Today's guest blogger is David Force, an architect living and working in Columbus, IN and a member of the IMA's Design Arts Society board.
With the opening of the new Design Galleries late in 2013, this stunningly simple Chippendale Chair by the architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown stands out as unique in the incredible compendium of modern design that the IMA has accumulated in recent years. The chair was manufactured by Knoll International and introduced in 1985 as part of a larger suite of Venturi-designed furniture, including a coffee table, sofa, and eight other historically-themed chairs.
Venturi and Scott Brown reintroduced decoration and historical form to furniture at a time when it was uncommon to do so. As residents of Philadelphia, a city steeped in eighteenth-century design, the architects no doubt were aware of the importance of the work of Thomas Chippendale, and his popularity and influence on colonial American furniture. Their use of Chippendale’s signature chair back design forms the basis for the chair, but the materials, techniques, and proportions of the chair are vastly different. The highly tactile, three dimensional forms inherent in the classic Thomas Chippendale back are reduced to two dimensions, almost as if the original chair had been steam-rolled. The openings in the chair back are cut out of essentially flat steam-bent plywood material and the proportions are like a caricature of the original. The slender gracefulness of Chippendale becomes heavy and almost cartoon-like. The richness of the inspirational form is translated into a much more edgy design with the appearance of almost having been extruded and thinly sliced. The layers of plywood material are revealed at the thin edges of the chair, much in the same fashion that Charles and Ray Eames treated their plywood series of chairs forty years before. The Eames chairs are much more stridently modern and do not concern themselves with classical forms, but rather focus on the simplicity and comfort of the design. The old Miesian “Less is More“ cliché does seem to apply in the Eames case, but Venturi, noted for the statement “Less is a Bore” thickly layers on historical form. The chair imparts a sense of being rooted in history without resorting to the simple translation of a precise historical form into a new material in the manner of the Philippe Starck Ghost chair.