#083 / 2007

Tangible identities

John Paxton's revolutionary modular iron and glass "Crystal Palace" pavilion, large enough to enclose several mature trees on its Hyde Park site, housed the Great Exhibition of 1851. Embodying the spirit of the Victorian age, the grandiose structure trumpeted the extravagance of British art, science and technology. Profits generated by the six million exhibition visitors funded the expansion of several South Kensington instititions, including the Royal College of Art in 1857.

This year's RCA Summer Show celebrated this 150th anniversary with its own Great Exhibition 2007, also in Hyde Park, also in a temporary pavilion (at 120 x 25 metres, about three percent the size of the 1851 pavilion). Here, product design graduates working in furniture exhibited with 200 colleagues from architecture, ceramics, engineering, fashion, gold/silversmithing, jewellery, humanities, textiles and vehicle design. Curator Claire Catterall interplayed the various disciplines to emphasize how designs by today's students have become increasingly unfettered by the restraints of traditional labels.

At furniturelink's invitation, designer-artist-lecturer Roy Tam provided the following reviews of RCA furniture designs that caught his interest. The work of several students he describes shows that furniture design leads the movement to demolish established academic barriers.

Captured by a Chair

This design by Bas Kools plays on the words intimacy and intimidating. It's a chair that opens up and closes by a rather noisy, hidden vacuum cleaner. When you get trapped, you have to wait until you are released. These words have a different meaning, but the action can almost be the same. Being stuck is an unpleasant feeling, but being hugged is a very nice one. If you are captured in the chair, you will have to give in and relax; the moment you do this, it will become a pleasant hug.




An intriguing two-sided piece of furniture, designed by Jordi Canudas, is both wall and sofa. With the stretched fabric over a frame, there is no sign of a seat until you sit into it, which offers a comfortable cocooned sitting area. Movement, sound and touch hint at what might be happening on the other side and then becomes playful when users interact from both sides of the wall.



Weave Stool

Bikram Mittra’s stool is made from repeating triangular loops, slightly offset to create a dished seat. The India-trained designer used laminated teak, so that it can be used outdoors or as a longer bench.



Stile Chair

David Emblim’s love of a walk in the British countryside inspired him to design this chair. Constructed out of solid oak, it offers an occasional seat with one armrest and has the added benefit of folding away without the need of a hinge.



PP Rope Chair

Tom Price’s chair is created by heating and pressing a seat-shaped former into a ball of polypropylene rope. The rope begins to liquify as it comes into contact with the heated former, and, as it cools, it sets in the shape of a seat creating a contrast in form and texture to the remaining rope. No additional material has been added to make the seat - it is all made from melted rope. This design is part of a series of chairs created using the same technique with different materials.



Helical Stacking Stools

Jun Murakoshi started thinking about how to stack stools more dramatically, like sculpture, and successfully combined a simple deltoid shape that resulted in an elegant stacking solution. The stools have a large, unusual solid top of a simple and characteristic appearance and are stacked up with a thirty-degree rotation because of the unique shape of the leg. Jun also made the stiffened Carpet Chair.



Grown Chair

Luae Stepan’s chair is "grown" by rapid prototyping - designing the actual digital process rather than using available CAD software. Based on structures and self-organizational methods in nature, the structure builds on the principle of efficient material distribution - glass-filled polyamide in this case. The goal was to simulate these processes on one hand and to interpret them to a more specific application on the other. Each iteration of the algorithm produces a unique, extremely strong structure. This one took 60 hours of rapid prototyping.



Roy Tam is an artist, designer and part-time senior lecturer at the University of Plymouth. His background includes nine years as a product design consultant with Cambridge Consultants and 12 years as partner of eco-designer David Colwell at Trannon Furniture. Currently producing a range of contemporary furniture, Tam is also developing plans for a Centre of Sustainable Design.

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© furniturelink 2007, images © Roy Tam, except top, © RCA