The Milan Furniture Fair: Chairless 08.07.10

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The strap has a handmade feel

Chairless will be one of the talking points of Milan: it's a chair with none of the attributes the word implies. Designed by Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena for Vitra, this non-chair must be the most affordable launch the furniture fair has seen for a while – it costs €20.

Chairless is modelled on a device used by the semi-nomadic Ayoreo Indians of Paraguay. Aravena, who has made his name with social housing in Chile (page 123), often uses the portable band as an illustration of how to reconsider what is essential to an object, especially when resources are scarce. In this case, it is a chair without legs, a seat or a back. That gives an indication of the seriousness of the band's provenance. And yet those who don't know the background may think it looks like one of those gimmicky products to be found at the back of a weekend supplement.

"It's not a gag, it's a serious alternative to a chair," says Eckart Maise, Vitra's head of design, research and development. "A chair is nothing more in the end than a seating tool to keep your body in a certain position, comfortable but dynamic." Maise likens it to when children pull their T-shirts over their knees so they can sit with their hands free.

The band is made of woven polyester with the join wrapped in leather. "We worked a lot on what kind of feeling to give it," says Maise. "It's like a seatbelt but softer, and woven like it's a piece of craft, slightly handmade." As portable as a mobile phone, Chairless is clearly aimed at today's nomadic lifestyle, almost literally so.

Rather than being distributed to Vitra dealers, it will be sold chiefly on the internet. A percentage of the proceeds will go to a Swiss foundation – coincidentally based in Vitra's hometown, Basel – that is helping the Ayoreo Indians recover land that was taken away from them.
Venue Hall 12, stand C05/D06

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An Ayoreo Indian demonstrates the concept

 

Words

Justin McGuirk

quotes story

Aravena often uses the portable band as an illustration of how to reconsider what is essential to an object, especially when resources are scarce

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