Modernist Design Chairs The Design Lineage of the IKEA Poäng

The IKEA Poäng armchair is a modern design classic. It has a timeless style, while Symbolically, chairs also play a more important role than other pieces of furniture. being affordable and lightweight. It is a very popular piece of furniture, with a They stand for social position, authority, and power. Even today, words like “seat”, total of 30 million sold, about 1.5 million per year in recent years. The armchair’s “chair”, and “throne” are used as synonyms for specific positions of power. design and construction can be traced back to some of the most iconic chairs of the modernist epoch. The infographic below shows this design lineage. Though this Many iconic chairs of modernism were designed by architects. Of the designers graphic suggests a continuous development, it is not always clear to which degree listed here, Alvar Aalto, Mart Stam, , and the named designers consciously referred back to previously existing designs. were architects in their main profession. These chairs mostly were the byproducts of building constructions were the architects were also responsible for furniture Chairs play a central role in furniture design. Unlike other pieces of furniture they and interior design. It might well be that architects were more prone to experiment stand freely within public rooms. They are seldomly covered by blankets, propped with new materials such as steel tube and bent laminated wood. Architect’s refined against walls, or only placed out of sight in private rooms. Thus, they are alike to sense of proportion and balance lead to timeless designs that stood the test of freely standing sculptures. time.

The IKEA Poäng was designed in 1976 by Japanese designer Noboru Nakamura and Swedish product manager Lars Engman. It is constructed from bent laminated wood. It is a cantilever chair, meaning the seat is freely suspended in the air supported only by its front legs. The chair slightly swings when sitting in it, giving a sensation similar to a rocking chair.

IKEA Poäng 1976, Noboru Nakamura and Lars Engman bent laminated wood swinging cantilever

Finnish architect Alvar Aalto is credited with inventing cantilever chairs made of bent laminated wood with his armchair 42 in 1932. Based on Dutch architect Mart Stam's idea of a The chair combines two previously existing steel tube cantilever chair, German architect technical ideas: the suspension in mid-air of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe developed his own cantilever chairs and the use of bent laminated version. Van der Rohe's design uses a rounded wood as a material. Being both strong and form, which better swings when sitting in it. flexible, laminated wood, made from several Hungarian-German teacher Marcel layers of wood glued together, is especially Breuer also quickly took up the idea and suited for such a construction. developed his own variant. The different companies initially manufacturing these chairs Artek Armchair 42 were involved in lengthy legal disputes over 1932, Alvar Aalto the copyrights of the original idea. bent laminated wood swinging cantilever

For his architectural project the Paimio Sanatorium, Alvar Aalto also designed the armchair 41 “Paimio”, besides the armchair 42. Collaborating with Otto Korhonen, a manager at a furniture factory, he perfected a procedure to construct furniture from bent laminated wood. Birch wood is cut into layers and softened using heat and water. The layers are glued together and bent under pressure. Once the wood and glue dries, it maintains its bent form. Artek Armchair 41 “Paimio” Thonet S 33 Thonet S 533 Thonet S 32 "Ceska" 1932, Alvar Aalto 1926, Mart Stam 1927, Ludwig M. v. d. Rohe 1928, Marcel Breuer bent laminated wood steel tube steel tube steel tube swinging cantilever swinging cantilever swinging cantilever A drawback of laminated wood was that it was prone to fall apart in tropical humid climate. In 1856, after moving to Vienna, the In 1925, Dutch architect Mart Stam designed German-Austrian furniture manufacturer the first steel tube cantilever chair, initially Michael Thonet arrived at a method to also made of gas tubes. He used such chairs for bend solid wood into three-dimensional furnishing his house in the Weissenhof forms.The chair no. 14, manufactured from 1859 settlement project, a showcase of modern on, became popular in coffeehouses. The chair architecture. He showed the prototype to was shipped all over the world, with 36 of German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, them fitting disassembled into a 1 cubic meter coordinator of the Weissenhof project at that box. Thus Thonet was also a pioneer in the time. Mies van der Rohe and later Marcel production of furniture on an industrial scale. Breuer took up the idea. Tubular steel The Thonet company continues to manu- Thonet Chair 14 (today 214) Cantilever Chair Protype cantilever chairs were subsequently asso- facture design chairs to this day. 1859, Michael Thonet 1925, Mart Stam ciated with Bauhaus and International Style bent solid wood steel tube architecture. Van der Rohe would later cantilever become director of the Bauhaus.

Michael Thonet is considered to be the first to Bauhaus teacher Marcel Breuer designed the construct furniture from two-dimensionally model B3 chair, later also called the Wassily bent laminated wood. The Boppard chair from Chair, in 1925. He thus invented steel tube the 1830s is an example of this. The resulting furniture. For his first series of such furniture he new aesthetic of elegant flowing forms was cooperated with the Junkers airplane factory highly esteemed at that time. He was en- in Dessau. This use of steel tubing was couraged by the Austrian court to relocate revolutionary at that time. The original inspir- from his hometown Boppard in to ation came from bicycle frames. The chair is Vienna in Austria. considered an icon of Bauhaus design.

Boppard Chair Wassily Chair 1836, Michael Thonet 1925, Marcel Breuer bent laminated wood steel tube

Photos sources: IKEA, Artek, Thonet, Museum Boppard, Knoll. Font: Spartan MB by Matt Bailey Design and text: Data Visualization Dr. Johannes Wirges: www.dataviz-jwirges.de