100 CHAIRS IN 100 DAYS
The Process of Making One Hundred Chairs by Martino Gamper
I didn’t make one hundred chairs just for myself or even in an effort to rescue a few hundred unwanted chairs from the streets. The motivation was the methodology: the process of making, of producing and absolutely not striving for the perfect one. This kind of making was very much about restrictions rather than freedom. The restrictions were key: the material, the style or the design of the found chairs and the time available — just a 100 days. Each new chair had to be unique, that’s what kept me working toward the elusive one-hundredth chair.
I collected discarded chairs from London streets (or more frequently, friends’ homes) over a period of about two years. My intention was to investigate the potential of creating useful new chairs by blending together the stylistic and structural elements of the found ones. The process produced something like a three-dimensional sketchbook, a collection of possibilities. I wanted to question the idea of there being an innate superiority in the one-off and used this hybrid technique to demonstrate the difficulty of any one design being objectively judged The Best. I also hope my chairs illustrate — and celebrate — the geographical, historical and human resonance of design: what can they tell us about their place of origin or their previous sociological context and even their previous owners? For me, the stories behind the chairs are as important as their style or even their function.
I wanted the project to stimulate a new form of design-thinking and to provoke debate about the value, functionality and the appropriateness of style for certain types of chair. What happens to the status and potential of a plastic garden chair when it is upholstered with luxurious yellow suede? The approach is elastic, highlighting the importance of contextual origin and enabling the creative potential of random individual elements spontaneously thrown together. The process of personal action that leads towards making rather than hesitating. Taken from the book 100 Chairs in 100 Days, published by Dent-De-Leone, 2007.
Bistro Chair, 1859
The original Poly side chair designed by Robin Day was launched in 1963 after three years of development work. Polypropylene had been invented in 1954 but it had not been used in the furniture industry before. Robin Day and Hille looked to develop seating using this new durable, cost efficient material working in conjunction with the British petrochemical company Shell. Robin had specific criteria that he looked to meet with his design such as hidden fixings using an integral fixing boss, a fully rolled edge to add strength and a range of bases which gave the chair the potential to appeal to a multitude of markets.
The investment for Hille for the moulding tool was huge at the time at around £6,000 and development of the product was very time consuming with many tests and alterations. In the 1960’s of course there were no CAD or CGI facilities and early prototypes had to be created by hand with full product testing only possibly once the actual shell moulding had been created.
Once the development had been completed Hille’s genius marketing campaign was to first send out a line drawing of a stork alerting the recipients who were major government buyers, architects and designers to the following attractively packaged chair sample they were to receive. Hille sent out 600 sample units and the launch and the subsequent marketing campaign’s saw Hille sell Millions of units in the years that followed.
Such was the global success of the Poly side chair by the early 70’s Hille became licensor and had licenses in 30 countries allowing the production and sales of their designs which helped overcome high import duties and shipping costs with the sales bringing in revenue for research and development. Tools were produced in the UK and shipped out to various countries with comprehensive instructions covering every aspect of the chairs productions including materials and methods so as to maintain quality.
In the early 1980’s testing levels for severe contract use meant that the ubiquitous original Poly side frame had to be changed to a more industrial version. It is fair to say that Robin very much preferred the original version but at the time this would only pass testing for domestic use so the decision was made to focus on the revised version which has been produced up to the present day. In 2009 the Poly side chair was featured on a first day cover celebrating British Design classics cementing its place in design history.
Over the many years of working with Robin Day he never relented in mentioning that the original Polyside frame was by far more elegant and of course he was right. In 2011 we have been working with steel suppliers to look at new variants of tube available which allow the original frame to be manufactured to pass the severe contract use tests and as a result Robin’s original design classic will be re-launched shortly.