Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Chair

The latest in the series of Café Scientifique talks was quirkily named “The chair - Just somewhere to sit?” and was presented by Clive Edwards, Professor of Design History from Loughborough University (School of the Arts)

Prof Edwards described how their was much more to a chair than just a place to sit, pointing out that they were also used for ceremonial, travel and other uses - and that other parts of the world used other ways (such as squatting or sitting cross legged ) of relieving pressure on the legs.

He then described four ways in which a chair could be viewed, namely :

Authority / Status : Consider the use of “Kings Throne”, “University Seat” or “Judges Bench” as examples of how specific types of chair have particular stus.

Identity : Consider how what the type of chair we buy says about us.

Discipline / Domination : For example, the use of the “electric chair” and the lack of chairs in Victorian prisons.

Comfort / Relaxation : Consider what shape of chair is comfortable, and the use of ergonomics to design comfortable chairs.

Prof Edwards went on to point out that Humans were not really designed for sitting in chairs and that it was only really in the 17th-19th centuries - with the advent of mass transit - that any significant thought was given to the ergonomics of chair design.

He also commented on how the genders prefer different types of chair, with males preferring tilting chairs while females prefer rocking chairs and added that one of the most ergonomic chairs (if not necessarily the most practical) was the “womb chair” which had been designed based on the observation that women often side curled up with their legs beneath them

Womb Chair


To close out his talk, he mentioned that “The Chair” by Galen Cranz was an interesting book on the subject if people wanted to research further.

However, arguably the best bits of the event came in the Q&A session that followed….

In answer to a question about how long metal chairs had been in existence, Prof Edwards mentioned that the Romans had made a folding (!) bronze chair, of which an example survives and is known as “Dagoberts Throne

Throne of Dagobert


Dagobert? That is a name that BFTF is sure he has heard before. . .



In response to a question about the most ergonomic chair, the Prof mentioned the Balans Chair, in which one kneels (although the weight is still supported largely through the buttocks)

Kneeling Chair


Incidentally, there is also a chair known as a “saddle chair” that aims to improve posture in a similar way. The Wikipedia entry states that the chair seat is either solid or divided and that, winningly, “A divided seat reduces pressure on the genitals and lowers the temperature in the genital area.”

(Genital Friendly) Saddle Chair


One of the audience commented that they had been given a very expensive chair at work, only to find it rather uncomfortable, and had switched to an £11 chair from IKEA which he found much better, and now uses a big rubber ball, which is the most comfortable of all, and allows him to move around his workspace easily. However, he is now working at home and wonders whether a big rubber ball would have been allowed at the office.

A rich vein of discussion was found in the topic of “chairs that are not comfortable” - and it seemed that architects were particular culprits of this crime, with (expensive) chairs from Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Frank Lloyd Wright being mentioned, as was the 19th century Astley Cooper Deportment chair, which was designed to correct childrens posture - but was actually often used as a “naughty chair” in schools because it was not comfortable and did not allow children to slouch or move around.

Charles Remy Mackintosh Chair


On the other hand, some timeless, and very comfortable chairs discussed were the traditional wooden Windsor and Bentwood chairs, with 50million Bentwood chairs produced between 1859 and 1930. Another comfortable chair, and one that give the person using it a feeling of power is the “Barcelona Chair”, so called because it was designed for the Barcelona exhibition.

Bentwood Chair


Barcelona Chair


As a parting comment at the end of the event, Prof Edwards mentioned that “The Chair Blog” was a place worth visiting to see more about chair design, adding that it did contain quite a few chairs whose primary purpose seemed to be to look unusual.

Image Sources Womb Chair, Throne of Dagobert, Kneeling Chair, Saddle Chair, Charles Remy Mackintosh Chair, Windsor Chair, Barcelona Chair

1 comment:

  1. a big yes for the large rubber ball (though not for all day usage).

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