Post-war designs inspire student-produced chairs

Have a seat. Pull up a chair. Get to work. Make yourself comfortable.

However fleshed out your idea of the purpose or function of the chair, you may find yourself entertaining new thoughts when you examine the five top designs created by students at UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design for the second annual Form Follows design competition.

The students’ takes on the contemporary chair are display through Wednesday at the CED Library, located on the second floor of Wurster Hall.

The top prize and an award of $500 went to Greta Aalborg-Volper, a visual artist and master’s student in landscape architecture, for her deceptively simple L-shaped chair. Knots of the plywood structure punctuate the sides of the piece, thanks to a computer numerical control (CNC) process. And while the structure lacks arms, its slight tilt and wide base make for an extremely comfortable rest stop.

Geta Aalborg-Volper’s winning design is in the foreground of this photo. (UC Berkeley photos by Kathleen Maclay)

In second place, Mauricio Zamora’s horizontal, bench-like chair has space for a glass of water, a plant or a few books. The master’s in architecture student said he may apply his $250 prize money to plane fare home to Orlando, Florida, for the holidays, where he will be recuperating from the 40-plus hours he  invested in the competition. He’ll also be thinking of a design for next year’s contest, which he already is planning to enter.

Mauricio Zamora said he was inspired by designs for a post-war housing project in Vallejo.

To win third place, Marshall Gifford turned to homes that were built in Berkeley for Tom and Allen Hudson in 1947, following the designs of the late CED alumnus Henry Hill.

“What inspired me from Hill’s axonometric drawing for the Twin Houses was the repetition and intersection of lines from the horizontal siding and vertical boards of the fence,” said Gifford. “I wanted to use the grain of veneer layers to replicate the repetition of lines of the Twin Houses. The design is then further inspired by the curves of Scandinavian furniture and the weaving of paper cord for chair seats and backs. I wanted to see if, just like weaving solid hard wood for a traditional picnic basket, something similar could be done with thin strips of plywood. If possible and done right, this could result in a more comfortable plywood chair that actually had some spring.”

Take a look.

Marshall Gifford experimented with producing a more comfortable plywood chair by weaving thin strips of plywood and providing some “spring” to his furniture.

Gifford said he built the frame of his chair out CDX plywood, which is low-grade but strong. Then he made some calculations and used some of the hardwood ply students received for the competition to test out a process called kerf cutting to make the seat bendable, then testing the strength and weave of the backing.

“So I ended up building two chairs in the process,” Gifford said. “Once I established how to do the back and seat and that it worked, I set about making the final chair.”

All pieces other than the seat used a double-laminated thickness of the plywood. The loose shapes were cut using the CNC process before cutting the angles, sanding and refining in the woodshop. He constructed and finished the chair over the weekend before last week’s judging.

Judges for the competition included J.C. Miller of Miller Studio; Nicholas de Monchaux, an associate professor of architecture and urban design; Elizabeth Thorpe, manager of the CED fabrication shop; Judd Williams of Williams & Foltz; and Topher Delaney of Delaney + Chin.

Students were asked to consider the close relationship between their design and the person who might use it, the project from the post-war designs in CED archives that inspired it and their chairs’ physical and emotional impacts.

“Our first competition was open to all of our archival projects, and we wanted to help limit the scope to assist students,” said Emily Vigor, collections archivist with the Environmental Design Archives. “Plus, a lot of our post-war design is pretty groovy!”

The five finalists were chosen after 13 students submitted designs in the form of models no larger than 7-by-7-inches, along with two posters.

The five finalists had to build their chairs to scale with just one sheet of plywood in the CED fabrication shop.

Support for the competition came from the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental planning, the architecture department’s Draper Architectural Research Fund, and the CED fabrication shop.

Below are a few more images of the top five designs.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.