A modern office chair dissertation


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A modern office chair dissertation

  1. 1. A Modern Office ChairVeronika HorakovaA dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Bachelor inInterior Design, Atrium, Cardiff School of Creative and Cultural Industries, the University ofGlamorgan. No part of work referred to in this dissertation has been submitted in support ofan application for another degree or qualification in this University or any other institute ofLearning.Interior DesignDublin Institute of DesignAtrium, University of GlamorganApril 2012
  2. 2. AbstractOffice chairs have become ubiquitous products, sold in the millions to corporations andinstitutions over the world. While the capitalist society runs on productivity, the human bodyrequires rest and comfort to function optimally, which has guaranteed not only continuedbusiness for the office chair industry but also the continued evolution of office chairs. Aninterrelated and dynamic set of factors motivates office chair design. Work habits, productiontechnologies, ergonomic ideals, and broad social goals change frequently and considerablyand affect the features and functions of office chairs. This paper investigates and exploreswhat were the main factors which influenced the office chair evolution from the end ofnineteenth century up to present. The main objective of this dissertation is to summarize theimportant elements in office chair design. Although the topic of the evolution of office chair isvery broad, this paper is trying to approach the development of office chair in significant andkey moments.Page | 2
  3. 3. Contents PageAbstractAcknowledgementIntroduction 4Chapter 1 The History of the Office Chair from 1849 to WWII 5Chapter 2 The Office Chair in Modernist Office 10Chapter 3 The Ergonomic Office Chair 14Chapter 4 The Office Chair in Twentieth-First Century 20Conclusion 24List of Illustration 25Bibliography 27Page | 3
  4. 4. AcknowledgementI would like to express my thanks to a number of people, who have helped me in writing thisdissertation; to all those who provided support, talked things over, read, wrote, offeredcomments and assisted in the proofreading.I would like to thank Tracey Dalton and Aimee Ward for providing invaluable advice on thedrafts for the dissertation and general guidance.I would like to thank Trina Milner and John Milner for their professional advices and makingmy research much easier and accessible.Lastly, I would like to thank my partner Martin Netopil, who supported and encouraged methrough the whole process of writing this dissertation.Page | 4
  5. 5. Introduction“Sitting is a simple activity. It is something people do. Sitting is active, involving motion,balance, position, posture, and control. Sitting is an innate behaviour involving both body andmind. Sitting is natural. People sit in a wide variety of places and ways. Sitting is simple.”1This dissertation follows up historical development of office chairs. The historicaldevelopment of the office chairs is associated with evolution of work places and hierarchy inthe work places. It will also analyse production advancements and development of newmaterials and technology in office chair design from the beginning of nineteenth century up tothe present. This dissertation will introduce the terms “ergonomics” and it will establish theimportance of the integration of the ergonomics in the development of product design.1Tim Springer, The Future of Ergonomic Office Seating, Knoll Workplace Research, 2010, p. 1Page | 5
  6. 6. Chapter One: The History of the Office Chair from 1849 toWWIIChapter one will open the discussion about history and development of the officechair. It will discuss the origin of the early version of the office chair dated back to 1849 and itwill continue discussing the evolution of handmade forms until the beginning of the IndustrialRevolution. This section will focus on the definition of used elements on different chairs atdifferent times. It will discuss the roots of the first movement mechanism and the roots of thefirst kinetic office chair and how these main features have developed and evolved throughtime. This section will also discuss presentation and expression of different hierarchy in workplaces and it will detail what were the fundamental factors to express the differenthierarchical organizations. The chapter will also analyse production advancements anddevelopment of new materials and how these factors influenced the evolution of office chairs.The office chair has evolved through four key phases. During its first phase in thenineteenth century, designers invented the office chair prototype including the movementmechanism to suit the needs of rapidly growing and expanding business.In the mid-nineteenth century the expansion of industry and factories created anunprecedented number of clerical and management job positions which resulted in to anurgent need of for office seating that would promote productivity of staff by discouraging theclerks from leaving their desks. These circumstances have changed dramatically and officechairs have undergone an extensive design evolution as they have been adapted to thechanging world around them2.In the history of the office chair we cannot determine a single inventor of it. The basicelements that define the first office chair are a movement mechanism, adjustable features,and casters. All these basic elements appeared on different chairs at different times. In 1849Thomas E. Warren invented a chair called the Centripetal Spring Armchair which featuresarched steel leaf spring that allows the chair to flex in any direction (Figure 1). This type ofmechanism is the first patented movement mechanism for a desk chair3. Steel leaf springswere commonly used in chairs manufactured in the nineteenth century, and are still used insome chairs designed today, most notably on the Think chair designed in 2004. However thistype of mechanism was not very useful and successful, as it made the user feel unstable.2Adrian Forty, Objects of Desire, Design and Society 1750 – 1980, Thames and Hudson, 1986, p. 1203Jonathan Olivares, A Taxonomy of Office Chairs, Phaidon, 2011, p.15Page | 6
  7. 7. Figure 1: Thomas E. Warren, Centripetal Spring Armchair,USA, 1849The William-IV- style chair altered by Charles Darwin in 1840s was the earliest knownexample of a chair on wheels. In 1853 Peter Ten Eyck invented a sitting chair with cast ironpivot under the seat that is kept in tension with leaf springs (Figure 2). The first reference ofadjustable features is introduced on Unknown 1 chair (Figure 3) made by SingerManufacturing Company in 1872 where the backrest tilts backwards on a spring-loaded pivotpoint that connects the backrest spine to the underside of the seat. This movement allows auser to tilt their back whilst keeping their legs still. The Unknown 1 chair’s seat and backrestwere made from wood, the base was made of cast iron as a monobloc with four articulatedlegs. Chairs of this type were commonly used in factories and telephone operating rooms.4These early models of office chairs anticipated the needs of a changing society.Figure 2: Peter Ten Eyck, Sitting chair, Figure 3: Singer Manufacturing Company,USA, 1853 Unknown 1 chair, USA, 1872.Offices in the nineteenth century were small and privately owned and the majority of chairsused were four-legged dining chairs. When business started to expand into corporations andneeded more office workers then the manufacturers of office chairs started to develop more4Jonathan Olivares, A Taxonomy of Office Chairs, Phaidon, 2011, p.17.Page | 7
  8. 8. adequate seating solutions. This period of time is the end of the first phase of evolution of theoffice chair and it is slowly approaching the phase two which will be analysed in Chapter 2.Hierarchy was a very important factor in the evolution of the office chair, becauseeach class of an office chair was required to look and in some cases function differently. Thebook ‘The Principles of Scientific Management’ published by Frederick Winslow Taylor 1911,became the foundation of organization for the twentieth-century workplace5. Under Tayloristwork methods, worker’s tasks became more structured and the tasks were divided amongspecialists. These workers were structurally separated and they sat in different types ofchairs that reflected their status. From early twentieth century up until the 1990s, hierarchicalorganization structure presented executives, managers, secretaries and administrative staffthat typically sat in different types of chairs. Executive chairs tended to be more robustlyconstructed using costlier materials and sometimes more advanced movement mechanismthan chairs designed for managers or administrative staff. Frank Lloyd Wright designedseparate chairs for the managers and executives in 1956 applying a larger base and anadjustable tilting mechanism on the executive chairs as seen in Figure 4 and 5.Figure 4: Frank Lloyd Wright, Figure 5: Frank Lloyd Wright,Price Tower Armchair, USA, 1956 Price Tower Executive Armchair, USA, 1956By the late 1980s, each office chair collection usually offered at least three hierarchicalchoices which included executive, management and basic operational chairs. Sometimesthere were two other divisions added into the chair collection.5Adrian Forty, Objects of Desire, Design and Society 1750 – 1980, Thames and Hudson, 1986, p. 122Page | 8
  9. 9. In today’s office chair design, the hierarchical structure is often expressed by using differenttypes of materials; executive seating upholstered in leather and base in die-cast aluminium;basic operational chair upholstered in fabric and base in moulded plastic.The earliest office chairs were made with wood and cast iron which became astandard material in office chair production during the following decades, and steel centralbar, and they were upholstered with batting and fabric. Growth of production technology andthe development of new materials in the early twentieth century have established newpossibilities in office chair design6. Materials such as steel tube, sand-cast aluminium,aluminium sheet were used in manufacturing process of office chairs. New productiontechnologies developed during World War II. Materials such as die-cast aluminium, mouldedfibreglass and plastic resin, industrial strength glues and compound-moulded plywood wereapplied and more expanded in the decade that followed World War II. In the 1960s,transparent thermoplastic and injection-moulded plastic were first employed on chairs suchas the D-49 and Pollock chair (Figure 6 and 7). Since then, plastics have rapidly evolved withfrequent introductions of higher-performance plastics. Many variations of injection-mouldedplastics have been released since the 1970s, and there is not an office chair on the markettoday that does not employ some form of this material7.Figure 6: Hans Könecke, D-49 chair, Figure 7: Charles Pollock, Pollock chair,Germany, 1964. USA, 1965.In conclusion, the first chapter follows up on first prototypes of office chairs emerged fromrapidly growing and expanding business in the beginning of nineteenth century. It shall statethat the approach of Taylorism and hierarchy in office environments was or was notinfluential for further development of new materials and production technologies in office6Hazel Conway, Design History: a student’s handbook, London, 1995, p. 727Penny Sparke, The Genius of Design, London, 2009, p. 157Page | 9
  10. 10. chair design. This fact shall introduce Henry Ford and the ‘Fordist’ manufacturing system asa next step in evolution of office chair.Chapter Two: The Office Chair in Modernist OfficeThis chapter will focus on the evolution of office chair design in the beginning oftwentieth century. It will ascertain how the introduction of new materials and productPage | 10
  11. 11. technologies influenced the office chair design along with Henry Ford and the ‘Fordist’system. It will also discuss the impact of modernism and approach of enhanced materials.This chapter will also touch on Florence Knoll and Knoll Planning Unit and it will analyse howinfluential and innovative the Planning Unit was and how it reflected in interior and furnituredesign of the post-war era.A second phase, in the beginning of twentieth century and early after Second WorldWar, the expansion of new production technologies and new materials contributed toindustrialized product design and replaced crafting in office chair manufacturing.The evolution of office interior and subsequently the office chair in early twentieth-centurywas influenced by the introduction of the ‘Fordist system’ named after Henry Ford, theAmerican industrialist and car manufacturer who gradually developed a series of innovationsin technology, process and work organisation which he successfully applied on his carmanufacturing company. Ford developed the assembly line technique of mass production inorder to increase production speed and in the same time to reduce the cost of productionand manufacturing process8. Fordism displaced predominantly craft-based production. Thissituation compelled the designers to focus on simplifying objects and environments to makethem part of the modern world.First three decades of twentieth century were the period of the architectural anddesign modern movement called Modernism. Modernism was influenced by principles ofBauhaus. Visual impact of Modernism design was to simplify the design, produce a ‘purer’form of design implementing clean and geometric shapes9. Designs aimed at the generalpublic, usually manufactured on a large scale of mass production, using industrial techniquesintroduced by Henry Ford. Modernism promoted the use of materials that had not beenpreviously considered as suitable materials for furniture such as tubular steel which was verylight, versatile and affordable material. The use of tubular steel opened up new designpossibilities in office chair design10. Other new materials such as ‘Bakelite’ also known as thefirst true plastic, plywood and moulded fibreglass used to enhance the function of theproduction11.8Hazel Conway, Design History: a student’s handbook, London, 1995, p. 1239Ibid, p. 12210Hazel Conway, Design History: a student’s handbook, London, 1995, p. 7211Penny Sparke, The Genius of Design, London, 2009, p. 136Page | 11
  12. 12. The use of steel tubes in furniture production was popularized in the 1920s and 1930s and itremains common today. One of the first examples of applying steel in chair design wasdemonstrated by Marcel Breuer, designer of the ‘B7a’ revolving chair (Figure 8)manufactured by Thonet in 1928 where he used bent steel tubes to form backrest, armrestsand base of this chair. The chair features very simple revolving mechanism which raises theheight of the seat by swivelling the stem between the tube legs. Ebonized wood is used onthe seat and armcaps. Backrest pad is sewn leather stretched between bilateral steel tubesof the backrest frame12. Another example of an office chair with simple features but withapplication of new materials is the ‘Montecatini Headquarters Chair’ (Figure 9) designed byGio Ponti in 1938. It consists of a single piece base made of die-cast aluminium and thebackrest and seat are Bakelite. Cast aluminium is stronger and lighter than iron, and since itwas employed for this design it has been used to produce countless office chair bases.Bakelite is considered the first plastic, and colours are inherent to it. Plastics have becomefundamental materials used in every contemporary office chair13.Figure 8: Marcel Breuer, B7a chair, Figure 9: Gio Ponti, Montecatini HeadquartersAustria, 1928. Chair, Italy, 1938Progression of twentieth century signified a separation of factories from officeconditions by application of ‘landscaped’ office layouts. The concept of office landscapingwas developed in Germany in late 1950s14. It introduced a flexible system of furniture thatcould be rearranged into units and separated by low partition walls. During this innovation themain requirement of office chair design was to enable full and fast transformation of officeseating that would suit the stations of clerks or chairpersons.12Jonathan Olivares, A Taxonomy of Office Chairs, Phaidon, 2011, p.3313Ibid, p. 18614Peter Dormer, Design since 1945, London, 1998, p. 134Page | 12
  13. 13. Florence Knoll was the founder and director of the Knoll Planning Unit operating from1943-1971. The Knoll Planning Unit was part of Knoll Associates, which manufactured,designed and sold furniture and textiles in the early twentieth century. The establishment ofThe Planning Unit was the reaction to a growing demand for modern office design andfurniture. It set the foundation elements in office design after the Second World War bycombining elements from modern architecture, which were perceived as cold and barren,with colour and texture into the interior15. This new aesthetic movement was also adoptedand developed by Charles and Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen, Harry Bertoia and other wellknown designers who introduced and incorporated new organic forms, vibrant colours intotheir designs and created a softer modernism which was more appealing to a general publicat the time. Showroom of Knoll Associates (1948, Chicago), is an example of modern interiordesign16(Figure 10).Figure 10: Chicago showroom of KnollAssociates, 1948.Archives of American Art, SmithsonianInstitutionOne of the first office chair pioneers suitable for vigorous office environments were the ‘Kevi’chair (Figure 11) and the ‘MAA’ chair (Figure 12), both very distinguished and advanced.The ‘Kevi’ chair, designed by Jørgen Rasmussen in 1958, introduced an injection-mouldedplastic double caster which rolled more fluidly and effortlessly than earlier models of ironcasters. The ‘Kevi caster’ became an iconic Danish product and it is considered as anindustry standard since.In 1958, George Nelson designed the ‘MAA’ chair. It introduces a very innovative feature ofthe backrest form which is attached to the armrest-seat shell with die-cast aluminium lengths15Bobbye Tigerman, “I am not a Decorator: Florence Knoll, the Knoll Planning Unit and the Making of theModern Office”, Journal of Design History, 2007, Vol. 20 No. 1, pp. 6516Florence Knoll Bassett, Florence Knoll Bassett papers, 1932-2000, Archives of American Art, SmithsonianInstitution, 2008Page | 13
  14. 14. and flexing rubber mounts and it allows the backrest to recline without moving user feet.Although this movement pattern is similar to that of the ‘Unknown 1’ chair, the use of tiltingjoints between the armrests and the seat is a unique solution. This design informs the ‘FSChair’, made in 1980, which employs armrests in the first synchronized movementmechanism. Design and features of the ‘FS Chair’ is going to be analysed in Chapter 3.Figure 11: Jørgen Rasmussen, Kevi chair, Figure 12: George Nelson, MAA chair,Denmark, 1958. USA, 1958In conclusion, this chapter primarily pursues the evolution of office environments andsubsequently the office chair in the beginning of twentieth century. It shall prove that HenryFord and ‘Fordism’ was or was not influential and important for further development ofproduct design and how ‘Fordism’ changed the whole design ideology after Second WorldWar. It will also focus on analysis of new office environment layouts in conjunction withFlorence Knoll and The Planning Unit as being one of the most influential segmentincorporating the groundbreaking design elements in architecture and product design.Chapter Three: The Ergonomic Office ChairThis chapter will establish the importance of the integration of ergonomics in thedevelopment of product design. It will discuss the integration of personal computers in officeenvironments in 1970s which contributed to significant changes in the evolution of officechair. The current situation opened up to Postmodernism as the contrary to Modernism. Thischapter will review Postmodernism’s newly introduced trends and possibilities in office chairdesign. This section will include analysis of office chairs designed between the 1960s andPage | 14
  15. 15. 1990s including the chair designers and manufacturers, forms used and featured ergonomicrequirements.A third phase, beginning in the 1970s and ending only recently, brought aboutergonomically advanced office chairs designed for sitting at computers for extended periodsof time. Personal computers in office environments became common equipment and itstarted to slowly dissolve the workplace into collaborative and communal organizations ofmultifaceted workers. Product designers started to question the validity of minimal Modernistdesign, whether clean and geometric lines were the right and appropriate key elements inorder to follow rapidly expanding consumer’s requirements. Postmodernism was a reactionto Modernism where the emphasis is placed on aesthetics, shape and form, it can beregarded as works of art rather than functional design. Most of the products designed inPostmodernism relied on visual impact, with minimum regard for the functionalism ofModernism17.Because the majority of office work is performed from a seated position,understanding how to correctly apply the ergonomics to office seating is critical to deliveringwork environments that are safe and support performance. In the post war era the publicstarted to pay more attention to consumer health18. This important fact led to raised safetystandards in everything from packaged food and automobiles to office chairs. The ergonomicbreakthrough in the design of office chairs was discovered between 1960 and 1970, whendesigners Henry Dreyfuss, Niels Diffrient, Bill Stumpf and Wolfgang Müeller Deisig set thescientific parameters of seating comfort with their groundbreaking studies where theyintroduced the concept of ergonomic work furniture which would reflect the requirements ofthe human frame19. It was revolutionary. The first ergonomic office chair featured heightadjustable seat, pivoting backrest and casters. Examples of the first ergonomic office chairsare shown in Figure 13 and Figure 14.The ‘232’ office chair designed by Wilhelm Ritz for Wilkhahn manufacture in Germany in1970 introduced a pneumatic cylinder in the chair’s stem to adjust the seat height whenactivated by lever. This gas lift component replaced the threaded fitting that required a user17David Raizman, History of Modern Design: Graphics and Products Since the Industrial Revolution, London,2003, p. 35518Penny Sparke, A century of design, design pioneers of the 20th century, New York, 1998, p.14219The Museum of Modern Art, Workspheres, New York, 2001, p. 108.Page | 15
  16. 16. to rotate the entire chair to adjust the seat height. The upholstered plastic backrest pivots onbilateral joints to the seat20.The ‘Synthesis 45’ office chair, designed by Ettore Sottsass Jr. in 1973 features manuallyadjustable seat height, adjusted by turning a threaded fitting at mid-stem height. The angle ofthe injection-moulded ABS plastic spine that holds the backrest is adjustable with a knob atits bottom. The angle of the backrest panel is adjusted with a second knob that connects it tothe upper spine21.Figure 13: Wilhelm Ritz, 232 office chair, Figure 14: Ettore Sottsass Jr., Synthesis 45office Germany, 1970. chair, Italy, 1973.At the beginning of the 1980s the workplace started to change with the introduction ofcomputers into offices where office staff began spending significantly longer periods of timeseated at their desks22. On the basis of computerized offices, the office chair had to complywith basic ergonomic requirements which applied some common elements such as heightand depth adjustable armrests, height adjustable lumbar support, depth adjustable seat, andlarge quintuple bases for stability. All these features and additional mechanisms tend tomake office chairs bigger and more robust, and have contributed to the gradual increase insize of the office chair over the last twenty years. More advanced and evolved ergonomic20Jonathan Olivares, A Taxonomy of Office Chairs, Phaidon, 2011, p. 4321Ibid, p. 4522Kenneth R. Bofl, “Revolutions and shifting paradigms in human factors & ergonomics”, in Applied Ergonomics,2006, Vol. 37, pp. 391.Page | 16
  17. 17. office chairs such as the ‘454 ConCentrx’ chair by Steelcase Design Studio designed in 1980(Figure 15), the ‘Diffrient Basic Operational Chair’ designed by Niels Diffrient for Knoll in1980 (Figure 16), the first office chair with advanced tilting action called ‘FS Chair’ designedby Klaus Franck, Werner Sauer and Fritz Frenkler for Wilkhahn in 1980 (Figure 17) and the‘Capisco’ chair by Peter Opsvik for HÅG manufacturer designed in 1984 (Figure 18).The ‘454 ConCentrx’ chair and the ‘Diffrient Basic Operational Chair’ share very similar lookand design. However the ‘Diffrient Basic Operational Chair’ introduces some advancedfeatures than the ‘454 ConCentrx’ chair.The ‘454 ConCentrx’ chair features backrest and seat made with two-part flexing panels thatallow the upper portion of the backrest to flex backward and the front of the seat to flexdownward. The seat and backrest upholstery is glued onto a cold-moulded polyurethanefoam cushion that is glued to the two-part flexible panel. The armrests are fixed under theseat and are made of die-cast aluminium with plastic armcaps23Backrest on the ‘Diffrient Basic Operational Chair’ is depth and height adjustable along itssingle supporting spine. The steel spine is mounted on a 30-degree angle that allows thedepth and height of the backrest to be adjusted with one motion. The steel armrest posthouses a cable that triggers seat height-adjustment from a button under the armrest. Thistype of seat-adjustment was very advanced at that time24.Figure 15: Steelcase Design Studio, Figure 16: Niels Diffrient, Diffrient Basic Chair,454ConCentrx chair, USA, 1980. USA, 1980.23Jonathan Olivares, A Taxonomy of Office Chairs, Phaidon, 2011, p. 5024Ibid, p. 51Page | 17
  18. 18. The ‘FS’ Chair was named after its designers Klaus Franck, Fritz Frenkler and WernerSauer. This iconic chair introduced a very innovative movement feature where three swivelaxes allow the seat, backrest and armrests to follow the sitter’s movement. Technical termfor this movement method is ‘automatic synchro-adjustment’. Although it is rare today thatchairs use the armrests as a part of the movement mechanism, it is now standard that thebackrest and seats are able to move independently. The seat is constructed with rubbermesh stretched from front to back over a steel frame, and an upholstered slip-on fabric coveris placed over the entire structure of the seat pad. This gives the chair a flexible suspendedseat25.The ‘Capisco’ office chair, also called the Saddle Chair is known for its unconventional looksand design which was a result of Peter Opsvik’s intention to re-create a horseback rider’sdynamic posture, while also creating a work chair that would accommodate the most sittingposture possible. Opsvik describes the Capisco chair as a ‘sitting device’ which allows a userto sit sideways and facing backwards thanks to plastic armrests integrated in the backrestwhich allow the user to easily adopt informal positions. Optional headrest is depth and heightadjustable. The casters are covered with footrests. The seat is height adjustable using gas liftmechanism. Tilting backrest can be lockable in any leaning position26.Figure 17: Klaus Franck, Werner Sauer and Figure 18: Peter Opsvik, Capisco chair, FritzFrenkler, FS chair, Germany, 1980. Norway, 198425Jonathan Olivares, A Taxonomy of Office Chairs, Phaidon, 2011, p. 20526Peter Opsvik, Rethinking Sitting, Oslo, 2008, p. 193Page | 18
  19. 19. Due to a significant evolution in office chair design in the 1980’s, the designers recognizedan increasing interest in mechanical and adjustable office chairs. In 1984 William Stumpfand Donald Chadwick designed an office chair with a very innovative seating mechanismfeature presented on a chair called Equa Chair (Figure 19) designed for Herman Miller. Thenew movement method known as a ‘knee-tilt’ mechanism features the seat which sinks andreclines on a spring-loaded pivot point under the front seat, while the backrest flexesbackward from the seat on plastic spines. Like the FS chair, this movement method allowsthe backrest and seat to move simultaneously but at differing angles, however, the Equachair does so without pivoting joints in the armrests. The angle between the backrest andseat opens as both elements recline, which allows the backrest to recline further than theseat. The resistance against the recline is controlled with a turning knob that adjusts thetension of the backrest. This ‘knee-tilt’ movement method is refined on Aeron Chair,designed by Donald Chadwick and William Stumpf in 1994, in which they achieved ‘ankle tilt’mechanism27. The Aeron Chair will be reviewed in the following chapter.Figure 19: Don Chadwick and William Stumpf,Equa chair, USA, 1984In conclusion, the chapter 3 will focus on the integration ofpersonal computers in office environments in 1970s and how it contributed to changes in theevolution of office chair with introduction of ergonomics in office seating. It will discuss howimportant and groundbreaking the evolution of ergonomic science was. It will establishwhether or not the early models of ergonomic office chairs provided sufficiently evolved anddeveloped feature elements of movement and support in order to comply with ergonomic andsafety standards for office chair design.27Jonathan Olivares, A Taxonomy of Office Chairs, Phaidon, 2011, p. 206Page | 19
  20. 20. Chapter Four: The Office Chair in Twentieth-First CenturyThe chapter will focus on analysis of the office chair in the twenty-first century, howthe design of the office chair has developed into a strategy of making products that areeconomical, ecological and comply with high ergonomic and aesthetic standards. It willanalyse the application and use of the latest technologies, tools and new materials indesigning and manufacturing office chairs. It will introduce sustainability in office chair designas a new and important factor in evolution of office chair. It will review the latest office chairtypes and their designers.Office work has changed. Work is more collaborative and it requires multiple tasks in multiplesettings moving back and forth among them. It is the new generation of office environmentsupporting both the physical and cognitive nature of office work.Page | 20
  21. 21. A fourth phase of office chair evolution, beginning of 1990s, sees the introduction ofsustainable chairs that suit the shifting and impromptu postures adopted by today’sworkforce. In the span of seven generations of office workers, the office chair has evolvedinto a complex organism. Despite this healthy evolution, the office chair’s natural habitat –the office – is stable28.In the 1990s and 2000s ergonomically designed office chairs were in high demand. At thattime, office environment were changing from clustered layouts to more open plan structuresto support work activity of one type in one position. On the basis of new office environments,the design of office seating became more specialised, allowing the user to perform variety oftasks. However extended seated time spent in office environments only heightened theregulations placed on office chair ergonomics by governments and insurance companies. Achecklist of features that determines ergonomic attributes of office chairs first emerged in thelate 1980s and has continued to expand. One of the first office chairs which were specificallydesigned to meet the checklist of the ergonomic features was the Aeron chair (Figure 20),designed by Don Chadwick and William Stumpf in 1994 for Herman Miller29. Its novel anddistinguished design became iconic and it is part of the permanent collection in Museum ofModern Art. The Aeron chair combined pioneering ergonomics and new materials. Thedesign was inspired by the human form, it actively dealt with the postural health problemsassociated with comfort, acknowledging that people often sit incorrectly. The highly flexibleform is constructed from advanced materials such as die-cast glass reinforced polyester forthe frame, polyurethane foam for the pads and recycled aluminium for the base. The seatand backrest structure introduced new innovative mesh material called the ‘Pellicle’. The‘Pellicle’ was durable and supportive material, its mesh elements allowed air to circulatearound the user body. The synchronized movement mechanism is modified and developedsince its introduction on the ‘Equa’ chair in 1984. It distributes the user’s weight evenly overthe seat and back, conforming to individual body shapes, and minimizing pressure on thespine and muscles. The Aeron chair also introduced the first independent lumbar supportpad which can be adjusted vertically, and reversed to vary the depth of the lumbar support30.In 1999, Niels Diffrient designed an office chair called ‘Freedom’ (Figure 21). The secret ofhis innovative design was in simplicity. The ‘Freedom’ chair features weight-sensitive28Hazel Conway, Design History: a student’s handbook, London, 1995, p. 10129Penny Sparke, A century of design, design pioneers of the 20th century, New York, 1998, p.19930John Heskett, Design: A Very Short Introduction, New York, 2002, p. 48Page | 21
  22. 22. reclining system of the seat and back and synchronously adjustable armrests. Thesefeatures set new standards for task chairs performance and functionality.Figure 20: Don Chadwick and William Stumpf, Figure 21: Niels Diffrient, Freedom chair,Aeron chair, USA, 1994 USA, 1999Although the search for new ergonomic solutions continues to motivate the design ofoffice chairs, the factor that has contributed most to recent changes in office chair design issustainability. Office furniture designers and manufacturers are striving to eliminate aspectsof the manufacturing process that are harmful to the environment. This affects not only thematerials used, but also how the chairs are assembled. One of the first office chairs to bepromoted as a sustainable design was the Mirra chair by Herman Miller designed in 2003(Figure 22). It is 96 percent recyclable by weight, made with 42 percent recycled content, andis designed to disassemble easily for recycling or to have its parts replaced.Figure 22: Studio 7.5, Mirra chair, USA, 2003Page | 22
  23. 23. This move towards sustainability has been accompanied by a tendency to make office chairswhich would support a range of different postures, from leaning or sitting sideways to sittingbackwards. Advanced technology of mobile office equipments of twentieth-first centuryallows performance of any office task just about anywhere and in any position31. In 2009 twochairs were released that accommodate a broader range of movement. The ‘Generation’chair (Figure 23) encourages to sit sideways and backwards, and the ‘360˚’ chair (Figure 24)enables the user to adopt any number of postures. These chairs encouraged humaninteraction and accommodate the collaborative spirit of today’s contemporary office.Figure 23: Formway, Generation chair, Figure 24: Konstantin Grcic, 360˚ chair,USA, 2009 Italy, 2009The contemporary workplace of twenty-first century is undergoing transformations of its ownas more work is brought into the cloud: we can only speculate what will happen as anincreasing number of people work from home, mobile devices continue to allow us to workwithout a fixed location. As specialized a subject as the office chair may be, its evolution andstory are indicative of the broad and rapid changes that our society has undergone and willcontinue to undergo.In conclusion, this chapter outlined a new design strategy in evolution of office chairpaying attention to comply with high ergonomic and aesthetic standards. The office chairbecame an inseparable segment of modern office environment. This chapter focused onanalysis of one of the most groundbreaking office chair models. It will discuss how effectiveand influential was the introduction of new materials and technologies and the introduction ofsustainability and in what way the use of sustainable design affect today’s office chairs.31Susie McKellar and Penny Sparke, Interior Design and Identity, Manchester, 2004, p. 202Page | 23
  24. 24. ConclusionThis dissertation provides verified evaluation of the evolution of office chair started in thenineteenth century up to present. It focused on analysis of key elements in history of productdesign which influenced the evolution of the office chair from the beginning of nineteenthcentury up to twenty-first century. It will discuss how important and groundbreaking theevolution of ergonomic science was. It will establish that the new ergonomic office seatingshould go beyond the assumptions and approaches of traditional chairs. It shall prove thatwith the approach of the new office environment layout in 1950s, Florence Knoll and ThePlanning Unit was or was not influential and important for further development of officedesign where she introduced an innovative integration of colours and materials into designand architecture of the post-war era.It will establish the importance of newly approached standards in the production of officechairs from the use of new materials and technologies up to the integration of sustainability inPage | 24
  25. 25. the evolution of office chair. It will question whether or not the design of the office chair is themost functional design for the human body whenever the user assumes a seated position.List of IllustrationsFigure 1: Thomas E. Warren, Centripetal Spring Armchair, USA, 1849.Phaidon, Design Classics – Volume one, Phaidon, 2006Figure 2: Peter Ten Eyck, Sitting chair, USA, 1853.Jonathan Olivares, A Taxonomy of Office Chairs, Phaidon, 2011, p. 28Figure 3: Singer Manufacturing Company, Unknown 1 chair, USA, 1872.Jonathan Olivares, A Taxonomy of Office Chairs, Phaidon, 2011, p. 30Figure 4: Frank Lloyd Wright, Price Tower Armchair, USA, 1956.Jonathan Olivares, A Taxonomy of Office Chairs, Phaidon, 2011, p. 38Figure 5: Frank Lloyd Wright, Price Tower Executive Armchair, USA, 1956.Jonathan Olivares, A Taxonomy of Office Chairs, Phaidon, 2011, p. 38Figure 6: Hans Könecke, D-49 chair,Germany, 1964Brian Lutz, Knoll: A Modernist Universe, Rizzoli, 2010, p. 250Page | 25
  26. 26. Figure 7: Charles Pollock, Pollock chair, USA, 1965.Tecta catalogue 2011, p. 33Figure 8: Marcel Breuer, B7a chair, Austria, 1928.Design Museum in BritainFigure 9: Gio Ponti, Montecatini Headquarters Chair, Italy, 1938.Jonathan Olivares, A Taxonomy of Office Chairs, Phaidon, 2011, p. 35Figure 10: Chicago showroom of Knoll Associates, 1948.Archives of American Art, Smithsonian InstitutionFigure 11: Jørgen Rasmussen, Kevi chair, Denmark, 1958.Engelbrechts Product Catalogue, Denmark, 2008.Figure 12: George Nelson, MAA chair, USA, 1958.Jonathan Olivares, A Taxonomy of Office Chairs, Phaidon, 2011, p. 40Figure 13: Wilhelm Ritz, 232 office chair, Germany, 1970.Jonathan Olivares, A Taxonomy of Office Chairs, Phaidon, 2011, p. 43Figure 14: Ettore Sottsass Jr., Synthesis 45 office chair, Italy, 1973.Adrian Forty, Objects of Desire, Design and Society 1750 – 1980, Thames and Hudson,1986, p. 155Figure 15: Steelcase Design Studio, 454 ConCentrx chair, USA, 1980.Jonathan Olivares, A Taxonomy of Office Chairs, Phaidon, 2011, p. 50Figure 16: Niels Diffrient, Diffrient Basic Chair, USA, 1980.Brian Lutz, Knoll: A Modernist Universe, Rizzoli, 2010, p. 298Figure 17: Klaus Franck, Werner Sauer and Fritz Frenkler, FS chair, Germany, 1980.Wilkhahn Product CatalogueFigure 18: Peter Opsvik, Capisco chair, Norway, 1984.Peter Opsvik, Rethinking Sitting, Gaidaros Forlag, Oslo, 2008, p. 193Figure 19: Don Chadwick and William Stumpf, Equa chair, USA, 1984.Jonathan Olivares, A Taxonomy of Office Chairs, Phaidon, 2011, p. 57Figure 20: Don Chadwick and William Stumpf, Aeron chair, USA, 1994.John Heskett, Design: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, New York, 2002,p. 49Figure 21: Niels Diffrient, Freedom Chair, USA, 1999.Humanscale, Freedom Chair product BrochureFigure 22: Studio 7.5, Mirra Chair, USA, 2003.Herman Miller, Mirra Chair product BrochureFigure 23: Formway, Generation Chair, USA, 2009.Page | 26
  27. 27. Knoll, Office Seating Product BrochureFigure 24: Konstantin Grcic, 360˚ chair, Italy, 2009Konstantin Grcic, 360˚ Chair Product BrochureBibliographyPrimary SourcesCranz, Galen, The Chair: Rethinking Culture, Body and Design, W.W. Norton & Company,London and New York, 2000Olivares, Jonathan, A Taxonomy of Office Chairs, Phaidon, China, 2011Opsvik, Peter, Rethinking Sitting, Gaidaros Forlag, Oslo, 2008Karwowski, Waldemar, International Encyclopedia of Ergonomics and Human Factors,Taylor and Francis, London, 2001Karwowski, Waldemar and Soares, M. Marcelo and Stanton, A. Neville, Human Factors andErgonomics in Consumer Product Design, Method and Techniques, Taylor and Francis,London, 2011Page | 27
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