Chairs - 1970s

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1970s

By the turn of the 1970s, the hippy idyll was over. The mood darkened with the brutality of the Vietnam War, the violence in Northern Ireland, the corruption of Watergate, strikes, go-slows, rising unemployment and spiralling inflation. Design darkened too as avant garde Italians, such as Paolo Deganello and Ettore Sottsass, rejected the certainties of the modern movement, while the US architect Frank Gehry made chairs from banal materials like corrugated cardboard.

Synthesis 45, 1970-1971

Design: Ettore Sottsass

Injection-moulded ABS, polyurethane foam, fabric.
Production: Olivetti, Italy.

Among the most fruitful collaborations between an industrial concern and a designer was that of Ettore Sottsass (1917-) and the Italian office equipment manufacturer Olivetti. It began in 1959 when Sottsass was appointed by the company’s founder Adriano Olivetti to work alongside his son, Roberto, and the engineer, Mario Tchou. Together they developed a series of technically innovative and visually seductive office products from the Elea 9003 calculator in 1959 and the flamboyant, pop-inspired Valentine typewriter of 1970, to the equally jaunty Synthesis 45 office chair which, with its bright colours and chunky silhouette, was intended to appeal to younger office workers.

Omkstak, 1971

Design: Rodney Kinsman

Tubular steel, epoxy-coated pressed sheet steel.
Production: Bieffeplast, Italy

Light, compact and easy to stack, the Omkstak chair, developed in 1971 by the British designer Rodney Kinsman (1943-) became one of the most popular chairs of the 1970s. A rational design, which was conceived specifically for efficient, inexpensive volume production, the Omkstak is now regarded as an enduring symbol of the 'high tech' style of interior design. Born in London, Kinsman studied furniture design at the Central School of Art there and founded OMK Design in 1966 with fellow graduates - Jurek Olejnik and Bryan Morrison. Structurally the Omkstak combines characteristics of Hans Coray’s 1939 Landi chair and David Rowland’s 1963 40/4, yet Kinsman added a dash of pop flair in the vivid colours of its epoxy-coated seats.

Wiggle Side Chair, 1972

Design: Frank O. Gehry

Corrugated cardboard, hardboard
Production: Easy Edges, US/Vitra, Switzerland

Best known for his iconoclastic architecture in buildings such as the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao and the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles, Frank Gehry (1929-) has also experimented with furniture design throughout his career. One of his Easy Edges chairs, the Wiggle is composed of sixty layers of cardboard bonded and screwed together. Gehry transformed an everyday material – the corrugated cardboard from which his architectural models were made - into a solid sculptural form. 'I began to play with it, to glue it together and to cut it into shapes with a hand saw and a pocket knife', he recalled.

AEO, 1973

Design: Paolo Deganello

Lacquered steel, fibreglass-reinforced polyamide.
Production: Cassina, Italy.

By the end of the 1960s, a new generation of radical Italian architects and designers was emerging with an increasingly critical, cynical view of the modern movement and its faith in technology as a force for progress. Among them was Paolo Deganello who co-founded the avant garde design group Archizoom in Florence, with Andrea Branzi. Like their fellow radicals, they were interested in applying their political and social ideas to experimental furniture as well as to architecture. In the AEO – or Alpha and Omega – Deganello attempted to reinvent the armchair by developing a collapsible structure made up of different parts, each in a material relating to its function.

Abacus 700, 1973

Design: David Mellor

Tubular steel, wire mesh
Production: Abacus, UK

One of the most prolific British designers and design manufacturers of the 20th century, David Mellor (1930-) is best known for his elegantly modern cutlery, but he has also applied his metalworking skills to other products, notably the Abacus 700 series of outdoor seating. Born in Sheffield, the traditional heartland of the British steel industry, Mellor was educated at the local Junior Art School where he was taught metalwork and won a scholarship to the Royal College of Art in London. He then set up a company to design and manufacture his own products. Mellor designed this outdoor seating range in the fashionable 1970s high-tech style for Abacus, the Nottinghamshire-based manufacturer of furniture and lighting for public spaces.

Armchair 4794, 1975

Design: Gae Aulenti

Rigid expanded polyurethane
Production: Kartell, Italy

Best known as the architect of the Musée D’Orsay in Paris, Gae Aulenti (1927-) is also a prolific designer of lighting and furniture. An exponent of the post-war Italian belief that the architect should adopt a unified approach to design – 'from the spoon to the city', as Ernesto Rogers put it – she is passionate about the importance of each element of a design project being particular to its location. As a furniture and lighting designer Aulenti has relished the opportunity to experiment with materials and typologies in objects that reflect her love of restrained elegance. When developing the Armchair 4794, she softened the plastic into a gently curvaceous form.

Supporto, 1979

Design: Fred Scott

Aluminium, foam, leather.
Production: Hille, UK.

When Hille International, the UK office furniture manufacturer, commissioned the design of a new series of adjustable office chairs from Fred Scott (1942-2001), its objective was to rival the successful Aluminium Group of office furniture designed by Charles and Ray Eames for Herman Miller in the US. After leaving school in 1956, Scott joined a local furniture manufacturer as an apprentice cabinet maker. He won numerous awards for his work and in 1963 was awarded a place to study furniture design at the Royal College of Art in London, where he later taught. His design of the Supporto was based on the scientific research conducted by Hille and on the results of the consumer tests of each prototype.

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