Why do architects design chairs?

Zaha Hadid, Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, Berlage; there are quite a few (st)architects that designed a chair. By having a look at the chair collection of our faculty, you can recognise names of famous architects like Alvar Aalto and Gerrit Rietveld too. With buildings as the main focus of architects, why do architects actually design chairs?

During the fire of 2008 that destroyed the old faculty building, the chair collection was the first thing to be saved. The faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment is now in possession of around 300 chairs. Previously only used in drawing classes and in lectures, they are now all on display in an open depot in the faculty. This is because they serve as an inspiration for designing and describe a great part of design history.

But why in the Architecture faculty, and not in for example the faculty of Industrial Design? In an essay about architects designing chairs, Jan Brouwer (2013) claims that in the middle of the last century, architects like Berlage and Frank Loyd Wright were almost the only ones that focused on interior design. Interior, just like the exterior, was seen as a significant part of every architecture assignment. Nowadays, due to more industrialisation over the years, furniture design is mostly led by industrial designers. In the present day, there is a whole study programme dedicated strictly to interior architecture. The fact that interior and exterior were seen as an intertwined unity, due to history, probably why the faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment has a bigger chair collection than the faculty of Industrial Design and Engineering.

Even though the connection between chairs and buildings seems lost these days, chairs are still highly relevant to architects. Art historian AgataToromanoff’s (2016) book Chairs by Architects focusses on this connection. In her book she describes how people can have a more intimate relationship with chairs then they could potentially have with buildings, thus making them highly interesting study material for architects. She even refers to chairs as ‘little buildings to sit on’. Mies van der Rohe also once stated in an interview that, “A chair is a very difficult object. A skyscraper is almost easier.”

Chairs have had a relation with architecture for centuries, but this relation has been decaying over time. Don't let this separation between exterior and interior set boundaries to your way of designing. With the same vision, Jan Brouwer says that all architects should actually be designing a chair. Sometimes the biggest prestige designing project of an architect lies within the design on the relatively small scale of a chair.

Jan Brouwer. (2018, 25 april). Redactie ArchitectuurNL. Jan Brouwer over het ontwerpen van stoelen - Architectuur.nl. Architectuur.nl. https://www.architectuur.nl/inspiratie/jan-brouwer-over-het-ontwerpen-van-stoelen/ Stoelencollectie. (n.d.). TU Delft. https://www.tudelft.nl/bk/onderzoek/bk-labs/stoelencollectie Toromanoff, A. (2016). Chairs by Architects. National Geographic Books.