Post-war designs inspire student-produced chairs
By Kathleen Maclay
21 November 2017
This fall, the Environmental Design Archives hosted its second annual Form Follows Chair Design Competition which gave CED students the opportunity to design and construct a chair that defied the boundaries and constraints of conventional furniture. This year, the theme of the competition was “post-war design,” and participants were challenged to incorporate archival collection materials into their design concept as well as consider the relationship between their design and the person who might use it.
“Our first competition was open to all of our archival projects, and [this year] we wanted to help limit the scope to assist students,” said Emily Vigor, collections archivist with the Environmental Design Archives. “Plus, a lot of our post-war design is pretty groovy!”
In the first round of the competition, 13 participants submitted models no larger than 7-by-7-inches along with two posters of their designs. Five top finalists were then chosen to physically construct their designs into fully-functioning chairs in CED’s Fabrication Shop. On November 14, the five finalists were asked to install their completed chairs in the Wurster Gallery so that members of the CED community could vote on the designs.
The top prize and award of $500 went to Greta Aalborg-Volper (M.L.A. ‘19) who created a deceptively simple L-shaped chair. Although the chair is armless, it features a slight tilt and wide base, making it a comfortable piece. Aalborg-Volper also utilized a computer numerical control (CNC) process to create knots in the plywood structure on the sides of the piece.
The second prize and award of $250 went to Mauricio Zamora (M.Arch ‘19) who created a bench-like chair with storage compartments. Zamora stated that his piece was inspired by designs for a post-war housing project in Vallejo, California. Despite investing over 40 hours to this competition, Zamora has already began conceptualizing his design for next year’s competition.
The third place prize and award of $150 went to Marshall Gifford (M.Arch ‘20) who created a more comfortable chair by weaving thin strips of plywood to provide “spring” to his piece. To achieve this construction, Gifford built the frame of his chair with CDX plywood, which is low-grade but strong. He then made some calculations and used the hardwood ply that competition participants were provided with to experiment with a technique called kerf cutting, which makes the seat bendable.
“I wanted to see if, just like weaving solid hardwood for a traditional picnic basket, something similar could be done with thin strips of plywood. If possible and done right, this could result in a more comfortable plywood chair that actually had some spring.”
Similarly to Aalborg-Volper, Gifford also utilized a CNC process to cut the loose shapes of his piece. He then further cut the angles, sanded, and refined the piece in the woodshop. Gifford’s design was inspired by homes that were built in Berkeley for Tom and Allen Hudson in 1947, following the designs of the late CED alumnus Henry Hill.
“What inspired me from Hill’s axonometric drawing for the Twin Houses was the repetition and intersection of lines from the horizontal siding and vertical boards of the fence,” said Gifford. “I wanted to use the grain of veneer layers to replicate the repetition of lines of the Twin Houses.”
Judges for the competition included J.C. Miller of Miller Studio; Associate Professor of Architecture and Urban Design Nicholas de Monchaux; Elizabeth Thorp, Manager of the CED Fabrication Shop; Judd Williams of Williams & Foltz; and Topher Delaney of Delaney + Chin.
Support for the competition came from the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning, the Department of Architecture’s Draper Architectural Research Fund, and the CED Fabrication Shop.