I spent a brilliant day on Wednesday at the Royal College of Art, where students working on a project initiated by the American Hardwood Export Council are designing timber chairs that will be exhibited at the Victoria & Albert Museum as part of the London Festival of Architecture. They are students of product design not furniture students, so they are coming to the process with fresh eyes, and are enthused both by the potential of the material and by the challenge to consider the Life Cycle Analysis of their projects and make some decisions in accordance with that. They will be making their chairs at Benchmark, and logging all the materials and power that have gone into the making.
There is certainly no limit to their imaginations, with ideas ranging from a bench supported on the thinnest ply imaginable, to a floating chair, by way of an orthodox church seat and the lightest stool possible. If this project were all about enthusiasm it would already be admirable; what makes it fantastic is that the students are both engaging with the sustainability issues and facing up to, and overcoming, a range of technical problems that they have, of course, created for themselves. Just how do you stain timber with vinegar? How sustainable is a so-called bio-resin? How light and long can you make a bench? What is the best way to make an asymmetric folding chair? The results will be beautiful, quirky, clever, irreverent and mind-stretching. There are going to be some very exciting talents working in design in the next decade or so.