Chairs by Architects: Iconic buildings and the chairs behind the style

“Chairs have become important markers of stylistic and technological shifts”, asserts Denyan Sudjic, director of London’s Design Museum. Countless architects have used chairs as a display of their own style and credentials, a starting place or a signature to complete their oeuvre. A new book by art historian Agata Toromanoff, aptly named Chairs by Architects, considers the relationship between these two mediums, looking at an architect’s seminal works side by side, perceiving influences, similarities and distinguishing characteristics.

Featuring 55 architects from Charles & Rae Eames to Zaha Hadid, this publication takes only a snapshot of nearly two centuries’ worth of pioneering designs, but highlights just how much can be told from these juxtapositions, from obvious parallels such as material choices, to the architect’s sense of space, playfulness or consideration of function which can be recognised in their chair design as much as their building.

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Frank Gehry (b.1929)

1-dam-images-architecture-2014-10-gehry-architecture-best-frank-gehry-architecture-15-walt-disney-concert-hallWalt Disney Concert Hall, California, 2003
5Easy Lounge Chair, 2004

World-renowned contemporary architect Frank Gehry perfected his characteristic morphing of materials in his furniture designs long before he began on buildings. The Walt Disney Concert Hall in California reflects his signature style of billowing massive steel curves, a style that guided his creation of the cardboard wiggle chair, and later his furniture range Heller, including the rotation-moulded Easy Lounge Chair.

Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe (1886-1969)

15Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, 1968
8Barcelona Chair, 1929

Of Mies Van der Rohe’s numerous iconic designs, his Barcelona Chair is by far the most influential, as one of the most recognisable designs in the world. Author Toromanoff draws a direct comparison between the design principals of the Barcelona Chair with Mies’ Neue Nationalgalerie building in Berlin, in his exploitation of the modern materials of steel and glass, his balanced structures, and the sense of weightlessness with which the leather seating or upper section of the gallery building appear to hover.

Charles & Ray Eames (1907-1978 & 1912-1988)

3Eames House, California, 1949
13DSW Chair, 1950

The ethos of design duo Charles and Ray Eames was that great design should be affordable and accessible to all. Their designs have gone on to be some of the most widely recognised, successful and desired furniture pieces in the world. Their post-war modern ideals influenced their structures, both in furniture and architecture, making use of innovative techniques and materials, prefabricated parts and colour. Their own home was designed as part of the 1949 Case Study House programme, and, like their furniture, it was functional and flexible in layout, designed for living and working, and used colour as a structural element.

Zaha Hadid (1950-2016)

4-arch2o-zaha-hadid-architects-wins-designs-of-the-year-prize-002Heydar Aliyev Centre, Azerbaijan, 2012
6Kuki Chair, 2013

Zaha Hadid’s architecture can be found all over the world, chosen for her innovative, visually striking style. Hadid has a unique relationship with the materials she uses, bending them like putty, disrupting perceptions of scale, material and physicality. The Kuki Chair is made from a circular sheet of plastic, bent, creased and folded to create a curved shape. Like her buildings, it is dynamic, fluid and unique in form, without lacking in functionality.

Eero Saarinen (1910-1961)

12Dulles International Airport, Washington DC, 1958-63
11Tulip Chair, 1955

Toromanoff succinctly sums up Saarinen’s designs as “characterised by his sculptural approach, use of innovative techniques and materials and relentless pursuit of formal perfection.” Indeed, the graceful curves and precision of form evident in his world-renown Tulip Chair of 1955 translates through his architecture. In Dulles International Airport, which Saarinen described as his greatest creation, his characteristic modernist precision combined with organic shapes create an elegant, sculptural monument.

Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926)

2Casa Batllo, Barcelona, 1904-07
Padouk Armchair, c.1902

Gaudi’s utterly original buildings in Barcelona secured him lasting fame. The biomorphic, undulating curves of his cathedral Sagrada Famillia were wholly original at their conception. In both his architecture and his furniture designs, Gaudi’s attention to the details of every curve and feature produce works that appear to have grown naturally from the ground. The Sagrada Familia is over 100 years in the making and still unfinished; his Padouk Armchair features a back and seat shaped to conform to the body.

Renzo Piano (b. 1937)

shardThe Shard, London, 2012
9Piano Design Chair, 2014

Architect of the eminent Pompidou Centre in Paris, as well as London’s Shard, the New York Times Tower and much more, Renzo Piano has, perhaps unsurprisingly by now, a chair within his oeuvre, though it is less well known than his grander-scale achievements. The chair is made entirely of solid wood, with an ergonomic wide, carved seat and back; a simple design that represents a designer’s efforts to achieve the optimal design. Like his buildings, the chair his both solid and light and acutely aware of the detail.

Chairs by Architects by Agata Toromanoff is published by Thames & Hudson.

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Annabel Sheen

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