Architecture and design studio Barber & Osgerby recently spent over four years working with Vitra to design the Pacific Chair, an office chair “for the next generation,” or as Jay Osgerby put it, “a chair that won’t cause a panic attack.” It debuted at this year's Neocon to much fanfare. While it's yet to be confirmed, rumor has it that Foster + Partners already ordered the Pacific Chair for its San Francisco office. Osgerby discussed the involved process with managing editor Olivia Martin. The Architect’s Newspaper: Tell me a little bit about the design evolution for the Pacific Chair. Jay Osgerby: It started four years ago. The idea was to design a “checklist chair”—something that would check all the boxes big corporations require of a chair. We had never done a chair like that before and were incredibly naive. We said, “awesome, great, that shouldn’t be too complicated”… then we started and realized it was fantastically complicated. We quickly realized why all these office chairs look like machines, and in some cases like a dentist chair. We wanted to create something calm and appealing to architects; maybe something that you would want to have at home. We wanted something relaxing, something that wouldn’t give you a panic attack but would still perform. To find the answers to those requirements was really hard. One of the ways we started to approach the project was from a mechanical point of view. We placed the main mechanism and controls in the bottom of the seat. This mechanism responds to the user’s weight, so whether you are heavy or light, you’ll have the same experience sitting in the chair, which eliminates the need for a lot of levers. The other big breakthrough was to get rid of the arm structure so that it also emerges from the seat. Normally the arms come in from the side of you and this creates extra bulk. With each step and each iteration, we wanted to clean it up, to make it more discreet and more simple. So that’s how the design evolved really from briefing to being a reductive piece, something that’s essential. With open offices, it’s no longer about creating this territorial chair for one person, but a chair that can adapt to any user. The office space is constantly evolving. Now it’s all about open plan, sit-stand desks, alternative workspaces, etc. Did you think about these changes when designing the chair? The traditional office is going the way of the dining room. Coworking spaces are killing the office. It’s not bad, but I think there are issues with it. We’d seen these shifting workplace trends in our architecture practice: The freedom that technology has brought us creates a need to make furniture that works in all sorts of different environments. I spend a lot of time in the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch and the lobby is packed full with people working and spending a fortune on really expensive coffee in order to have colleagues for a day. The freelance economy is really what we were thinking of because the stereotypical office chair looks so alien in those environments. We wanted to create a chair that can sit in any of these places as well as Bank of America. What’s amazing about that is that the Pacific Chair has been so widely accepted—it’s in Norman Foster’s office in San Francisco, for example. How does your background in architecture inform making these types of products? Well, we are not qualified architects but we both studied architecture and that enabled us to appreciate how objects are in space. Specifically, an interior site gave us the context and the aesthetic judgment to make something calm. Architects all know how hard it is to spec something that doesn’t murder your project. You spend four to five years on a project, then you put in the office chairs and it creates chaos because the chairs are rarely seen in isolation, they are seen en masse, which destroys the architecture. Our architectural sensibility told us to create something that enhances the space.
Posts tagged with "Barber Osgerby":
In conversation with Jay Osgerby of Barber & Osgerby—plus their installation at the London Design Biennale
While in Chicago for Neocon, The Architect's Newspaper chatted with Jay Osgerby of London-based studio Barber & Osgerby about their dozens of upcoming and in-the-works projects and design collaborations (including a hints about a top secret project). For the first ever London Design Biennale, which began September 7 and runs until the 27th, the designers were chosen to create a sculpture for the courtyard of Somerset House. The bienniale—whose theme is Utopia—coincides with the 500th anniversary of Thomas More's Utopia, his tale of a sailor who describes an island where everything was beautiful and had not yet been disturbed by man. They interpreted this theme in a way that would link the past and present. Somerset House was once a shipping hub and these days Britain leads the world in offshore wind farms. In the past, the spreading of language and the British empire was driven by wind. Now, wind power provide a sustainable utopian future and the UK garners 5% of its energy through wind turbines. That historied connection between England and the wind informed the design of their steel quasi-machine, quasi-sculpture which has kinetic masts and an anemometer that points to the direction of Utopia—an ever-changing state of mind, not a physical place. In the pipeline, Barber & Osgerby has a series of projects with design giants that will add to their already impressive line of furniture, lighting, and kitchen and bath products. For the past four years, they have been working on a big project that will be launched this year at Orgatec. All we can tell you is that it involves a painstakingly designed chair. In collaboration with Ozeki, who creates paper lanterns and originally worked with Isamu Noguchi on his designs, Barber & Osgerby are launching the fifth in a series of lamps that will be premiering at the London design festival in September. Puzzle, a collection of tiles that can be arranged in countless patterns, is their first experience in working with Italian tile brand Mutina but not their first foray into ceramic tile. Back in 2002, the duo created tiles for Stella McCartney’s New York store that very strongly resembled the 3-D folded paper look that has been trending this year (we saw a lot of it at KBIS back in January). Additionally, they will be a expanding their collection with Axor to create a new handshower that creates a cascading blade of water—a feature that's particularly useful for women when shaving their legs. The goal of this addition, as with the majority of their product designs, is to simplify complexity. The duo's newest collaboration is with outdoor furniture brand Dedon, whose classic pieces use extruded plastic bands in bright colors (A fun fact that Jay shared: The brand started by making the extruded plastic handles attached to tubs of laundry detergent and segued that into a much more wide range of furnishings). Their line is made of teak from Indonesia that utilizes the brand’s famous plastic as webbing under the seats for extra support and fusion. When asked if his entire home was outfitted with products by Barber & Osgerby, Jay said yes he owned quite a few pieces, including the loop table, their first product ever, along with flea market finds and antiques from his favorite place to shop, the Deptford Market on the Thames (where Henry VIII had ships made). He admits that most of the items are probably stolen by "geezers" and driven to South London where shoppers unsuspectingly buy the goods. Barber & Osgerby are also working on a large eight-piece collection with Galerie kreo in Paris, an institution that has also created editions with the Bouroullec brothers, Konstantin Grcic, and many others. For their introductory piece, have created a sculptural three-meter-long table made of oak sourced from a forest in Burgundy. (Next year will bring a group of pieces and a gallery show.) Jay said the experience has been great because they are allowed the opportunity and resources to try things out that will influence the production of pieces in the future.
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.