and unintentionally comical fake people as can be crammed on the board. Pena’s images, for all their simplicity, have warmth and craftsmanship in them. From a purely technical perspective (on which I am grossly unqualified to comment), it seems like the prototype might need to be beefed up a bit to endure more wear and tear. The design also makes it so that at least one of the two seats is facing away from traffic, making it hard to see a coming bus. You could sit facing the street, but then you have no backrest and a passing biker might graze your legs. Still, I like it.

It seems, however, that the competition will be back for another year. This time, it’s cultural.

The introduction to this year’s competition takes a very different track than the last. Suddenly, sustainability emerges from culture rather than form:

How we sit relates more to culture than anatomy, and many cultures are chair-free. Gandhi sat on the floor as a way to resist “Westernization” and honor local customs. The hammock originated 1,000 years ago in migratory cultures of Central America—woven from the bark of the Hamack tree, it traveled light, floated above the ground to fend off insects, and breathed in the humid air.

The challenge, as stated on the website, is to “design an original chair that embodies and enhances a particular place.” It should embody such things as identity of place, indigenous materials, and culturally determined notions of comfort. There is also a substantially expanded set of jurors for this competition.

I will be curious to see how explicitly entrants seek to link indigeneity and sustainability. I think this linkage a bit more complicated than is typically acknowledged. In a very mechanical sense, there are green arguments to be made for sourcing local materials for furniture. But this competition declares that a successful design “should stimulate a tangible sense of belonging to its cultural and natural context.” Arguably, that tangible belonging comes out of use rather than design. The declaration that the “low tilt of the Adirondacks Chair” emerged as a reflection of “the mountainous terrain of upper New York State” makes me laugh a bit. But we’ll find out in September. I’m hoping a couple of entrants might connect chair forms with specific historical practices, and explore that. I also hope a few of the designs are done by hand instead of tiresome 3ds Max rendering. Wouldn’t it be nice if a design was done in gouache? Or maybe clay?

You all better watch out. One of these days, I might get off my soapbox and enter one of these competitions myself…

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