The history of the chair goes back thousands of years. Although its design has taken many shapes and forms, its core function has remained the same: A chair is an object specifically made for seating a person. Some of the earliest examples of chairs across cultures are customized, one-of-a-kind ceremonial thrones. Since the late 19th century, technological innovation has introduced chair designers to new materials and production methods. Today, most chairs are designed and mass-produced. In the course of our daily lives, we use a variety of chairs and seats at home, at work, or at school—even on different forms of transportation. Development in technology and materials continues to shape the ways chairs are designed and produced. And, as with all design, inspiration plays a vital role in the process.
Form and Function
Form and function interact very closely in chair design. “In chairs more than in any other object, human beings are the unit of measure,” Curator Paola Antonelli explains, “and designers are forced to walk a fine line between standardization and personalization.”1 There are many factors that must be considered in the design of a chair. The designer must think about who will be using it, and where. In some cases, such as a seat on an airplane, chairs are designed for a general user. In other instances, such as a custom-built wheelchair, the chair might be designed for a specific user. Each chair has its own set of criteria or constraints that govern the process of its design.
Chairs, Chairs, and More Chairs
The Museum of Modern Art has over 350 chairs in its collection.
Questions & Activities
Design Your Own Chair
Create sketches of different shapes and forms that you find interesting. Once you have several drawings, select one to render in three dimensions using clay or another type of modeling materials.
Consider how the form you choose could be applied to the design of a chair to be used in a specific setting, such as a lounge chair for the beach, a theater seat, or an astronaut’s seat on a long flight to outer space. What features would it require to serve its function? What would it look like? What materials would you use to make it?
Draw a preliminary sketch of your chair design.
Share preliminary sketches for your chair design by uploading images of them to Flickr with the tag “MoMA Modeling Forms.”