The object in this picture is a model of ‘aluminiumstoel’ by Gerrit Rietveld. It is simply a piece of paper cut in a way that when you fold it, it turns into a miniature model of the aluminum chair. The simplicity of this design is admirable, even though the final result in steel does not really give the same feeling of organic harmony. However, this model could not represent the creator’s idea better.
Aluminium stoel model[x]
Rietveld made this chair in his attempt to create a furniture using one piece of material, or more specifically, one sheet of it. In this case, he used a sheet of metal for the chair we see in the picture and it is easy to understand how he handled the material to display the result in this, since we have at our disposal inside information of the designer’s process of thought, namely; this beautifully cut and pierced piece of paper. Rietveld also experimented with plywood to achieve an immediate connection of an idea with the act of making. When only one piece of material is needed to make an idea come to life, and when that material is so flexible that handling it seems as easy as drawing on a paper with a pen, then there’s a new type of harmony introduced to the design process; that of an immediate, fast action resulting in a beautiful and easy product.
Sketch of Aluminiumstoel; notice how the designer uses method of folding as a starting point for his research[x]
Rietveld and his contemporaries believed in a new world order, supported through their designs. In that world, one of the essential and necessary virtues would be the one of the minimum dwelling (das existenzminimum). For that to be achieved, all heavy labour would be replaced by machines, giving that way the man the freedom to use his leisure time in whatever way he thinks is best. In that world beauty and simplicity are the main gears of development. This is why in many Rietveld designs, in the model of the aluminiumstoel as well, we see a coexistance in harmony of these two and a lack of complexity which implies that the process of making of that object won’t result in valuing more than the object itself. For me, this is a reason why most of his chairs seem really uncomfortable; he wouldn’t want the owner of the chair to dwell in it for hours. There are examples of designs that embody perfectly Rietveld’s ideology, but were sadly never realised by him, like this chair of assembled plywood, designed in 1927.
Plywood prototype, 1958[x]
What I first thought when I saw the paper model – and what everyone probably thinks – is the old Japanese art of origami, the art of folding paper. The idea of folding a piece of paper in a certain way so that it creates a clear shape of something seemed really appealing when applied to interior design. More importantly, it seemed perfect for what Rietveld was aiming for; an oblect made of one sheet of material and whose existance would be a clear statement for an easy, free living of minimum dwelling.
Origami art has influenced many design-based branches, such as architecture, fashion and interior design. Its basic principles have even recently been proved to be beneficial for science when it comes to manufacturing. Assembled Additive Manufacturing is a new process of fabricating developed by researchers, which has origami principles as its base, as it treats 3D objects as multiple layers of 2D sheets.
I was surprised, however, to see that most origami-influenced designs were really static and superficial; meaning that none of them took the idea one step further, none handled the art of origami as a general principle that could be the base of something bigger, or even as a statement. Designer Stefan Schöning came up with a design for a ‘folder chair’, where all that’s needed for its creation is a sheet of polypropelene.
Origami folding chairs[x]
This example is really similar to what Rietveld was aspiring to do. Many similar designs have been realised, however it seems to me that they mainly aim at impressing the viewer, at making them admit that “that’s a witty design”, without committing a vision in it, nor giving the viewer and the world a tool for a better living, which will, in its turn, become a reason for contemplation.