The Art of Sitting Pretty
Witold Rybczynski’s “Now I Sit Me Down” explores the history (and cultural underpinnings) of chair design.
Architect, Aug. 25, 2016
“The best chair,” wrote the industrial designer Niels Diffrient, “is a bed.” Diffrient was referring to the awkwardness of the seated position. Our bodies have evolved to walk upright and to recline in repose; sitting elevated off the ground, folded into a piece of furniture, is a cultural habit. Indeed, in many parts of the world, squatting or sitting on the floor is the norm. Designing a good chair, therefore, is the art of making the awkward feel natural—a near-paradoxical proposition.
Diffrient was not deterred by this. In the 1990s, as he approached the age of 70, he set about designing a better office chair, a project that was to consume him for the rest of his life (he died in 2013 at the age of 85). The result was a series of task chairs that jettisoned clunky, complicated controls in favor of a light, flexible frame with intuitive adjustments. Trying out Diffrient’s World Chair, Witold Rybczynski, Hon. FAIA, finds it comfortable, “simplicity itself.” Although, he notes, “it lacks the lyrical qualities of an Eames or a Wegner chair.”
Drawing by Witold Rybczynski