Living organisms, a secret room and a chair – Part 3

CHOOSING THE CHAIR DESIGN

Q.
Coming from a design background, we often throw around the phrase ‘form follows function’.
Peter, how did you come up with this design? Is it functional and what makes it superior to other designs?

 

A.
Form does follow function in effective design, but when you move from concept to concrete, then you also have to think of practical problems related to materials – strength, flexibility and cost all have an impact on the final product.

McLay designWhen I was thinking about how to use a fungal mycelium (which is the name for the body of the fungus, rather than the mushrooms which are really like flowers, since they are fungal reproductive organs), a few preliminary experiments gave me a feel for the properties of the material. It’s light, soft and fairly strong, but more fragile than wood or steel. A key advantage of using this grown material is that it will expand to fill the available food source; it is more mouldable than joinable.

The next factor in choosing a design was that we wanted to reference something Australian, since the mushroom came from my Australian back yard. A bit of Googling later, and I chanced upon the Kone chair design of Roger McLay; a significant Sydney designer of the late 20th Century. McLay produced a beautiful, simple and innovative design in response to the materials constraints immediately after the Second World War. He moulded plywood left over from building Mosquito bombers – which were the last wooden framed aircraft in wide use – into a simple, strong and comfortable shape. His ideas exemplified the growing modernist movement, and can still be seen in the bucket chairs on many verandahs today.

I felt that this design was able to show the potential for fungal biofabrication; it is much easier to grow the chair in a mould than steam, bend and glue the plywood. It also reflects the recycling ethos that inspired McLay, only I use wood shavings instead of surplus plywood. It is reputedly very comfortable (good for doing knitting apparently), and lastly, I really love the shape!

 

Image Credit: http://from.ph/200802

 

If you missed the first part of this series, read Part One and Part Two here:
Living organisms, a secret room and a chair – Part 1

Living organisms, a secret room and a chair – Part 2

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