Konstantin Grcic innovates chairs with plastic-shell suitcase technology

OBJECTS – Although some of his designs have sold in the tens of thousands, Konstantin Grcic is not a designer for the masses. His every vision is a search for the boundaries of a technology, material or typology. A good example is the chair he made for Italian manufacturer Plank in 2011. The Avus is a club chair whose upholstered, leather-covered seat is zipped into its ABS body. Who else but Grcic would attempt that particular nexus?

Radical, yes, but he wasn’t entirely satisfied with the result. Reason enough to examine the concept for his 2011 design by creating a new chair. ‘The Avus chair speaks of statics and solidity,’ says Grcic. ‘This time around I wanted to talk about lightness.’

In designing Cup, a follow-up to the 2011 Avus chair, Grcic opted for a simpler aesthetic: an upholstered shell mounted on a metal frame.

Like Avus, the Cup chair draws inspiration from plastic-shell suitcases. The better trolley suitcase is made from vacuum-formed polycarbonate. This combination of material and technology couples attractive features – the suitcase is lightweight, highly sustainable, flexible, UV-resistant and impervious to extreme temperatures – with a substantial freedom of form. Exceptionally relevant qualities for furniture, according to Grcic. He says the technology is industrial but also low-tech, and thus suitable for the manufacture of a relatively simple product: ‘After all, a chair isn’t a car or a plane.’ What’s more, Grcic believes that vacuum forming can lead to an aesthetically pleasing product. So no, the idea of turning a suitcase into a seat shell isn’t as weird as it might sound, especially when you consider that in this case the relatively expensive polycarbonate has been replaced by ABS, an even lighter and less expensive (but also somewhat less durable) thermoplastic polymer.

The idea of turning a suitcase into a seat shell isn’t as weird as it might sound

Sporting a simpler look than the Avus, the Cup chair is an even stronger communicator of Grcic’s idea. A typological description would be: an upholstered shell mounted on a metal frame. Eames and Saarinen were among the fathers of this classic typology. ‘It’s not easy to find a contemporary interpretation with a strong personal language,’ says Grcic. He used both vacuum forming and a special way of attaching the upholstery fabric to the padded shell to develop the language he had in mind. Because the vacuum-formed plastic is merely 3 mm thick, he was able to sew the fabric directly onto the shell – as long as that shell was a basic geometric shape. He chose a kind of cone that, while offering the user’s arms a certain amount of support, did not allow for traditional armrests. Grcic points out that, as a result, ‘the chair doesn’t crash into the table top it’s next to, but pushes very nicely against it’.

The connection between shell and frame ads to the chair’s character: the shell rests on nothing but the frame. Uniting the two is a graphic, disc-shaped detail screwed to the back of the chair but invisible from the front. The circular element is both necessary and decorative. ‘Little details like these are part of a process that helped us to find the right form for the chair’.

When you touch the chair and slide into the seat, you realize instantly that this isn’t your umpteenth plastic shell. It’s light and flexible, it feels good, and the surface is brilliant. Even the sound is nice. ‘We achieved just the right performance using a technology that is very efficient and extremely economical in terms of how much material we invested in.’

For CEO Michael Plank, Cup represents the next step in the evolution of his family-owned business, founded in 1953. ‘We started as a company specializing in artisanal woodworking. At the beginning of this century we decided to stop focusing solely on wood and to go for design-led, purely industrial production. Cup explores new terrain in the area of technology and has a distinctive form. It’s a chair that fits perfectly into our strategy.’


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