Thoughts on a Chair [Expanded]

said by: Caroline Bozzi

furniture collection fabricated and designed by: John Arnaud and Ben Romero


In the spirit of full disclosure, I will start by stating that I wrote some thoughts about this chair that John designed and then realized that I can’t publish those exact thoughts. Hear me out:  

John finished building this chair last semester and it has since, been sitting in studio. One day I realized, nobody sits in that chair and I was like, “that poor chair.” Over time, I continued to admire this chair and every day, I slowly picked up on more and more details. At first, I noticed the color. Then, I noticed the nails that were exposed but, countersunk. Then, I recognized the structure from another chair John designed and I thought, “he has a type...” Then I observed the way it appears so soft and yet so orthogonal – which let me to discover where it actually curves and how intentional those curves are. I thought it was clever. And then for a few weeks, I was on a mission to find other orthogonal-like things (because the chair doesn’t make perfect 90 degree angles to be clear) that appeared to be so soft… in a way that I didn’t notice the thing was even orthogonal. I landed on Marcel Breuer’s, B3 Chair.

“In 1925 the architect and designer Marcel Breuer unveiled a chair which he touted as the world's first soberly logical solution to 'the problem of sitting.' Every part of the B3 chair was the result, he explained, of an intensive effort to banish 'the whimsical in favour of the rational.' The B3’s seat and back were made of leather for durability; its offset angular shape was the inevitable answer to the needs of the human vertebrae; and its steel frame, because it was a hundred times stronger than wood, would never splinter or chip.

But Breuer’s attempt to make a scientific case for his chair could not breach an impregnable reality; while it may be necessary to resort to specific materials and forms when constructing a bridge, there is no corresponding technical need to limit one’s imagination in designing a piece of living-room furniture, which must merely support the weight of a human body and so can be built of curved steel but also as happily of oak, bamboo, plastic or fiberglass. A chair can equally well satisfy its modest brief in the guise of a B3, a Queen Anne or a Windsor armchair. Science alone cannot tell us how our seats should look..”¹

I am not going to dive too far into comparing and contrasting these two different masterpieces as I am not prepared to dive into the intricacies of modernism. The chairs are more different than they are similar. John’s chair is nostalgic for the park bench. I had a feeling John’s chair was meant to satisfy some other state of the soul as it is everything that modernist furniture wasn’t. I concluded this from the following: 

(1) I have never seen anyone sit in it - therefore it must not be after solving 'the problem of sitting.’ And... (2) who is looking to stop in the thesis studio and do nothing for a while?

I have been proven wrong since my original assumptions. This is why I am reconsidering my thoughts. Now, John sits in the chair daily and people come to the thesis studio to do nothing all the time – like every day. But what still remains now that I have been proven wrong is that this chair reminds me that we are after a complicated task. There is, in fact, no shortage of reasons to design an architecture. There are an infinite number of problems in the world and there are an infinite number of problems to create. You can in fact design a chair to do a lot of things.

Ben and John do an amazing job at generating interesting definitions of architecture, speculating more reasons to design architecture and creating more problems to design for. They have asked themselves how can we fit a square peg in a round hole. Meanwhile I’m of the camp that if they say you can't fit a square peg in a round hole – then you can’t. They appeared to have designed an entire furniture collection off of the idiom, square peg in a round hole. Last semester, in addition to the chair and their thesis project, they designed and fabricated a mini furniture collection: a stool, a coffee table and a console table. All three of these pieces are incredibly well crafted. They have managed to express joy in moments that normally cause tension: where the circle meets that square. We see these geometries in mid-century modern (MCM) furniture and contemporary collections alike, however I believe the celebration of where the circle meets flush with the orthogonal surface is something different. It is as if the legs have a chance to show off their usefulness as the other parts of the furniture are adjusted to fit around the legs. It feels authentic. It feels like an expression of the science in a way that doesn’t allow science to dictate how the furniture should look. After all, in science, you can’t fit a square peg in a round hole.

I say all of this without consulting them. I don’t know their inspiration, goals or even what problems they set out to solve. But I believe it was more interesting this way: I fashion ideas and then you go talk to them about their incredible designs. After all, they are the masterminds. So you can find them in the thesis studio or the DAAP shop….or you can just follow John and Ben on Instagram and shoot them some likes.

1. Alain De Botton, The architecture of happiness (London: Penguin Books, 2014), 67.