The groundbreaking impact of Organic seats on American modernist furniture design is often underestimated. In the years following its birth, the idea represented by this design became the starting point for other furniture designs, and its production contributed to the design history of the future.
A chair that influenced the design of furniture for later generations
In 1940, the Museum of Modern Art in New York announced that it would hold a competition on the theme “Organic design in household furniture”, encouraging participants to submit original designs for products such as furniture, lighting, and textiles. The aim of the competition is to identify talented designers and involve them in creating a better modern living environment. The winners were not only rewarded but their work was also included in the next competition exhibition in 1941. Among the works on display, T. S. Eliot Neuss, director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, looks for pieces that “Fit together in harmony according to structure, material, and function.” The museum helps designers sign contracts with manufacturers, who produce them and sell them before exhibitions open.
Charles Ames, Kansas, and Eero Saarinen, both in their early 30s, were teachers at the Cranbrook School of the Arts in Michigan, the principal is Erro, Navarre’s father, Eliel Saarinen. The two friends decided to enter a competition for six chairs in the modern museum of New York’s “Home chairs” competition and another two in the “Other home furniture” competition. At that time the mainstream seat by the seat, backrest composition, some will add a cushion. Ames, Kansas, and Erro, Navarre came up with an innovative design that entered the competition with an integrated plywood seat made from a three-dimensional die. The shape of the chair conforms to the human body curve. The chair shape molded by plywood molding is made into the shape of a two-way curved surface according to the different postures of the human body on different occasions. Instead of the one-way bending that existed in the past, a three-dimensional curved surface is created, an unprecedented rubber connector is used to effectively connect the soft component of the plywood component. These two innovations have a great impact on the future of furniture design, becoming the world’s widely used techniques. However, the technology or equipment of the time could not produce the design, and the two men had to manufacture the prototype by hand. They were helped by a student named Qijse Kaiser, who studied painting in New York and became Ames, Kansas’s wife because of the collaboration.
Ames, Kansas, and Erro, Navarre won first prize in both categories. But their work could not be put into mass production because they could not find a plate that could realize the design curve. Over the next few years, Ames, Kansas married Drummond, moved to Los Angeles, and focused on mold technology, while Erro, Navarre focused on architectural design rather than wood-paneled furniture.
Production for 64 years
The seat that entered the competition and won was later the Organic seat, but it was handmade in a small number and then forgotten by the public. But from a design history point of view, they laid the conceptual foundation for the later legendary chairs with their human-shaped shells, it also includes the Plastic and Wire seats that influenced Charles Ames, Kansas, and Ames, Kansas, as well as Eero Saarinen’s Tulip seat concept.
Influenced by these chairs, the Ames, Kansas was interested in molding plywood into three-dimensional shapes. After moving to Los Angeles, the Ames, Kansas built the famous Kazam Plate processing machine in their apartment, and they even pulled a cable from a nearby power line to provide enough power for the machine. Material experiments conducted by the Ames, Kansas during World War II provided an experience for subsequent mass production when they introduced the first industrial plywood seats in 1945.
Only a small portion of the chairs that won the competition in 1940 survive today, with one sitting in the Vitra Design Gallery. In the 21st century, successive directors of the Museum of Modern Art in New York have delved into the history of the work, and people have become more aware of its important role in the history of design. Given the comfortable design of the chair, Vitra contacted Ames, Kansas, and the Saarinen family to develop the chair, which is in its 60s, for mass production. Finally, when it was first launched in 2004, it was named the Organic Chair in honor of the original competition theme, “Organic design in home furnishings.”
Vitra attaches great importance to investment in innovation, and through continuous efforts, collaborates design technology and conceptual knowledge with leading design talent to continuously drive and expand design boundaries. At the same time, insist on working with designers or their legal successors, and constantly upgrade the classic design in the product portfolio to meet the needs of today’s users. Vitra has put three of the six Organic seat prototypes in production for the MoMA competition in New York, they are an Organic chair with a medium to the high backrest, an Organic chair with a high backrest, and an Organic conference chair for dining and meeting environments.