The history of design has canonized a number of chairs, which are referred to as “modern classics”. These can be found today not only in museums, or at auctions for very high prices, but also in the windows of furniture stores. A number of furniture manufacturers keep trying to add a new classic to this list, in the hope of generating not only cultural capital, but financial capital as well.
For the first time in the history of design, the Institute of Design Research Vienna examined the interactions that led to the formation of the classics in an experimental way through a network analysis. 193 objects from the book 1000 Chairs by Charlotte and Peter Fiell, a canonical standard work on the history of seating published in 1997 by Taschen, served as a chronological data sample (1808-1942).
In cooperation with FAS.research, the relationship between designer and producer, weighted by the number of chair designs, was made the focus of the analysis. Additionally, the most important companies reproducing “modern classics” today were included.
The results of the network analysis show surprisingly clearly the interrelationships between the wellknown protagonists of modernity (e.g. Josef Hoffmann, Marcel Breuer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Eileen Gray, Gerrit Rietveld) and a handful of companies that continue to reproduce their chair designs successfully, thus protecting their cultural value.
The strongest network developed around the most famous classics in the history of furniture design: the bentwood No. 14 chair by Michael Thonet (1859) and the tubularsteel B33 cantilever chair by Marcel Breuer (1927-28). The presentation also highlights two epicenters of modernity: Viennese Modernism, characterized by use of wood, as an antipode to the cool, rational avantgarde in Germany during the time of the Bauhaus movement.
Editor: IDRV – Institute of Design Research Vienna
Zelinkagasse 2/6, 1010 Vienna
Authors: Harald Gründl, Ulrike Haele, Martina Mara
Network analysis: FAS.research – Understanding Networks, Ruth Pfosser, Harald Katzmair
Translation: Jason Heilman
Copy-editing: Christina Nägele
Graphic design: grafisches Büro, Vienna