Furniture by Architects

A couple of years ago, I assigned my students a paper that requested to identify the fashion designer, the architect, the interior designer, and the artist beyond works of design. Where can we see the artist in Noguchi’s coffee table, or the fashion designer in Rick Owen’s furniture? This project came to guide students to sharpen their eye through analyzing quality, language, and identities in design.
Architects began exploring with furniture design with the birth of the Modern Movement at the last decades of the 19th century. A new virtual exhibition ‘Furniture by Architects‘ at R & Company comes to identify the architectural character in furniture and lighting designed by trained architects. Curated by James Zemaitis, it explores and demonstrates Mies’s famous line that “a chair is a very difficult object. A skyscraper is almost easier.”
We learn that the motives behind creating the furniture, by such early modern and mid-century architects as Alvar AaltoArne JacobsenFrank GehryGerrit Rietveld, and Lina Bo Bardi were varied. Some created pieces to complete projects from start to finish; others explored with new materials and processes; and for many, it was a brief exercise. We also learn that for the members of the Modern Movement, creating furniture was a key to achieving a professional success. By the midcentury, delving into furniture design had evolved into a way of creating in scale and interacting with industry, while in the 60s and 70s, furniture presented itself as a strategy to reject dogmas of architecture.
What a great show for both collectors and design lovers for days at home in COVID. I wish this virtual exhibition included more contemporary furniture by architects, an area rarely explored. All images courtesy R & Company. Above: Alvar Aalto, Paimio Chair, 1931-2, manufactured by Huonekalu-ja Rakennustyötehdas Ab, Turku, Finland. Bent plywood, bent laminated birch, and solid birch.

MARCEL BREUER, ENGLAND, 1935 Long Chair. Manufactured by Isokon Furniture Company, London, 1935–1939. Plywood.


SUPERSTUDIO, ITALY, 1972 Prototype “Lampada Alabastro” table lamp in alabaster and metal. Designed by Superstudio and produced in San Gimignano, Tuscany, Italy, 1972.


GERRIT RIETVELD, HOLLAND, 1935 Produced by Gerard van de Groenekan, Utrecht.


OSCAR NIEMEYER, BRAZIL, 1972 Extremely Rare “Alta” lounge chair in leather and stainless steel. Designed by Oscar Niemeyer, Brazil. Produced in Paris, 1971. In collaboration with Anna Maria Niemeyer. From the permanent collection of R & Company.


FRANK GEHRY, USA, 1987 “Big Beaver” armchair in corrugated cardboard. Designed by Frank Gehry, 1987, produced by Vitra since 1994.

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