a book review by Francis Lemieux
I have been designing and making furniture for the past twenty years and have a particular interest in chairs. Therefore, the cover of this book showing a period chair with a claw-footed leg reaching out to retrieve a wayward ball intrigued me enough to check it out.
Cranz begins with a look at the origin of chairs and their evolving social purposes. It is obvious from the number of chairs produced as sculpture or objects of art that throughout its history the chair has served a more complex role than aesthetics and function alone. This is something we often don't hear discussed in the context of chair design. These issues are important in helping us to understand the obligatory, ubiquitous presence of chairs in our lives today and to consider what we are up against in trying to change attitudes toward seating alternatives - a change advocated in this book.
(After all the work that has been put into chair design, I am amazed that everywhere I go, from office waiting rooms to private homes, I encounter chairs which are more instruments of torture than instruments of comfort. Just yesterday in my accountant's office I chose to stand rather than risk the discomfort suggested by the sling-type chairs provided.)
Galen Cranz, Ph.D., is professor of architecture at the University of California at Berkeley, specializing in the sociology of architecture. She is author of The Politics of Park Design: A History of Urban Parks in America and a certified teacher of the Alexander Technique - a kind of therapy to improve posture.
As well as offering practical recommendations for chair specifications the author advocates an integrated body-mind perspective to design. She uses the term somatics to mean involve the whole human being, focusing in a practical way on the interactions of posture, movement, emotion, self-concept, and cultural values.
Beyond Interior Design, the final chapter in the book, suggests how designers can contribute to making the world a more comfortable place by providing furniture for a variety of postures.
With its extensive bibliography, this book should appeal to anyone with a specific interest in chair design and interior design in general and how design affects our well being. It has inspired me to pursue some new ideas.
© furniturelink and Francis Lemieux 1999 (text and images)