You're gonna chairish this one!

 

The Monobloc Chair
The Monobloc Chair



Highlights

  • We talk about the chair that wasn’t (for many designers)!
  • The origins of the plastic chair.
  • How the monobloc chair is context free?
  • The injection moulded chair is one of the most used design over this planet.
  • This week in Invisible History: The Submersible Turtle. Domain: Navy.

I'd tell you this joke I have about a chair... but I'm just going to sit on it awhile... (source: Reddit)

No matter where you are from, you have definitely seen or have seated on this chair. It is called the Monobloc, and it is the best-selling chair design in the whole world. But it is still disputed if this design is one of the best or the worst of all. Yeah, it gets a lot of hate.

The monobloc is often stated as the context-free object as the design has remained the same (more or less) for many years. You can find these chairs everywhere: from houses to beaches and from a backyard to dump yards. So let's get into it.

The context-free design

Architect Witold Rybczynski points out: "The problem of sitting is universal." And if you are as interested in design as I am, you will find the Monobloc fascinating. One might think that a chair design is something that doesn't need to change fundamentally. But chairs do change, as we see a lot of variety in them. In the past, there have been designs of chairs which have taken inspirations from different aspects. For example, the Wassily chair by Marcel Breuer takes the inspiration from bicycle production, which was laying the groundwork for modern designs.

The context free chair design
The context-free chair design


But the monobloc is different. It is used so widely that it has become meaningless. It was famously quoted as a "context-free object" by American media scholar and blogger Ethan Zuckerman. The time here in context is the year. If someone shows you a random photo, the chances are that the objects in it will give us a hint as to when or where the photo was taken. But, if you see a random picture of monobloc, it is tough to tell the time when the photo was taken. This is because of the stability of the design throughout the years.

Democracy and globalisation

As mentioned before, the monobloc chairs can be found everywhere. These objects are so ubiquitous, that if you find one on a beach, you cannot be sure if it was brought here by a person or by the sea from someplace else. I think the monobloc is one of the prime examples of the globalisation. At the same time, it can also be a reminder of how locally different other objects around us still are.

The monobloc chairs
The monobloc chairs as seen in a garden.


There are critical views on this chair, and some correctly transcribe that the Monobloc does not represent a sustainable design. Some see the chair as a prime example of mass consumption of uniform goods that disregard any sense of individuality. Monoblocs can be used as an argument against globalization as they represent a decline in the local culture, but we can also turn this argument around. Their success is since they are affordable. And affordability matters since it allows social equality and economic advancement. The Monobloc is an object that is profoundly democratic.

The origins

All the fuss about the design is fine but when was the first Monobloc made? The first Monobloc was created in 1946 by Canadian designer D.C Simpson. However, at the time, the moulding process was not suitable for cheap mass production, and the whole concept might have been a bit ahead of its time. But in the 60s, designers got interested in the idea of plastic moulded chairs, notably the Bofinger Chair by Helmut B├Ątzner and the Chair Universale by Joe Colombo, which was made of several singular moulded parts.

The Panton Chair
The Panton Chair.


The most crucial step towards the Monobloc was the introduction of a chair that is now considered a classic. This chair is Verner Panton's single-piece Cantilever chair. Even if a comparison between the expensive designer chair and the less appreciated garden chair may seem strange, the Panton chair is a technical predecessor. It is the world's first plastic chair that went into production using the same moulding method used in today's Monoblocs. In addition to this, Verner Panton designed the chair in a way that makes it stackable. After its success, there were several chairs worldwide that were inspired by this production method. And with the introduction of cheaper thermoplastics, the path became clear for the mass production of the Monobloc. In 1972, the French designer Henry Massonnet launched the Fauteuil 300. But it probably took until 1983 when the Grosfillex group launched their Resin Garden Chair, that the Monobloc was sold in large quantities at a low price.

Your turn now

Today there are dozens of Monobloc designs: the ones with vertical or horizontal slots or without them, with handles, in different shapes and all sorts of different colours. But still, you know a Monobloc when you see one. You could also see the chair as a result of some market evolution. The chair has evolved, with material thicknesses correctly adjusted so that they are as thin and inexpensive as possible, but still stable and durable, a chair that is weatherproof, stackable and light. Fundamentally there is not much you can change about it. It works universally around the globe.

This week in Invisible History

The last week's clue was exciting as many people guessed the answers nearly right. And when I told them about the answers, their minds were blown. Out of all the people, only one gave the right answer. He is Tyler (Discord.) The last week's clue was "Tomorrow is eleven days after." This clue related to the Gregorian Calander. 2 Sep 1752 was the last day of the Julian calendar in Great Britain, Ireland and the British colonies, including those on the East coast of America. Eleven days were skipped to adopt the Gregorian calendar, designed to realign the calendar with equinoxes. Hence the following day was 14 Sep. For more than a century and a half before, following the decree by Pope Gregory XIII, Italy, and three other Catholic countries (Spain, Portugal and Poland) used the Julian calendar for the last time on 4 Oct 1582. France followed, ending Julian calendar use on 9 Dec 1582. Russia did not change until the early 20th century: 31 Jan 1918 was the last Julian date, followed the next day by 14 Feb 1918. Parts of China changed in 1912, but the Communist revolution, 1949, established Gregorian calendar use in all China.

Pope Gregory XIII, portrait by Lavinia Fontana, 16C.
Pope Gregory XIII, portrait by Lavinia Fontana, 16C.


The clue for the next week is “The Submersible Turtle,” and the domain is Navy. You can write the answers to me in the comment section or on social media. I have left the links down below. If you give the right answer, your name will be mentioned in the next week’s article.

Thank you for making it to the end of the article. I hope you enjoyed it and want to read more articles like this. If not, then let me know what should be improved. Do you think the design of this chair is good or bad? Let me know your thoughts on social media with links down below. Let’s stay curious and learn every day.

See you next Saturday!

  1. Reddit:r/theinvisiblegenius
  2. Instagram: @theinvisiblegenius
  3. Twitter: @notnitinchopra

Reference links

  1. Robin Day, Master of British Furniture Design, Dies
  2. Those White Plastic Chairs – The Monobloc and the Context-Free Object | … My heart’s in Accra
  3. A brief history of the humble plastic chair - CNN Style
  4. White Plastic Chairs Are Taking Over the World

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