Fair features Yalies’ chairs

Like many Yalies, Felix Raspall ARC ’10 is looking forward to spending some of his spring break catching up on unfinished schoolwork. But for Raspall, this means putting the finishing touches on a project due last fall: the design and construction of a two-person loveseat that he compared to two merging blood cells.

Raspall is not months late on his work. Rather, he has been invited to present his final project for “The Chair” — a fall School of Architecture class on chair fabrication — at the 22nd annual International Contemporary Furniture Fair. The fair, set to take place in New York City in May, announced last month that the 12 chairs produced by the students in the class had been selected from among hundreds of other institutions.

“Coyote Chair” by Julianne August-Schmidt ARC ’10.
Amir Sharif
“Coyote Chair” by Julianne August-Schmidt ARC ’10.
“The Bing Chair” by Hilary Bingnear ARC ’11.
“The Bing Chair” by Hilary Bingnear ARC ’11.
“Modular Terrain” by Ann-Marie Armstrong ARC ’10.
“Modular Terrain” by Ann-Marie Armstrong ARC ’10.

“It is a great honor for our students and our school — it’s a thrill,” School of Architecture Dean Robert A.M. Stern ARC ’65 said. “[Furniture design] is part of a tradition that has a lot of depth at the school.”

Indeed, while “The Chair,” taught by professors Tim Newton ARC ’07 and Josh Rowley, was a new addition to the school’s curriculum this school year, furniture design is not new at the School of Architecture. Stern said Yale has historically offered more general furniture design classes, including an annual spring class that looks at more objects than just the chair.

And while students in the class this year said they are excited to showcase their prototypes, this is not the first time Yale will have a booth at the fair — which describes itself as “North America’s singular showcase for contemporary design” on its Web site.

In 2008, famed product designer Massimo Scolari and his two joint professors, Newton and Rowley, submitted materials from a similar furniture design class to the fair for consideration, Rowley said. He added there was general surprise when fair organizers replied back accepting the application.

“We heard that that first year, the fair received somewhere between 200 to 300 academic applications,” Rowley added. “And they selected about four schools.”

Although Phil Robinson, the fair’s show director since 1995, said he could not reveal the number of applications received this year, he confirmed that competition was fierce as usual.

“We look for a singular concept that will be explored with actual prototypes,” Robinson added. “We don’t just want ideas — we also want to see them expressed.”

The physical construction of the prototypes — a requirement for Yale’s class and one reason for the success of Yale’s application, according to Robinson — also attracted many students to the class, five members of the studio said.

“I’m someone who has never built anything in full scale before,” Lisa Lombardi ARC ’10 said. “Actually going through the process of designing and then creating the object — it was a very compelling experience.”

Lombardi, who like most architecture students has yet to see her models fully developed, said having to complete a chair presented the right measure of manageability and challenge to give her a taste of what it is like to turn the foam walls of a model house into life-sized brick and mortar.

“When I heard we were accepted, I thought, ‘Oh that’s great that’s so good,’ because the fair is so important,” Raspall said. “But I still have some changes I want to make.”

Amid students’ worktables on the fourth floor of Paul Rudolph Hall sits the “Coyote Chair,” a wiry bean bag-like seat by Julianne August-Schmid ARC ’10 that graces Yale’s event posters for the fair, which show Stern content and relaxed in the embrace of “Coyote.” Upstairs, on the fifth floor, Hilary Bingnear’s ARC ’11 “Bing Chair” is modeled after Queen Anne wing back chair — a classic curvilinear armchair with plush upholstery — but Bingnear’s version is an abstracted steel frame that exposes a modernized skeleton without the upholstery, Bingnear said.

Rowley added that the model of the chair presented the most realistic analogy between a building and furniture, since it is the most difficult piece of furniture to construct.

“It all goes back to human ergonomics,” he said. “Furniture design has been a constant since Eero Saarinen [ARC ’34]. There are plenty of people who have done architecture and furniture at the same time.”

The fair will take place between May 15 and 18 in New York City’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center.

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