Designing for a specific space can be a challenge, but try designing a chair predestined to become a contemporary statement in the newly-refurbished Weston Library, part of the Bodleian Libraries at Oxford, which has commissioned only its third new chair in 400 years. Earlier this year, three partnerships—Amanda Levete and Herman Miller, Barber Osgerby and Isokon Plus, and Matthew Hilton and SCP Ltd—were shortlisted to compete for the prestigious prize, which has officially been awarded to Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby with Isokon, for their low, round-backed design.
Barber Osgerby’s contemporary interpretation of the competition brief resulted in a surprisingly slender, three-legged oak design that unites craft heritage and sculptural form to inventively meet reader requirements. The victorious prototype represents a scholarly design approach, with early inspiration drawn from awareness of the library’s history and culture. The chair will be produced for installation in the newly-renovated Weston Library over the next year.
Bodleian’s estates manager Toby Kirtley told The Guardian that the institution “wanted something that would be iconic and representative of the library. It should be contemporary in style, but not out of place in a heritage setting—innovative and original, without being too experimental and risky.” Barber Osgerby seems to have hit the mark, as Bodley’s Interim Librarian Richard Ovenden said, “the winning chair is characterized by a strong identity, creative approach, comfort and suitability for intense study and research.”
The commission was last granted in 1936 to Giles Gilbert Scott, who designed two heavy, leather-clad bucket seats to furnish the New Bodleian Library building, which is currently undergoing an approximately $105 million renovation by Wilkinson Eyre Architects, and it is set to open in October 2014. Judges included Librarian Sarah Thomas, Director of the V&A Professor Martin Roth, and industrial designer of Kenneth Grange, among others.