MODULAR CHAIR

 
4.500, FALL 2019

BRIEF

To design and build a chair using modular plywood construction, moving from CAD to scale models to full-sized furniture.

DESIGN

My first concepts were expressionist: what kind of emotion could a chair exude? How would it make the inhabitant feel? Was there a way of upending the traditional way a person sits in a chair? For instance, the chair on the right is inspired by the pitcher plant. There is no flat surface, so the user inexplicably slides down to the base of the chair and could only get out with great difficulty.

I abandoned these concepts out of practicality. Volumetric forms may lend themselves to interesting shapes and experiences, but I was working against the material rather than with it, as demonstrated by my attempts to create a scale model of the pitcher plant chair (shown left). 

It was then that I realised that the material we had been given could act as inspiration for the design itself. I wanted to create something portable and space-efficient, that would be made out of as many identical as possible. Moreover, I wanted to make sure that it could be held together through friction alone, and was not dependent on glue. This way, the chair could be constructed as a flatpack, deconstructed, and reconstructed anywhere.

CONCEPT

I ultimately settled on a modular chair. This could be manufactured easily, and allowed the user to customise it according to their needs. 

The chair has three different states, or modes. The first is a campaign chair without armrests. This is a fixed frame, and consists of several near-identical elements connected to one another by four central dowels. Originally, I planned to use only one dowel, which would have resulted in the purest design, but the joint proved too weak to withstand vertical forces when I tested the laser-cut model, prompting a redesign. The dowels have square cross-sections to further stabilise the structure. Moreover, the square shape was easier to achieve with CNC-cut plywood. The second and third modes are achieved by adding the secondary modules of the chair, which form armrests that slot into the primary structure. Together, they conform to the user's unique preferences while adding a striking performative element to the experience of sitting in a chair.

FINAL OUTCOME

Constructing the final chair was extremely time-consuming, though ultimately rewarding. We were allowed to choose the colour of our plywood, and I opted for maroon, a choice which I have since come to increasingly appreciate. Much of my time was consumed with smoothing out the finishes of the CNC-cut wooden parts (the tabs holding the sheet together had to be cut and removed), and making sure that the tolerances of the joints were such that they would provide sufficient friction to hold the chair together whilst not being so tight that they would become jammed during installation. With some practice, I believe I could have done better in this regard, as I had to use wood glue to reinforce several of my smaller joints. 

Someday, I want to make a better version of this chair. Its key shortcoming was that it wobbled. Ultimately, the chair's stability is provided by four tapering pieces of plywood, which did not take well to being rocked on. It was quite comfortable though, and I was saddened when the plywood snapped along one of the mortises (the holes)at the end of one of the legs, making it unusable. Perhaps if I opt for a sturdier material, or come up with a better design, this can be avoided in a future iteration.

© Natasha Karolina Hirt. 2018.