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    Evolution of the Task Chair: Man's Quest for Comfort

    Any story about the evolution of the office chair must, by necessity, be a narrative, rather than a history. In this one, as with all great tales, there is a protagonist (The Office Worker) and an antagonist (The Machine)—as well as grand, overarching themes­, like Comfort, Efficiency and Beauty.

    We begin our story around 1650 with an example that blurs the line between home and office—a hand­crafted chair for the home that cleverly converts to a table. And we end in the present day with high­-tech seat, Steelcase's Gesture, which similarly muddies the work-leisure divide: It accommodates both formal postures and relaxed ones—a response to the infiltration of the smartphone and tablet.

    There are recurring themes. Konstantin Grcic’s 360 stool for Magis, from 2009, perhaps echoes George Nelson’s 1964 Perch stool. Grcic’s design is intended to “encourage dynamic sitting, short term, ad hoc, improvised.” The same could be said of Nelson’s “Action Office”­--the result of Herman Miller’s research on workplace efficiency, for which the Perch was designed.

    As technology advances, the story gets more nuanced and subtle; the mechanisms of comfort dematerialize. A physical lumbar support gives way to an invisible one created using cleverly stitched­ together textile panels (in the Liberty Chair). The traditionally complex devices that facilitate reclining are obviated by a flexible plastic­-and­-rubber spine in the Setu Chair.

    Like any compelling narrative, there are glaring omissions. (You won’t find the work of Charles and Ray Eames represented here, for example.) And the ending is intentionally unresolved­­. After all, what joy will there be when man's quest for comfort finally comes to an end?

    Related features:
    Timeline of Green Breakthroughs
    Women in Design: Confronting the Glass Ceiling
    How Did We Get Here? NYC Design: 1780-2012


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