MIT students develop concepts for “the next 150-year chair”

A chair that can adapt over time and one made with 3D-printed liquid metal are among the designs students at MIT created for The Next 150-year Chair exhibit.

A total of five pieces were created for the exhibition, which was a collaboration between American furniture company Emeco and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to conceive sustainable furniture pieces.

Above: Students were asked to design sustainable furniture. Photo by Jeremy Bilotti. Above: Amelia Lee designed a chair called The Wable. Photo by Jeremy Bilotti

The project, called The Next 150-Year Chair, was conducted through a course at MIT that took students through a design process with access to Emeco’s manufacturing technology.

The solicitation was based on Emeco’s 1006 Navy chair, developed in 1944, which the company says has a “150-year service life”.

“Today, a 150-year chair means creating something that lasts, which is a great thing,” said MIT associate professor Skylar Tibbits. “But the question is, will it stay that way for the next 150 years – should the goal still be to make things that last forever?”

“That’s one approach, but maybe there’s something that could be infinitely recyclable instead, or something that’s modular and reconfigurable.”

MIT student projects 150 years of the chair
The students took different approaches to the prompt. Photo of Faith Jones’ newly woven chair

The students each took a different approach to answering the question, and the results showed a range of complete furniture pieces and components.

Master’s student María Risueño Dominguez developed a furniture component based on longevity. Her research into furniture consumption and interviews with people working in the furniture industry led to a concept called La Junta – a cast aluminum joint with several different inserts shaped to fit a variety of components.

MIT student projects 150 years of the chair
Plastics, textiles and metal were used for the designs. Photograph of María Risueño Dominguez’ La Junta

Other designers took a material-centric approach to fulfilling the challenge.

Amelia Lee, a Wellesyan student taking courses at MIT, developed a product made from a single sheet of recycled HDPE. Modeled after a rocking chair, the piece can be turned on its side to function as a table.

“This chair can last through childhood, from crawling around to turning around and playing,” Lee said.

Zain Karsan took a different approach, aiming to improve the metal printing processes for the frames of his chairs.

“This process is an alternative to the slow process rates of traditional metal additive manufacturing, where molten material is dispensed at high velocity into a bed of granular media,” said Karsan. “A series of chair typologies are presented as a proof of concept to explore form and joinery.”

MIT student projects 150 years of the chair
The projects accounted for both style and durability. Photo of Zane Karsan’s Liquid Metal design

Faith Jones wanted to create a product that does not sacrifice comfort in the search for sustainability. Their ReWoven chair takes a wooden frame and tubular cotton and weaves the fabric around the aluminum skeleton in a way that allows the cotton to be removed and replaced.

Finally, designer Jo Pierre has created a product aimed at the changes that are likely to occur as cities grow and become denser. The product, called Enhanced Privacy, is a plastic partition designed for living spaces. The hanging plastic sheet can be filled with water to block sound and scatter light.

The students’ projects were displayed at Emeco House, the company’s Los Angeles event space housed in a converted 1940s sewing factory.

Other exhibitions pushing the frontiers of sustainability and novel materials include one in Mexico in collaboration with Space10 with five applications for biomaterials.

MIT has published a number of conceptual designs addressing sustainability, including a project testing the suitability of tree forks as structural elements in architectural projects.

Photograph is courtesy of MIT.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *