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Chairs from the Collection
Main article by prof. Ezri Tarazi | Eventually The Chair Will Kill Us

"Let us make a small roof chamber with
walls, and put there for him a bed, a 
table, a chair, and a lamp..."

(2Kings 4:10)

Sitting - Episode 01

While typing out the letters of the opening sentence of an article on "Chairs," which you are reading
now, I am sitting on an Aeron chair that was designed in 1994 by Don Chadwick and Bill Stumpf for the Herman Miller Company.[1] I'm sitting on this chair shortly before midnight, having sat on it non-stop for the past three hours, during which time I had a conversation via Skype with a designer in South America, went over my e-mails, worked on building a new site on the Internet, and read troubling news about the wave of terror taking its toll on Jerusalem. Prior to this, I had supper sitting around the family dining table, and before that I sat in the car on my way to a meeting in Tel Aviv, where I sat on a chair in the conference room on the eighth floor. This morning I was sitting on a chair in my studio next to my desk from the early hours of the morning, along with two young designers who were helping me in the design and construction of a table. This description is an attempt to demonstrate that, in spite of the fact that it was a busy day, beginning at nine o'clock in the morning and lasting almost until midnight, I found myself sitting on chairs for most of the hours of the day. Nevertheless, with all of the substantial risks involved in sitting on a chair, and the real threat inherent in them, nothing manages to affect the affinity we have for chairs. Any number of three-dimensional objects exist that could be redesigned, but it seems that a chair is one of the most desirable among them.

Aeron chair, Herman Miller | courtesy of the Herman Miller company Interior of Toyota car |  from Toyota official website


It would be difficult to find a designer or architect who sought to enter the annals of history and didn't try to design a chair. A chair has a certain majesty. Its splendor and distinction, its prestige and luster come from the persuasive appeal that it conveys. What is the meaning of this aura? Could it be that during the past few years, chairs have lost their glamor?

Sitting - Episode 02


I am passively sitting on a pillow which rests on a tatami mat, while eating miso soup with soba noodles; shortly thereafter I begin to fold my legs in another direction, tensing one leg and stretching it outward. Over and over again, I move my weight from my left hand to my right hand, which is extended towards the back. My Japanese hosts mercifully observe the situation. They are sitting erect, knees folded, without moving. Up until the last century, the isolation of the Japanese islands from western culture succeeded in halting the invasion of the "chair virus" on Japanese culture. Even today, many  Japanese don't require a chair in order to sit around a table and eat.


Japanese Zaisu chair with additions of a backrest and armrest |  from Wikipedia  

Sitting without a chair influences the ability to balance one's weight differently: it builds the back muscles; increases the stretch of the body in the area of the joints and knees; and maintains flexibility in the entire body. The ability to sit on the floor has been lost to a large portion of humanity because of the habit of sitting on a chair. In cultures without chairs, sitting may be simply kneeling. Watching a giraffe or camel kneeling in order to sit on the ground suggests how absurd the situation of sitting down has become for modern man. The ability to get up from sitting on the floor is another "problematic" situation that a chair can resolve. Degenerative body muscles no longer allow us to spring up as quickly as we might once have done. 

The next mode of sitting following the mat and kneeling was to be seated on a stool. It was lower than a chair, and sitting on it required an upright torso. The stool without a backrest originated with a felled tree stump. The first stools in history were low and narrow; some of them were used as pillows when lying down. Stools don't convey strength; there is nothing illustrious about a stool. It has an intrinsic modesty, being little more than an elevated surface. If the origin of a stool came from sitting on a felled tree stump, then a bench came from sitting on a round, felled tree trunk. The bench also had no backrest, and its function was to accommodate guests - a group of people sitting together.


The first stools: felled tree trunks | from Dreamstime

It might be said that the use of chairs traces man's independence from nature and signaled his separation from the ground he sat on. But it also meant a separation from the natural world. Perhaps its magnetism comes from the fact that it only touches the ground at three or four minimal points, and offers an alternative means of support. Control over nature was a predominate challenge for mankind, and a chair is one of the obvious signs of its accomplishment.

Today, in the second decade of the 21st century, man rules over the entire planet, imposing accelerated changes over it for his own benefit. This domination has come with a burden of responsibility for all kinds of creatures living on the planet, for plant life, for the earth's material balance, and for the climatic system which has already dramatically lost its balance.

From sitting on the ground, man eventually transitioned into sitting in a spaceship and observing the earth from a distant spot in outer space, thereby demonstrating ultimate supremacy. But isn't that boastful look from a seat at tens of thousands of kilometers from earth an illusion? Is not that detachment from sitting on the ground a sign of the human race's abandonment of the ways of nature and creation? Will the victory of mankind and the defeat of earth last forever? Or will the earth expel mankind from her bowels if it will not exchange its supremacy for a partnership,
accepting responsibility and in alliance with earth and the cosmos?

Sitting - Episode 03

Sitting at the head of the table is the Assistant Chairperson of the Council for Higher Education, and I am sitting on a black leather chair at the table. The chairman of the Council is the Minister of Education but he, like his predecessor, does not occupy his seat nor, does he come to the meetings which he is supposed to chair. The chair, like a rare object belonging to an official or man of wealth, has always been a sign of power and prestige.

"He raises up the poor from the dust;
he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to
make them sit with prince and inherit
a seat of honor"

(1Samuel 2:8).

The term "the empty chair" was a brilliant observation made by Prof. Motti Omer, who studied the motif of the chair as it appears in the history of art, standing alone with no one sitting on it. I had the privilege of spending nearly a year in a course on this subject taught by Prof. Omer at Bezalel in the 1980s. The course included multiple presentations of transparencies and I was sure that after several lessons Omer would run out of examples to show us. But like the miracle of the cruse of oil, he had a huge supply of images from different historical periods and segments on various subjects. A whole lesson was devoted to the motif of the shadow from the "empty chair," and its metaphorical meaning. But the leadership chair that is empty, because the person meant to occupy it is absent, is a powerful reflection of the feeling we have today about the leadership of our country and the world.

Astronaut in a seat designed for a spacecraft | from Dreamstime Chair, painting by Vincent Van Gogh, 1888 | The National Gallery, London

The chair as a motif of leadership and authority reflects a time when most humans sat on the ground or on a mat, and their leaders set themselves apart by sitting on a chair.[2] In ancient Egypt, the chairs of high-ranking officials were fashioned of ebony, with legs carved to resemble lions' paws, and carved elements on the seat and armrests. In ancient Greece and in other kingdoms that followed, chairs were designated as an item for the upper class. It is possible to learn about the changing design of chairs throughout the history of human society from wall murals, vessels and wall bas-reliefs. When emperors and military leaders went to battle, special chairs and folding stools were developed for their use in order to allow the chair to lay flat so that it could be loaded on to a wagon together with the luxurious command post tent. Up until the 17th century in Europe, chairs were not used for sitting by the general public. In addition to sitting on the floor, most people sat on wooden boxes used for storage, benches and simple stools. As symbols of honor and responsibility, most of the energy in design and adornment was embedded in chairs meant for kings and the wealthy from the upper classes.[3]

Illustration of Greek god Hermes sitting on a chair, 5th century B.C., Ancient Greece
Hatnefer's Chair, 15th century B.C. | from free access library, Metropolitan Museum, New York


In a world where different artistic endeavors depicted deities, unseen gods and goddesses who ruled the world needed depiction in concrete images; the motif of chairs in the heavens which were appropriate for the invisible rulers appeared in these images. Allegorical treatments related to
mystical revelations of a divine being appear in the visions of the prophets:

"In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled
the temple."

(Isaiah 6:1)




Sitting - Episode 04 
 

"I have a real hottie chick here; hold on, I have three... 
("Katz and Carasso," 1971, 46:48 min.) 

Yehudah Barkan who plays the role of Joseph "Osi" Carasso, son of a wealthy family, is talking on the phone with the entrepreneur, Israel Israeli, and using sexual persuasion to entice him to come to a party at his house. He is sitting in a transparent chair known as a Bubble chair which was created in 1968 by designer Eero Aarnio.
Roman folding stool, circa. 3rd-4th century C.E.

The chair is built from an acrylic shell held together by a band of stainless steel and hanging from the ceiling on a chain. The "bubble chair" appearing in the movie is a perfect metaphor for the state of Israeli society at the peak of its decadence, two years prior to the Yom Kippur War. The chair, which is acoustically sealed, enables Osi to have a telephone conversation with whispered chauvinistic remarks. I saw the movie "Katz and Carasso" when I was ten years old and didn't understand many of the ideas expressed in the conversation ("party" and "orgy"), but I was hypnotized by the transparent chair. The setting of the ultra-modern bachelor apartment was for me "out of this world, "and left a strong impression on me for many years. The image of the Bubble chair excited me then and imprinted itself on my mind. The possibility that a piece of furniture could be so bold and different from any other that I had seen, and that it would express a futuristic design, came together with the music I loved at the time, which I would listen to during class parties, in the dim light of scented candles.


Bubble Chair, Eero Aanrio, 1968, for the Adelta firm | from Adelta website

The Bubble chair represented the embodiment of the future, divorced from the bulky physical forms of the past from which I so wanted to distance myself. The moment this revelation took place, it infused me with the appeal of the power of design to create a new reality; it also echoed the spirit of the times.

In my notebook I drew a whole living room suspended from the ceiling and imagined a flow of water washing across the floor and cleaning the room without having to pick up the armchairs. Many years later, at the 2007 Design Biennale in Rio de Janeiro, I expressed this impulse in a design installation called "Deluge" made of Corten steel covered by rust; the steel wires holding the installation above a floor of mirrors created the illusion of continuous rainfall. 


Mabool, Ezri Tarazi, 2007 | Photo: Ezri Tarazi

As a youth, visiting the department for youth at the Israel Museum, this ethereal feeling returned to me in several different episodes. During a design exhibition of the B&O (Bang & Olufsen) company, I sat with records that I brought for myself, such as "Tangerine Dream" or "Yes," and listened to them through the sound systems which were scattered throughout the exhibition; through a light touch of my finger, without pressing, I could feel the winds of the future, which B&O had already foreseen ahead of the times. 

The year that I began my studies at Bezalel, a chair was featured on magazine covers designed by Andrea Branzi for the Italian firm Zabro and named Animali Domestici (pets). The Animali Domestici chair was made  of a smooth geometric, grey-colored base with four legs. The back and arm rests were made of cuts of rough wood branches stuck in the geometric base and didactically opposed to it. A year prior to this, in 1984, Branzi had published his book "The Hot House" which was a manifest of radical ideas in the fields of architecture, interior design, furniture design and the environment.

Equipped with a well-oiled system, the business community published design magazines for manufacturers, commercial exhibition curators, and European manufacturers, and succeeded in finding an ecosystem of creativity which would advance them to the forefront with their radical ideas. The system was fired by a certain type of revolutionary fervor which ran in the blood of a generation that was rebelling against the fascism of the older generation.

Animali Domestici, Andrea Branzi, 1985, Vitra Musuem | courtesy of Andrea Branzi Studio Cover of the book The Hot House by Andrea Branzi, 1984


The Italians strove to bring a new message to the world through the medium of design; the message was utopian, undermining the bourgeois thinking of middle class Europe after World War II. The most noticeable among the generation were the Italians who had more knowledge about design than most historians. They were highly motivated, blessed with production capabilities and virtuosity, and they became a magnet for radical designers from all over Europe, who came to Milan to realize their passion for designing furniture which would have historical significance. There was also a growing market of international furniture suppliers, architects and interior designers who were searching for "the look of tomorrow." They felt a need to brand themselves or their clients with "the principle of weightiness" - that is to say, an important object which everyone would notice. A single chair or armchair was the perfect accessory to answer their quest: a single object meant for an individual, and a symbol of alienation from plebian thinking and marking the freedom of man as an individual.

"I simply thought that if there were some meaning in designing objects, it was in helping people to live somehow; I intend to help people know themselves and to free themselves."
(Ettore Sottsass [1917-2007])[4]

Sitting - Episode 05


I'm sitting in a chair inside of a structure resembling a giant tube made of a skeleton covered with aluminum tin, 20,000 feet above sea level. The chair was designed especially for the long cabin where I am sitting, and the legs of the seat are anchored to the aluminum floor with screws. The upholstered seat that I am sitting on can be detached, and I can hold the straps on its underside close to my chest and float on the surface of the water. In addition, under the chair is "an inflatable vest" allowing me to remain afloat. Some parts of my seat are located in the back of the seat in front of me - a folding table and a flat screen with a USB port for charging.


My chair is connected to the web by way of my Linux computer, allowing whoever is sitting behind me to watch movies, hear music or play computer games. The arm of my seat folds back and at its end there is a place to connect earphones. In an additional compartment on the back of my chair, there are magazines supplied by the airlines, an information pamphlet explaining to the passengers what to do in an emergency, such as the landing of this immense tube on the surface of the ocean. I'm looking at the optimistically illustrated picture of giant inflatable slides which will open to become rescue vessels, and trying to imagine in my mind what it would really be like if something happened to the vessel and it took a dive from 20,000 ft. into the Atlantic Ocean (Northern Sea). My scenario has no resemblance to the schematic illustration in the pamphlet.


Interior of economy class on a passenger plane | from Dreamstime

One of the passengers sitting next to me has wrapped a horseshoe-shaped pillow around her neck. The pillow is an indication that the seat was not designed for sitting as long as 13 hours, and certainly not for sleeping. Nevertheless, hundreds of those sitting in this giant vessel are trying to fall asleep in their seats in a number of different positions.

An important element in focusing on the chair in the history of modern and post-modern design is the evolution in the use of materials since World War II, materials such as aluminum and plastic which were needed in the production of airplanes due to their light weight. Improvements in trains, in private motor vehicles and in the realm of marine travel created a new field for visual expression, which was more demanding from an engineering standpoint, and which didn't leave room for playing with stylized design elements. In these aforementioned areas, engineers and designers didn't have a history or cultural considerations to inhibit them, and thus a new style was born based on the rationales of performance and functionality. Home furniture, on the other hand, was still made mainly of wood, and was characterized by ornamentation and over-stylization. The resemblance between them grew when engineers and industrial designers in the fields of transportation, aviation and military equipment began to work in the civilian sector. The period of the end of wars was a time when civilian considerations began to take center stage.

The chair became a "litmus test" for a large number of new materials, which spread to other items in the home. The Bubble chair mentioned above was only one amongst a series of chairs which were designed from plastic in the 20th century, when every chair design was undergoing changes
in the use of materials and methods of production. The acrylic shell of the Bubble chair was taken from the technology of the transparent cover over the cockpits of helicopters and airplanes. This was the way that the aura surrounding a chair as an object suggesting cultural considerations began to form, ushering in a new era and conveying a certain status.

The new materials shattered conventional thinking and led to the time when a new generation accepted the emerging worlds of space, aviation and manufacturing in their homes. 

"The excitement and optimism accompanying the appearance of new materials...and the connection of them to methods of production and the requirements of the structure of the materials had a tremendous influence on the object itself."
(Penny Sparke)[5]

A prominent example of an innovative chair which was designed with a new material or method of production, nearly 20 years before the Bubble chair, was the Panton chair by the Danish designer Verner Panton, which was manufactured by the Vitra firm in 1968. The chair was molded in
one piece from plastic by cold-pressing layers of fiberglass combined with polyester  to give it strength. Thirty years later, Vitra began producing the expensive and highly coveted chair by employing the technique of plastic injection of polypropylene. The chair was received as a sensation because of its colorful form (red is the most popular of all the colors) and the absence of legs, which was different from any other chair produced up to that time.[6] The chair wasn't meant to save money or to be sold at a low price, and eventually plastic manufacturers found ways to construct the chair as a monobloc, thereby reducing its cost; they edited out numerous parts of the seat and backrest of the chair, creating sides which were particularly thin and reducing the weight of the material to the bare minimum needed. Over time, the chair produced with plastic injection became a synonym for an inexpensive chair, and was widely distributed due to its low cost. Some versions of the plastic chair were so thin and made of such cheap material that they would often fall apart in short order.


Panton chair, 1968 | from Wikipedia

Newer plastic chairs combine elements such as wood, recycled wood or aluminum. When injecting the plastic, gas is introduced, allowing an increase in the thickness of the arms or legs while
maintaining a thin side. We can already see future production of the plastic chair by three-dimensional printing, thereby avoiding the tremendous expense of producing a die for plastic injection which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. A number of chairs produced by 3D printing already exist on the market, but the slow rate of production and its cost per chair do not allow for mass distribution, other than among collectors of small series. In the near future, after overcoming the labor pains of giving birth to a new technology, 3D printing will allow for producing chairs on special order, in forms which are beyond the imagination. Innovative plastic materials such as carbon fibers and grafen used in nanotechnology herald a revolution in the scale between weight and strength. The future promises us chairs that weigh only grams, rather than kilos, and are as strong as chairs made of steel.


Endless Flow, low chair, Dirk Van der Kooij, 2010; example of a chair produced with 3D printing (3D printing) | Catalogue from the exhibition "Gathering" (2014), Design Museum Holon

Sitting - Episode 6


I'm sitting on the chair relegated to the officer on watch on the bridge of the remnants of a sunken missile boat, 25 meters under the sea in Eilat. The only thing left of the chair is its frame. I am familiar with this chair from hours of sailing on a missile boat during the first Lebanese war and the lengthy time spent as an officer of the watch in the navy. During this dive, sitting means floating above the aluminum frame of the chair, since my body is in a completely horizontal position. The balancing weight on my back holds a stainless steel plate and a lead weight. Counter-balancing it is my wetsuit made of buoyant Neoprene and a bagel-shaped wing from Cordura material which I can inflate with nitrox enriched air or empty according to the pressure of the water, which at this depth is 3.5 atmospheres. While floating above the chair, inhaling through the regulator in my mouth forces me to rise several centimeters, while exhaling brings me back down. In spite of the fact that I have two aluminum tanks on my back which are connected, and an additional tank on my left side, I don't feel the weight. When on land, all the equipment I am carrying, including additional items such as a camera, a flashlight and a float with a dive flag weigh 40 kilograms, while under the water I don't feel the weight.


The author seen on the sunken missile boat in Bay of Eilat, Israel | Photo: Doron Altaratz

Sitting on a chair positioned on land is entirely different than sitting under water. The upholstered chair attempts to distribute body weight so we will not tire over time spent in  a sitting position. However, the result of sitting on a chair during so many of our waking hours causes us to put most of our weight on our lower spine. When we are examining the comfort of a chair in a store, we can only estimate its comfort. Actually, a sitter changes position any number of times, often to release the pressure on a certain area of the body. The pelvis moves forward on the seat until it reaches the edge of the chair and creates a distorted (bent) position with the upper torso. This common position, which chairs were not designed to accommodate, causes considerable pressure on the spine. The result is that the human race, while moving from sitting on the ground to sitting on a chair, created for itself a whole syndrome of back pain that only a few manage to avoid. The bad news in this story is that prolonged sitting on a chair is very bad for our health. "Our research found that when you sit for six consecutive hours, or during most of an eight-hour day spent at work, the flow of blood to our legs greatly decreases and dramatically affects the blood flow to the heart and its function. We found that ten minutes of standing or walking every hour can improve the situation to a great extent," says Prof. Jaume Padilla from the School of Medicine at the University of Missouri,[7] in an article published in 2015 in the Journal of Experimental Physiology. Chairs cause us other problems related to pressure on the spine and result in chronic back pain, degeneration of muscles, a decrease in the body's flexibility, weight-gain and joint pain.

Another proof that a chair can kill is in the death of the judge Eli who received the news from a messenger that his two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were killed in battle and the Ark of the Covenant was stolen from them by the Philistines: 

"When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell over backward from his seat by the side of the gate; and his neck was broken and he died, for he was an old man, and heavy.

(1Samuel 4:18)

Attempts at solving the various problems created by sitting through new design shapes have produced some interesting mutations. At the end of the 1970s in Scandinavia, Hans Christian Mengshoel produced a Kneeling chair designed for a sitting position which would distribute the body's weight between the spine and the thighs while kneeling on special upholstered areas. As a student at Bezalel, I built a kneeling chair from panels cut out of plywood and used it for sitting in front of the giant drafting table equipped with an advanced ruler machine. I discovered very quickly that the main problem with the chair was the inability to change positions, in addition to the difficulty of getting up quickly. The Saddle Chair attempts to produce the same upright position of horseback riders by imitating the form on a chair with wheels. Chairs of this type require sufficient time for adaptation and are suited to people who exercise doing yoga or pilates.

Ergonomically built chairs meant for office work offer many possibilities for adjusting the chair to individual needs. Without scientifically researching the matter, it is clear from observing people sitting in these chairs that most of them don't bother or know or are not aware that the chair they are sitting on is not suited to the correct height or angle appropriate for them. Especially when working in front of the computer, modifying the height of the chair and the height of the desk or table is critical for preventing neck, back and hand pain. There is no doubt that in the near future we will see a chair that "remembers" the individual parameters  of the user and, by pressing on a button, the chair will return to those parameters which have been determined by an expert. Whoever will examine the matter will discover that the human being is a strange creature when it comes to choices; while he is willing to spend thousands of shekels for a bicycle that he rides for a few hours a week at best, he is only willing to spend a fraction of that for the office chair on which he sits dozens of hours during the week.[8]

Sayl Chair, Herman Miller | courtesy of Herman Miller Kneeling chair | from Dreamstime


Sitting - Episode 7

I'm not actually resting on the ground with a forest of reddening leaves surrounding me. That is, I'm not sitting on the ground in a physical sense, but floating a short distance above it. I'm almost weightless. I sleep this way as well. Something within me creates a counter force to the pull of
gravity, that electromagnetic halo that allows me to sit in any position I choose and at any height that I want. I'm looking at the woman sitting across from me and she is invisible. I can't see her face. Opposite me I see rings of colored light, balls and cylinders glittering and glowing, moving slowly with care as she moves her hands while talking to me. She has a body but it is masked by a cloud moving rapidly within the metaphysical cortices of the forms I see in front of me. I make an effort and see something of the cloak covering her body, but the physical essence disappears and evaporates with the first distraction. All thought of her is clear to me even before it is expressed in words, because she appears in my mind, and a stream of new forms burst out of the bubble of
her silence. My body is ablaze from a new and unfamiliar cool serenity, and the stream of light particles produce hidden)  legs of changing forms and colors. I hear myself say to myself: This isn't a chair, but I am sitting.


Bibliography:

[1] Kuang, Cliff. "The Untold Story Of How The Aeron Chair Was Born," Fast Company, February 5th, 2013.

[2] Abercrombie, Stanley. A Philosophy of Interior Design, New York: Harper & Row, p. 84. 1990.

[3] Abercrombie, Stanley. A Philosophy of Interior Design, New York: Harper & Row, p. 84. 
1990.

[4] Sparke, Penny. An Introduction to Design and Culture in the Twentieth Century, New York: Harper & Row, p.202. 
1986

[5] Sparke, Penny. An Introduction to Design and Culture in the Twentieth Century, New York: Harper & Row, p.129. 1986.

[6] Leach, Rebecca, Painter, Colin.(ed.). "What Happened at Home with Art: Tracing the Experience of Consumers," Contemporary Art and the Home, New York:Berg, p.75. 2002.


[7] "Impact of Prolonged Sitting on Lower and Upper Limb Micro- and Macrovascular Dilator Function," Experimental Physiology, Fadel PJ, Padilla J, Restaino RM, Holwerda SW, Credeur DP, July 2015.

[8] Klinkenberg,Brendan. "This Is The Office Chair Of The Future, And It Looks Crazy
", Buzzfeednews, Oct 28, 2015

 

 
 
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