Canadian Architect


Sitting Pretty

While few achieve the iconic status of Mies' Barcelona chair or Frank Gehry's Crosscheck series, chairs continue to provide an important design sideline for architects.

October 1, 2001
by Marco Polo

Last month, the Salone Internazionale della Sedia (International Chair Exhibition) celebrated its 25th anniversary with a series of industry and cultural events in Udine, centre of the Friuli-Venezia-Giulia region in Italy’s extreme northeast. While Milan remains foremost in the North American consciousness as the centre of Italy’s prestigious furniture industry, Udine’s prodigious production has come to dwarf the output of the Lombard metropolis.

Promosedia, the industry organization that has been putting on the annual chair exhibition since 1977, is quick to provide statistics in support of the region’s claims to be the capital of chair production: annual figures have reached 44 million chairs, representing 80% of total Italian production, 50% of European production, and 30% of total world production of seating.

Judging from the majority of chairs exhibited in this year’s show, the focus of the industry is more on quality materials and construction than on innovative design. A wide variety of manufacturers seem to be offering similar product lines based on traditional designs that appeal to a wide market.

To encourage innovation, as part of the annual exhibition Promosedia organizes programs specifically targeted to reward more forward-looking design. This year, the fifth annual Ernesto Caiazza Ideas Competition for the Design of a European Chair attracted entries from across Europe in two categories: Students and Young Designers. All the student winners were from Italian and Austrian schools of architecture, while the young designers were more widely distributed around Europe: Austria, France, Germany, Spain and Sweden.

From among the student winners, an expandable wood-slat chair named One or Two? designed by Serenella Montenegro and Simona Palmas of the Rome-based Istituto Quasar found a balance between functional (if not aesthetic) innovation and realizability. One of the young designer category winners, Meltinwood by Frdric Imbert of Toulouse, combined two bentwood halves into a sensuous, almost suggestive whole.

Three chairs were honoured with CATAS awards, which recognize material innovation and technical performance. Interestingly, two of the three winners were by familiar names usually prized for their aesthetic innovation: Antonio Citterio’s Iuta chair for B&B Italia, and Philippe Starck’s Ero/s/ for Kartell. The Iuta’s body is formed in fine metal mesh, and the Ero/s/ combines a molded clear plastic seat and spindly-looking steel legs that refer to satellite dishes and lunar landing modules. The third winner, Hercules by A. Sibau’s in-house studio, was a traditional design incorporating very high quality construction details.

Design innovation is also recognized in the exhibition’s prestigious Chair of the Year Award, selected by visiting architects, designers and journalists from among the year’s Top Ten, previously established by a jury of experts. This year’s winner was Waves, designed by Jens Ring Bursche of Denmark for NatisonSedia of Udine. Part of NatisonSedia’s “Fun Collection”–“a reaction against the seriousness of traditional furniture,” according to the company’s literature–Waves is a folding chair made of molded post-consumer recycled plastic in a variety of colours. Sold in lots of four chairs, which come with a storage stand, the chair combines elegant lines, affordability, a clever storage strategy and a degree of material innovation–all measures of design ingenuity–that distinguished it from all other competitors.

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