Reimagining the chair as an architectural material
With their focus on “environmental acuity and a critical digital ethic,” Brian Bush and Yong Ju Lee of E/B Office describe themselves as “digital architects” who design “real projects that are virtually indistinguishable from their digital visions.” Their most recent vision included 300 of IKEA’s pine wood Ivar chairs arching through the air across the wide lawn at Freedom Park in Atlanta, where SEAT was installed earlier this summer for Flux Projects, a public art organization. Bush and Lee hope that SEAT will encourage people to reconsider the chair as more than just a passive, everyday object, but as an architectural structure in and of itself. Indeed, sitting amongst a swooping pavilion built entirely out of chairs, it would be difficult not to.
No doubt you’ve seen the Ivar chair before, or something like it. Popular for its low price ($24.99) and ability to be painted any color, Ivar is so basic it’s the kind of chair that should pop right up when you do a Google Image search for “chair” (it doesn’t, though IKEA’s Poang does). Because they came from IKEA, all 300 were assembled by hand by Bush, Lee and a team of 15. The chairs were unaltered except for the seat, which was removed from most to make them easier to connect. After Bush and Lee made a 3D model in Rhino with the help of a structural engineer, they launched right into building the full-scale version onsite.
Once the materials were shipped to Freedom Park, installation began at the farthest edges of the pavilion, which were stabilized with rebar in a concrete foundation. Chair by chair, they worked their way towards the middle, at which point a keystone chair was added. Then the temporary bracing was gradually removed and wooden support columns were added at key points. But because the lag bolts, clamps, screws and other hardware are hidden from view, embedded in the body of the chairs, the corbeled arch looks fluid, regardless of the additional columns.
Given the fact that the overall weight of the structure is nearly 4,000 pounds it’s surprising that more columns weren’t needed, but the parametric design manages the tolerance and distributes the weight across the structure. The result is a pavilion that, while not strong enough to be climbed on, has weathered its fair share of storms that have swept through Atlanta this summer. SEAT will remain up at Freedom Park through September 22nd, so visitors have just one more week to sit in the first row of chairs around the periphery that “turn inward to create an intimate, compressive space to converse and regard the upward flow of chairs transcending their function.”