Why architects tend to struggle in their pursuit of sitting comfort?

20Mar14
By Witold Rybczynski, Hon. FAIA
To the long list of architects who have had a go at designing a chair, we can now add Tadao Ando, Hon. FAIA. Carl Hansen & Søn, a Danish manufacturer known for its long association with the great Hans J. Wegner, recently unveiled Ando’s Dream Chair. I visited Hansen’s Hudson Street showroom in New York City to see the chair—and to sit in it. The Dream Chair consists of a molded plywood shell as the seat, attached to a second shell that forms the base. In frontal silhouette, the sculptural shape reminded me of a traditional Japanese kimono and hakama. The forms are punctuated by three ovals: a head rest, a hole cut into the seat, and an identical hole in the base. The padded headrest is adjustable, like a car seat, a mechanical feature that I found mildly disturbing in a lounge chair. The base is cantilevered, so that when I sat down the chair flexed pleasantly. The problem was that the edge of the hole that is cut into the seat also cut into my tail bone, and I couldn’t find a comfortable position. It was a small but persistent irritation, like having a tiny stone in one’s shoe.
The manufacturer describes the Dream Chair as a tribute to Wegner, whose low lounge chair, the Shell Chair, was also on the showroom floor. That chair consists of two upholstered shells of molded plywood—a seat and a back—supported on three laminated legs. I’ve long admired the Shell Chair for its utter simplicity—and, now that I finally had a chance to sit in it, I could also appreciate its comfort. Perfect.

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