Archinect
Jones, Partners: Architecture

Jones, Partners: Architecture

Los Angeles, CA

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photo : JPA
photo : JPA
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Palm Springs Chair

Project Text:

 

Architecture is an experience not confined to buildings. The extent to which an architecture has something to offer at other scales and with other programs is a good test of its value. In this regard Classicism was exemplary, operating successfully at scales ranging from the doorknob to the city, in programs as varied as bicycles sheds and cathedrals, with something to say even about such apparently unrelated things as clothing and tableware. Modernism has been similarly engaged with a wide range of subjects, though perhaps showing less consistency than the received tradition allowed its classical forbear. The idea that form and function should be congruent led modernism to permit a formal diversity reflecting those programmatic differences.  Further, Modernist architects tended to eschew the decorative opportunities that allowed the architects of the classical period to show off their design ability at multiple scales throughout the building. Yet the experience of the modern environment has been no less complete/comprehensive than the classical even if its expression has been less obvious or consistent. Other than the buildings themselves, the main agent for advancing that experience has been furniture.

 

As Modern detailing moved toward a minimal expression in favor of the play-of-masses-in-light it served, the furniture inhabiting the spaces defined by those masses stepped forward to demand attention. As little masses—objects—with narrowly defined programs—sitting, storing, lighting—this furniture was uniquely suited to serve the spirit of functionalism that pushed the details into hiding.  The best examples form a canon that is as well known as the buildings that house them: the Farnsworth House and the Barcelona Chair march abreast through history, alongside the Villa Savoye and the Chaise Longue a Relage Continu, the [   ] . Like a building, furniture may stand out or blend in. And as with buildings, the best examples manage to do both: rewarding attention without demanding it.

 

Furniture design—the chair, the table, the lamp—is sharply sensitive to the divide between work that is motivated by an interest in novelty and that concerned with excellence. Furniture is less subject to the economic and physical constraints that sober up building-scaled efforts, and less distracted by regulatory and contextual demands, but at the same time furniture is more intimately related to the body and thus concentrates what remains of those constraints. This “concentration” becomes either a distillation— a “reduction” [in cooking terms]—or a license to excess. When pursued as a distillation, the design usually features some salient element that it casts as the essence of the piece, like the reflector of a lamp, the seat or supports of a chair, the horizontal surface or supports of a table, and then arranges the other elements to dramatize that essence. There is a clear interest in legibility. When serving an interest in novelty, on the other hand, the design is often less interested in legibility than in surprise or exuberance and features some material innovation or unusual rearrangement of the traditional functional requirements.

 

Most chair designs, whether innovative or classic, are tectonic exercises. The problem posed by the chair’s program is so reduced that there is very little else to inspire a design. New ideas are often set in motion by a novel technology and the piece of furniture becomes a demonstration of the new tectonic. But it is also common for the piece to be an exquisite refinement of an older tectonic, showing off well known principals in a new light or displaying proportional differences that highlight features previously hidden or underexposed. 

 

The Palm Springs Chair relies on the tectonics of CNC stamped and folded 10 gauge steel plate. The profile is achieved by folding and rolling, while the shape of steel itself is stamped out of the virgin plate in two pieces, one for the seat, and one for the [base chassis]. Tabs for bolting the seat to the base are folded out of the seat, leaving tab-shaped holes that signal the particular construction technology and give a signature appearance. The [base chassis] is welded to the legs, bent out of steel tubing, to create a single lower assembly. The simple tab connection between the seat and this base assembly allows seats of different colors to be easily swapped out for different occasions. The hardware possibilities for this connection are endless, from the minimalist security hardware to the maximalist hex extension hardware, and leave the possibility for the natural attachment of future additions at this location, such as cup holders or arm rests. 

 

The Palm Springs Chair is named for the first event where it was shown, not for any stylistic suggestion or its modernist character. The fact that it palms the occupant in its folded seating surface, and has a springy back is only a coincidence. The chair is intended to be a durable workhorse, a generic seat of exquisite proportions worked out over generations like Corbu’s Thonet, equally comfortable in a lecture or at a dining table. The steel plate construction gives the back a springiness that allows it to sit upright or lounge back, depending on the attitude of the occupant. The stability and heft of the steel gives the occupant the confidence to lean back into the spring, yet the chair is no heavier than its appearance suggests.

 
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Status: Built
Location: Palm Springs, CA, US

 
photo : JPA
photo : JPA
drawing : JPA
drawing : JPA
photo : JPA
photo : JPA
photo : JPA
photo : JPA
photo : JPA
photo : JPA
photo : JPA
photo : JPA
photo : JPA
photo : JPA
photo : JPA
photo : JPA
photo : JPA
photo : JPA