Finding One Good Chair

Late last month I had the pleasure of joining three amazing women on a jury for the One Good Chair competition in Las Vegas. While it’s always confounding to talk about sustainability in windowless convention facilities, in a city that’s a manifestation of the monstrous hybrid concept writ large, we were delighted to see green moves on a small scale. My fellow jurors and I were pleased to review the five finalists in the competition and learn how young designers from all over the world are thinking about materials, packaging, ergonomics, and more.

Run by the Las Vegas Market and supported by the Sustainable Furnishings Council (SFC), (Metropolis is a media sponsor), the competition is the brainchild of architect Lance Hosey who hatched the idea three years ago. He structured the jury process as a two-tier effort: A panel of 20 reviews the big pool of entries (311 this year) and votes online to narrow the numbers down to five finalists. It was those five that we deliberated on at the Las Vegas Market. My fellow adjudicators were Shashi Caan, designer and educator, and founder of the Shashi Caan Collective; Zem Joaquin, designer, editor, and CEO of EcoFabulous;  Sarah Backhouse, TV host, producer, and writer.

groupThe Jury with Lance Hosey.

The finalists were the ELXE Chair by Georg Thesing and Pitt Berkmeyer from Germany; the Zpine Lounge Chair by Eric Tong from the U.K.; the Broom Chair by Baita Design Studio (Helena Bueno and Heinz Muller) of Brazil; the RE_flex chair by Juan Mercado of the U.S. (Detroit). (Mercado’s chair won the People’s Choice award—1,200 people voted online during the lead up to the Las Vegas event.) The SFC connected with manufacturers to produce prototypes of all five designs, but ultimately only two manufacturers were able to comply (Handy Living and Weyerhauser Hardwoods). One designer built his own prototype. This “uneven” condition was interesting, because it reflected the real-world challenges of prototyping and manufacturing products.

Eric TongEric Tong leadWe selected Eric Tong’s design as the winner. We liked the fact that adjustments were made to the design in the process of getting it produced, actually improving the design: The physical form was more elegant than the early rendering. And we found the chair comfortable. Tong’s lounge chair has a sinuous form: two curved pieces of stainless steel create the frame for a curving birch honeycomb core that, as Tong put it, has “omni-directional stiffness.” That honeycomb structure compresses to a very small shape, and Tong designed an elegant packaging structure for it. This chair can ship in a volume of less than 0.1 cubic meter and can be assembled in minutes.

The look, the shipping strategy, and the materials attracted lot of attention from the jurors and those attending the Las Vegas Market. Among those eager to talk with Eric Tong about the design was Tom Erdman of Handy Living: “We are very interested in Eric’s chair,” he says. “Since our company is in the business of developing products that can be knocked down, and our customer looks to us for those kinds of products, a chair like Eric’s completely embraces this concept.  The combination of the elegance, comfort and frugality of raw materials makes us believe that this chair can be a winning product for the mass market.”

Backhouse sees the One Good Chair as “being about minimizing the impact on Mother Earth while maximizing the pleasure for her inhabitants—a maxim that should be applied to all design. I was impressed by the caliber of work of all the finalists. But Eric Tong was the clear winner. His chair is the epitome of eco-conscious elegance.” Hosey says that the Zpine chair “perfectly represents the kind of ingenuity we promote with this competition. The collapsible birch-ply structure ships in a surprisingly compact box and expands into a structure that is unbelievably durable, comfortable, and elegant. Simply brilliant.”

Kira Gould, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP, is a writer and director of communications for William McDonough + Partners. She is co-author of Women in Green: Voices of Sustainable Design. Follow her on Twitter.

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