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

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

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

Above: Students had 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 prompt was based on Emeco’s 1006 Navy chair, developed in 1944, which the company says has a “lifespan of 150 years.”

“Today, a chair that’s 150 years old means making something that will last, which is a great thing to do,” says MIT associate professor Skylar Tibbits. “But the question is whether that will be the same for the next 150 years — should the goal still be to make things that last forever?”

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

MIT student projects 150 years of chair
The students approached the assignment in different ways. Photo of Faith Jones’ rewoven chair

The students each answered the question in a different way and the results include a number of complete pieces of furniture and components.

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

MIT student projects 150 years of chair
Plastics, textiles and metal were used for the designs. Photo of La Junta by Maria Risueño Dominguez

Other designers took a material-centric approach to answering the prompt.

Amelia Lee, a student at Wellesyan who takes 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 it to turning it over and playing with it,” said Lee.

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

“This process is an alternative to the slow process speeds of traditional metal additive manufacturing, where molten material is dispensed at high speed 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 chair
The projects were good for both style and sustainability. Photo of Zane Karsan’s Liquid Metal Design

Faith Jones wanted to create a product that doesn’t sacrifice comfort in a quest for durability. Her ReWoven chair takes a wood frame and tubular cotton and weaves the fabric around the aluminum skeleton in a way that allows for the removal and replacement of the cotton.

Finally, designer Jo Pierre came up with a product that focused on the changes likely to come as cities grow and become denser. Called Enhanced Privacy, the product is a plastic room divider designed for domestic spaces. The hanging plastic sheet can be filled with water to block sound and diffuse light.

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

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

MIT has released a number of conceptual designs focused on sustainability, including a project testing the ability of tree forks as load-bearing elements in architectural projects.

The photography is courtesy of MIT.

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