BLOG INDEX symbol site 26 APRIL 2021

Vitra: perfection is plastic

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Vitra: perfection is plastic


“More than a substance, plastic is the very idea of the infinite transformation; is, as its common name says, ubiquity made visible. "

(Roland Barthes)


Hedonism is the philosophical conception according to which pleasure is the best of human and its achievement the exclusive purpose of life; in economics it is the theory according to the aim of economic activity is to achieve maximum profit with the least possible effort. Under these assumptions, what could be more hedonistic than an object that shows a voluptuous and refined silhouette like a sculpture, while hiding a meticulously elaborated production process to minimize time and costs?

The history of the cantilever chair, or cantilever chair, begins in 1926 with Mart Stam's experimental prototype made of gas pipes and continues in the tubular steel work of Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer in the late 1920s. But it was in the 1960s that research on this typology reached its peak, with the development of the Panton Chair by Vitra, the first made from a single piece of molded plastic. In 2020 Jasper Morrison reproposes for Vitra the plastic type of cantilever chair with his EVO-C.


The epic story of the Panton Chair

The Panton Chair was the first cantilever chair made entirely of plastic, in a single piece with an unforgettable sculptural shape, made in the typical vibrant colors of the Danish designer.

The collaboration between Vitra and Verner Panton began in the 60s with the development of one of the most iconic chairs of the twentieth century. This was an almost impossible challenge, as the bold lines envisioned by the designer had to be reconciled with the physical limitations of plastic technology and manufacturing requirements. The shape of the chair was dictated by the material and the decision to make it a cantilever that could be made in a single piece.

In 1960 Panton had a Danish plastics company make a model of a one-piece cantilever chair, but until 1963 he met the directors of Vitra and after four years the first product was manufactured in an independent way from the company.

After years of research, tests, discarded projects and an endless series of prototypes, the final shape has been reached, made of manually laminated glass fiber reinforced polyester.

For designers of the 1950s that were interested in new technologies, making a plastic chair was a common goal. As early as 1947 Mies van der Rohe played with a similar idea and when fiberglass-reinforced polyester resin became available, Charles Eames began the series of experiments which led to his famous clamshell chairs.

Panton worked tirelessly with Vitra developers for over two decades, sacrificing evenings and weekends, changing plastics, refining and strengthening the shape in response to breakage. Initially the manufacturing process of the chair was too expensive and complex and production was slow in relation to demand. After tests with Bayer's rigid polyurethane foam were proved successful, in 1968 Vitra started production with an innovative molding technique. Production was finally fast but manual finishing still took a long time. The designer and the company were still not satisfied and persevered in their research, finding a new solution in a thermoplastic material developed by BASF and proceeding with injection molding, cutting the finishing times. Unfortunately, the material turned out to be less resistant than expected and Vitra decided to stop production until 1990, resuming the construction with polyurethane foam.

While the tenacious collaboration between Panton and Vitra has made the Panton Chair available, its sensual shape has endeared it to the public, combining the gravity-defying magic of the cantilever, and the ingenious economy of its one-piece construction with the voluptuous grace of its curves.


EVO-C redefines normality

The EVO-C chair is a contemporary iteration of the classic cantilever chair, an uncompromising new interpretation of a pioneering typology. It is also a perfect example of the “super normal” philosophy of its designer, Jasper Morrison, as it aspires to be a real, lasting and enjoyable everyday object.

EVO-C is the result of productive innovations that have led to a gas injection molding technology for the creation of a supporting structure of hollow tube components in 100% recyclable polypropylene. These flow seamlessly into the planar surfaces of the seat and back to help provide the strength and stiffness we expect from tubular steel cantilevers.

The use of a single material gives this chair a fluid silhouette, subtle enough to disappear behind whoever sits on it and, when not in use, the chair resembles a two-legged sculpture “growing from the ground”. It is a very comfortable chair, since the ergonomic and generously curved surfaces of the seat and backrest give comfort to the user, and it is particularly elastic, thanks to the flexibility of the backrest.


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