Most of our conscious life is spent sitting. Whether at a computer, eating meals, reading or watching television, we all use chairs. Remarkably, chairs are also one of the most difficult forms of design to master, having to be both innovative and comfortable. Not surprisingly, renowned architects have designed some of the world’s best selling chairs. These include Le Corbusier, the Bauhaus designers, Florence Knoll, Charles and Ray Eames and Arne Jacobsen. Today, through mass production, these pieces of art are affordable and accessible for many people. They are arguably the most useable and tactile forms of sophisticated applied art or design.
One of the earliest and most prolific chair designers, also known as a pioneer of modern architecture, was Le Corbusier. Born Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris on 6 October 1887 in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, Le Corbusier’s family were watchmaker artists. His pseudonym arose in 1917 in Paris as his architecture career was developing. Le Corbusier only began experimenting with furniture design in 1928 for his various commissioned houses. Unlike previous designers, Le Corbusier focused on the human body. This led him to find the ideal proportions of modernist architecture in 1945, which he called the Modulor.
Le Corbusier’s first chair designs, released in 1929 for the Salon d’Automne installation, ‘Equipment for the Home’, include LC1, LC2, LC3 and LC4. His renowned LC1 sling chair consists of a thin seat made of animal fur in a reclined position supported by a chrome plated steel cube frame. His sofas LC2 and LC3, also known as Cushion Baskets, continue the cube theme. They are made of square inserts forming the cube shape covered by animal fur, all contained within a soft curved edged chromed steel pipe frame, forming the supports and hidden legs. LC4, known as the long chair, is the most innovative in the range, with the seat moulded to the shape of a human with knees slightly bent and a cylindrical head rest. The animal skin seat is supported by a curved chrome plated steel pipe which lies invisibly supported by a black steel base. This design allows the incline of the seat to be adjusted for comfort. As all of these designs have seats made of flexible and soft animal skins and with shapes supporting the human body, they are comfortable for the occupant.
One underlying theme of Le Corbusier’s modernist designs is the use of chromed and black steel for supports and animal skin upholstery. Visually, contrast between these organic and inorganic textures creates conflict within the design and defines the seating area away from the harsh inorganic metal. This conflict is further emphasised by colour, with typically warm and vibrant leathers and fur colours contrasted by the coldness of the steel. When seated in his furniture on the animal skin one gets a sense of embracement and warmth, which is due to the contrast between being on the organic material, yet surrounded by the unforgiving coldness of the chrome plated steel.
Not only are the colour and texture combinations visually inviting, but also is the line. Vertical lines can be seen in the steel supports, which create a sense of strength, while horizontal and straight lines give the emotional quality of calmness and are abundantly evident in the seat, seat back and the steel frames. Slightly curving lines, found particularly in the LC4 steel frame and headrest, add to the feeling of calmness and restfulness. Overall, this combination of lines emphasise a feeling of calm.
Overall the most important elements of Le Corbusier’s chairs are line, colour and texture. These, along with the extreme comfort of the materials, make his designs so appealing. Although today the comfort and simplicity of Le Corbusier’s chairs is understood, these designs would have been extremely avant-garde in their time, when the popular styles would have relied heavily on hard timber surfaces and straight lines or overstuffed and heavy shapes. Yet still, his furniture’s understated simplicity is unrivalled in today’s market.
Although furniture designs of the Bauhaus designers, including their iconic Cantilever Chair, are considered to precede those of Le Corbusier’s, Le Corbusier’s revolutionary design career is equally influential. Together with the Bauhaus designers, Le Corbusier was just the beginning of a flood of modernist furniture designs with whom we are now familiar. Following Le Corbusier, in a similar vein of modernist furniture design, was Florence Knoll in the late 1940s, best known for her Armchairs. These innovations set the tone for Charles and Ray Eames in the 1950s, who designed the iconic Lounge Chair, followed by Arne Jacobsen in the late 1950s with his Swan and Egg chairs.
With the advent of mass production and the popularity of replicas, designer chair copies can be purchased for not much more than standard chairs, making a piece of design accessible to the average person. This however has divided opinion. It can be said that these once iconic signature items are now affordable and appreciated by the average person in the home and office environments. On the other hand, large companies producing cheap, low quality replicas are essentially stealing profits and devaluing originals. Either way, these designs not only provide comfort, but also beauty and luxury to the owner and are used as a statement of discerning taste.
Design art has departed from the iconic to the ubiquitous. Although these practical pieces were designed for only the wealthy few who could afford them, they now grace the homes and offices of the ordinary person. In so doing tactile and functional art design has enhanced lifestyle.
Le Corbusier, LC1.
Le Corbusier, LC3.
Charles and Ray Eames, Lounge Chair.
Arne Jacobsen, Egg.
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Design Museum, ‘Charlotte Perriand’, n.d. Retrieved 10 March 2013 from http://designmuseum.org/design/charlotte-perriand
Foundation Le Corbusier, ‘Biography’, n.d. Retrieved 10 March 2013, from http://www.fondationlecorbusier.fr/corbuweb/morpheus.aspx?sysId=15&IrisO...
Foundation Le Corbusier, ‘Le Modulor, Not located, 1945’, n.d. Retrieved 25 October 2013, from http://www.fondationlecorbusier.fr/corbuweb/morpheus.aspx?sysId=13&IrisO...
www.designbuild-network.com, ‘Le Corbusier – The Art of Architecture’, 2012. Retrieved 10 February 2013, from http://www.designbuild-network.com/features/feature54191/feature54191-5....