Folding Chair

The 2012 Inform Awards jury recognized this project by Leo Salom, AIA, of Monstrans, for its object design excellence.

Designs for folding chairs invariably involve the long-standing balance among efficiency of space, portability, and the technological making that links the two. True of any design question, a solution can be reached by aligning three critical considerations: material, use, and making.

A solution, in this case, came by way of testing the potential of the CNC router, which can cut highly precise lines through material sheets, such as plywood or plastic, as would a surgeon with a scalpel through tissue. Salom added two more conditions to guide his design:

  • The chair had to fold back into the single layer of plywood from which it was made
  • The design had to maximize the yield of each sheet in order to be efficient and reduce waste.

The first obstacle to overcome in the design was the geometric relationship between the folding pieces, because each piece needed to fold back into its original location on the sheet. After the first two full-size prototypes, it quickly became apparent that fractions of an inch when unfolded had a multiplier affect that rippled through the entire layout of the parts and how the parts fit together. Mastering those fractions was imperative if the designer was to achieve a workable chair.

The second persistent question throughout was understanding the creative potential of the CNC router in what Salom terms poiesis (literally “making” in Greek and, incidentally, the root word to “poetry”). As he neared the tenth prototype it became apparent, he says, that he was making the chair by drawing a line on the computer screen that was analogous to the tool path the computer used to cut the parts. It became the unfolding of a line that was critical to the making of the chair.

The chair is composed of three wood parts made from rapidly renewable bamboo plywood:

  • A front leg that incorporates the back rest
  • The back leg, which unfolds from the other one
  • The seat, which folds out of the back leg and locks onto tenons on the front leg.

There are three hinges that connect and allow the wooden parts to articulate their closed-to-open-to-reclosed positioning. Eight rare earth magnets hold the parts in place in the closed position. The seat and the back rest are fitted with quarter-inch-thick wool felt pads. Handle holes on either side of the folded chair allow for balance in both carrying the chair and in its aesthetic symmetry.

The 2012 Inform Awards jury one honor award in Landscape Architecture, one honor award and two merit awards in Object Design, and two honor awards and one merit award in Interiors. You can read about those projects here. The jury also identified 28 projects as worthy of recognition for design excellence. ReadInform.com will publish those projects throughout the year, and they can be seen in aggregate here.

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