Arts Illustrated

June 26, 2020

All lined up

Extolling the intelligence and persuasive wit of design – the documentary ‘Chair Times: A History of Seating’ by Swiss furniture brand Vitra is a wonderful insight into a world seemingly unknown and yet very much experienced every day.

Team AI

Indispensable and yet temporary fixtures – chairs are often judged for their function and rightly so. Although we move around them every day, very little attention, if any, is given to its history, its evolution and the many design trends that have shaped them so. Which is why, Swiss furniture brand Vitra’s recent film that documents the many-sided world of chairs, that is aptly titled, Chair Times: A History of Seating, couldn’t have come out at a better time. We are all seated indoors anyways…

Swiss furniture Vitra Chair Times Heinz Bütler Rolf Fehlbaum

Directed by filmmaker Heinz Bütler, Chair Times, as Vitra’s website states, ‘charts a course through an ocean of chairs’. It chronicles their development ‘from 1807 to the very latest designs straight off the 3D printer’. It explores the history and significance of modern seating designs through specially curated 125 chairs from the Vitra Design Museum, all neatly arranged in a warehouse; and Rolf Fehlbaum, the Chairman Emeritus of Vitra himself guides us through each of them.

Swiss furniture Vitra Chair Times Heinz Bütler Rolf Fehlbaum

While it is quite easy to notice the progression in the form and aesthetics of the chairs, it is all the more fun when we are made privy to the times they were originally conceived in. The film traces the socio-political circumstances that brought on the many trends in seating designs, all the way back to the 1800’s, when chairs were essentially a luxury item. Chair Times, also features a number of designers, architects, curators and historians – all lending their own expert insights and opening us, the audiences, up to a gateway of information.

Swiss furniture Vitra Chair Times Heinz Bütler Rolf Fehlbaum

Swiss furniture Vitra Chair Times Heinz Bütler Rolf Fehlbaum

For instance, take the Thonet chair: The Vitra Design Museum team explains in the film that the chair was first seen and used only in coffee houses, that it was specially designed for public spaces and that prior to the Thonet Chair only benches were used in a public space to indicate a seating area of sorts, making the its advent a significant symbol of societal development.

Swiss furniture Vitra Chair Times Heinz Bütler Rolf Fehlbaum

Moving from stiff, solid design to fluid, organic forms – the myriad designs and ideas in Chair Times are incredible to witness. In just the way the chairs are handled, expertly cared for, touched, felt and re-lived, the film becomes a historic catalogue, making us question the very concept of a chair. Is it meant for comfort? Functionality? Design? Luxury?…

Chair Times: A History of Seating, a film by Heinz Bütler, Documentary, 90′, Switzerland, 2018.

Watch the film here.


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