Written by Pablo Lopez, Senior Architect at AGi architects, Polytechnic University of Madrid PhD, Architecture.
The chair has emerged in the twentieth century as the architecture’s preferred design object: almost all of the worthy of mention architects of modernity have designed one or several chairs and have poured upon their designs its distinctive mark or the spirit of an age or a concrete movement. Peter Smithson came to catalogued it as the most friendly object of design more -according to him, its shape is closer to the one of a pet that to a piece of furniture- in front of the bed, whose consideration was diametrically opposed.
But beyond the interest as an object of pure design, the chair has been a recurring exercise in architecture as anticipatory element of the proposals on a larger scale and interiors of the future. Given its immediacy and direct work, without intermediaries the chair has been established as condensed and visionary sample of the architecture to come and new material market opportunities, fixed long before the actual buildings.
At the last Milano Salone del Mobile celebrated last April, the New York gallery Friedman Benda together with the Japanese furniture company Nendo Inc. presented the choral piece “50 Manga chairs”. An installation of stainless steel chairs whose official presentation took place at the Basilica Minore di San Simpliciano and that will make its American premiere in a solo exhibition to be held in September at the gallery premises at the Chelsea neighbourhood.
The chairs, despite of being presented in the context of a furniture fair, transcend the mere condition of useful object to become an art piece by itself capable, from this new reading, to offer us more clues about the current architectural context that any pure objet product of industrial design. This is revealing insofar as the object is clear from the useful art category to assume a merely rhetorical charge without any reluctance. The semantics seems definitely imposed on the syntax in all fields, on all scales.
The piece, let’s describe it, consists of a grid of stainless steel chairs graphically inspired by comics. With the existing manga drawing abstraction physical and tangible aspects such as color or texture are as far as possible deliberately avoided. By contrast, the models are completely mirror finish: the manga generates new spatial layers as do the surface of a mirror reflecting the real world. The chairs are happy, anxious, embarrassed, surprised, jumping, making a zoom to the past, or slowly slipping away. Each of its configurations avoids any formalization associated with a particular use, and simply generates a story
These chairs do not need to be referenced to any material condition as a sign of its time. Unlike its colleagues in the past are not daughters of a technique that it need to make visible as that Adler bike in the case of Marcel Breuer, the post-war Eames industry or configuration of the Smithsons‘ Egg chair as a plastic replica of the Citroën DS seat. Its time is the one of the technology, a substitute of the art, aseptic and impossible to be materially visualized. Is it representative of our time how an iPhone is constructed or how the Google search engine is configured or rather its implications in the culture? Its contemporaneity is precisely that it does not contract any debt with the processes, but only with its consequences.
What these chairs and its precedents have in common, in this time lapse of nearly 60 years is the fact of being like the thermometer for an architectural period. The form is no longer the search of the strict compliance with a function, or at least a representation of it, but simply conductor of meanings. It’s exactly that what we find in contemporary architects who are opening in a more accurate way the path of future ways: the works of the British Caruso St John, the Swiss Valerio Oligiati, the Barozzi Veiga studio or Japanese Sou Fujimoto and Junya Ishigami talk about the new role of architecture as a semantic container devoid of any sobering responsibility. The architecture more than ever, in the manner of those 50 chairs on Milan, becomes once again a pure symbol as a reason for being.