CHAIRS; in which architects design furniture to furnish the spaces they create
The bulletin board is the enemy of the architect, as are, by some accounts, the gawkish chair or the desk of shoddy materials. Even the overflowing wastebasket can mar the volume of space that comes from the designer's hand.
Eero Saarinen once said that "architecture is the sum total of everything."
Certainly, the world has come a long way from his predecessor/philosopher Aristotle, who laid claim to architecture as "a rational faculty exercised in making something," and hence everything.
For that matter, we have jettisoned the Bauhaus, that font of modern design from 1919 when Walter Gropius and teachers such as Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky spread the message that "today the arts exist in isolation, from which they can be rescued only through the conscious, cooperative example of all craftsmen."
Now, however, architects have begun to reclaim that lost turf.
A chair, says one, is "a place," possessing walls, floors, even windows for the inhabitant.
If the nearest thing to furniture by architects in the 1970s was Philip Johnson's ITT Building with its Chippendale chest top, today's designers have begun again to deploy their skills to furnish the spaces they create. Like the Bauhaus, which embraced everything from theater to crockery, architects are considering the objects that "qualify" their architecture.
Both Progressive Architecture and the AIA Journal have started to attend to the creations of architects and craftsmen. Designers such as Robert Gwathmey have put pen to paper to create a chair due this fall, and the Hayden Gallery at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has an ambitious exhibition and catalog of "Furniture by Architects," through June 28.
Partially funded by Knoll, the show demonstrates the expansiveness of the treatment and the proliferation of the forms from the studios of those who normally stick to furnishing streets, not buildings.
All the connections to people and space that define a building, may define a chair or lamp or table as well, they insist, both visually and in declarative tags which accompany the exhibits.
"Mies [van der Rohe]," Philip Johnson offers, "gives as much thought to placing chairs in a room as other architects do to placing buildings around a square."
"The Gordian knot," Le Corbusier is quoted, as he described the trouble of creating a chair for all shapes and seasons.
The chair, such endeavors suggest, is not just a "place," but better -- or at any rate faster to produce. A building may take half a dozen years to make an architect's visions materialize; a chair consumes no more than a few months.
Architect Frank Gehry, for instance, has carried the Bauhaus commitment to provide decently designed assemblyline parts to the masses with his chainlink fencing and corrugated steel forms. It is slow going. But he could bring his curvaceous cardboard chairs to the market in months.
On a more rarefield plane, architects can make sophisticated aesthetic statements in workaday furnishings that wouldn't take to the street.
Whether an early-century cantilevered chair, a cabinet whose drawers swing like an extended arm, or a projecting glass table "precariously" balanced above a glass wedge by Robert Mangurian and Craig Hodgetts, the play with gravity and physics adds an amusing element -- an element that would be more threatening than playful in architecture itself.
Furniture, taken from the Middle French word fournisser,m means "to complete or advantage," show organizer Katy Kline points out.
Thus, it presents a compact way to trace the trends of architecture as a whole, from Michael Graves's classical columned tables or Stanley Tigerman's light fixture of a Plexiglas shaft and Corinthian capital, to the Bauhaus-bred leather and steel slickness of Michael Lance's folding chair or the cushy comfort of Elizabeth Diller's "Chair, Loosely Termed."
The human being is honored in the polemics of architecture these days.
So, too, in the furnishings. A chair looking like a playful stick figure by Vico Magistretti wraps its arms around any would-be sitter.
Historical references and witty plays with the past enter the dialogue of post- modernistm design. So, too, its Japanese architect/exponent Arata Isozaki transmits an update of a straight chair by Charles Rennie Mackintosh: Dead on, the chair is upright, uptight Mackintosh; in profile, it wiggles like its namesake "Monroe Chair." Other work, such as Jorge Silvetti's, replays the streamlined cubism of the 1930s for an art deco revival.
Outside this exhibition, furniture- makers such as Wendell Castle also have become ever more expressive and organic in creating a forest of forms for human habitation in the house.
Wharton Esherick and others kept the Frank Lloyd Wright tradition continuous in its waning days. These more personalized pieces have peer here, too, in perhaps the plump sunset sofa, a set of cushions gridded like New York high-rises and surmounted by a red stuffed sun by Gaetano Pesce.
A complete catalog could not exclude the delights of the Italians and Scandinavians if not of Knoll itself, but this is a valid offering of the decade ahead.
The architects' samples at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and elsewhere, please visually and, on occasion, even comfort the human form.Alas, all fail to address the Bauhaus dream of providing such pieces -- or "places" -- consistently and economically for all of us who inhabit the spaces that architects create and the still more omnipresent ones that they do not.
That shared failure to diffuse good design creates an underlying note of sadness, but it is to be hoped the trend that MIT and architects have taken the trouble to explore will work more positively in the '80s.