Wearable Furniture, Portable Rooms

archelis[Image: Archelis via the Tech Times].

“Japanese researchers have developed a wearable chair called Archelis that can help surgeons when they are performing long surgeries,” the Tech Times explains.

At first glance Archelis does not look like a chair at all. The wearable chair looks more like a leg brace. The wearer of Archelis will not get full comfort of sitting on a chair but the gadget actually wraps around the wearer’s buttocks and legs, providing support that effectively allows them to sit down wherever and whenever needed.
The developers of Archelis suggest that even though the chair is targeted for surgeons performing long surgeries, it can be used by anyone in fields that require a lot of standing. Moreover, the chair may also assist people who have to sit briefly after walking for a while.

Your leg braces, in other words, convert into furniture, as seen in the video below.

While this is already interesting, of course, the artistic and even architectural implications are pretty fascinating, with clear applications outside the realm of surgery. Crowds as coordinated super-furniture. A choreography of linked braces forming structural chains and portable rooms.

Give it a few years—and then why design and build certain types of furniture at all, when people can simply wear them? What would this do to how architects frame space?

Until that day, read more at the Tech Times.

(Spotted via @curiousoctopus).

Roentgen Objects, or: Devices Larger than the Rooms that Contain Them

[Image: Photo courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam and the Metropolitan Museum of Art].

An extraordinary exhibition last year at the Metropolitan Museum of Art featured mechanical furniture designed by the father and son team of Abraham and David Roentgen: elaborate 18th-century technical devices disguised as desks and tables.

First, a quick bit of historical framing, courtesy of the Museum itself: “The meteoric rise of the workshop of Abraham Roentgen (1711–1793) and his son David (1743–1807) blazed across eighteenth-century continental Europe. From about 1742 to its closing in the early 1800s, the Roentgens’ innovative designs were combined with intriguing mechanical devices to revolutionize traditional French and English furniture types.”

Each piece, the Museum adds, was as much “an ingenious technical invention” as it was “a magnificent work of art,” an “elaborate mechanism” or series of “complicated mechanical devices” that sat waiting inside palaces and parlors for someone to come along and activate them.

If you can get past the visual styling of the furniture—after all, the dainty little details and inlays perhaps might not appeal to many BLDGBLOG readers—and concentrate instead only on the mechanical aspect of these designs, then there is something really incredible to be seen here.

[Image: Photo courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam and the Metropolitan Museum of Art].

Hidden amidst drawers and sliding panels are keyholes, the proper turning of which results in other unseen drawers and deeper cabinets popping open, swinging out to reveal previously undetectable interiors.

But it doesn’t stop there. Further surfaces split in half to reveal yet more trays, files, and shelves that unlatch, swivel, and slide aside to expose entire other cantilevered parts of the furniture, materializing as if from nowhere on little rails and hinges.

Whole cubic feet of interior space are revealed in a flash of clacking wood flung forth on tracks and pulleys.

As the Museum phrases it, Abraham Roentgen’s “mechanical ingenuity” was “exemplified by the workings of the lower section” of one of the desks on display in the show: “when the key of the lower drawer is turned to the right, the side drawers spring open; if a button is pressed on the underside of these drawers, each swings aside to reveal three other drawers.”

And thus the sequence continues in bursts of self-expansion more reminiscent of a garden than a work of carpentry, a room full of wooden roses blooming in slow motion.

[Images: Photos courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam and the Metropolitan Museum of Art].

The furniture is a process—an event—a seemingly endless sequence of new spatial conditions and states expanding outward into the room around it.

Each piece is a controlled explosion of carpentry with no real purpose other than to test the limits of volumetric self-demonstration, offering little in the way of useful storage space and simply showing off, performing, a spatial Olympics of shelves within shelves and spaces hiding spaces.

Sufficiently voluminous furniture becomes indistinguishable from a dream.

[Image: Photo courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam and the Metropolitan Museum of Art].

What was so fascinating about the exhibition—and this can be seen, for example, in some of the short accompanying videos (a few of which are archived on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website)—is that you always seemed to have reached the final state, the fullest possible unfolding of the furniture, only for some other little keyhole to appear or some latch to be depressed in just the right way, and the thing just keeps on going, promising infinite possible expansions, as if a single piece of furniture could pop open into endless sub-spaces that are eventually larger than the room it is stored within.

The idea of furniture larger than the space that houses it is an extraordinary topological paradox, a spatial limit-case like black holes or event horizons, a state to which all furniture makers could—and should—aspire, devising a Roentgen object of infinite volumetric density.

A single desk that, when unfolded, is larger than the building around it, hiding its own internal rooms and corridors.

Suggesting that they, too, were thrilled by the other-worldly possibilities of their furniture, the Roentgens—and I love this so much!—also decorated their pieces with perspectival illusions.

[Image: Photo courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam and the Metropolitan Museum of Art].

The top of a table might include, for example, the accurately rendered, gridded space of a drawing room, as if you were peering, almost cinematically, into a building located elsewhere; meanwhile, pop-up panels might include a checkerboard reference to other possible spaces that thus seemed to exist somewhere within or behind the furniture, lending each piece the feel of a portal or visual gateway into vast and multidimensional mansions tucked away inside.

The giddiness of it all—at least for me—was the implication that you could decorate a house with pieces of furniture; however, when unfolded to their maximum possible extent, these same objects might volumetrically increase the internal surface area of that house several times over, doubling, tripling, quadrupling its available volume. But it’s not magic or the supernatural—it’s not quadraturin—it’s just advanced carpentry, using millimeter-precise joinery and a constellation of unseen hinges.

[Images: Photos courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam and the Metropolitan Museum of Art].

You could imagine, for example, a new type of house; it’s got a central service core lined with small elevators. Wooden boxes, perhaps four feet cubed, pass up and down inside the walls of the house, riding this network of dumbwaiters from floor to floor, where they occasionally stop, when a resident demands it. That resident then pops open the elevator door and begins to unfold the box inside, unlatching and expanding it outward into the room, this Roentgen object full of doors, drawers, and shelves, cantilevered panels, tabletops, and dividers.

And thus the elevators grow, simultaneously inside and outside, a liminal cabinetry both tumescent and architectural that fills up the space with spaces of its own, fractal super-furniture stretching through more than one room at a time and containing its own further rooms deep within it.

But then you reverse the process and go back through it all the other direction, painstakingly shutting panels, locking drawers, pushing small boxes inside of larger boxes, and tucking it all up again, compressing it like a JPG back into the original, ultra-dense cube it all came from. You’re like some homebound god of superstrings tying up and hiding part of the universe so that others might someday rediscover it.

To have been around to drink coffee with the Roentgens and to discuss the delirious outer limits of furniture design would have been like talking to a family of cosmologists, diving deep into the quantum joinery of spatially impossible objects, something so far outside of mere cabinetry and woodwork that it almost forms a new class of industrial design. Alas, their workshop closed, their surviving objects today are limited in number, and the exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is now closed.

Mobile Street Furniture

Note: This is a guest post by Nicola Twilley.

Over the past two weeks, in two separate cities, multiple sightings of IDEO-like user-generated adaptations have reframed the motorbike as an intriguing addition to the emerging category of street furniture.

[Image: Photo by Lucy Crosbie, used under a Creative Commons license].

The first example was spotted outside Richard Rogers’s Channel 4 building in London, where a cluster of bike couriers had put their feet up onto their bikes’ handlebars, tipping their helmets down over their faces, and allowing the seats to form a gently curved cradle for their spines. They thereby squeezed in a quick nap between jobs.

Then, last week, as the streets of Trastevere overflowed with Romans celebrating the Festa della Repubblica, an unlucky Vespa parked next to a bustling enoteca was claimed as a bar stool and drink stand by several different groups over the course of the evening.

In both cases, the bikes suddenly appeared remarkably well-designed for their off-menu functionality: the hammock-like seat cushion and broad, flat rear looked purpose-built for backs and beer, respectively. In fact, with just a few adaptations and some thoughtful urban planning, their potential as mobile street furniture could be taken to the next level.

Simple additions—such as a gently vibrating seat cushion to work out muscle knots while couriers are snoozing, or flip-out cup holders behind the seat of the Vespa—combined with reserved parking spots for motorbikes outside bars and popular brunch spots, would surely enhance city life.

Ambitious entrepreneurs could carve out a seasonal niche by deploying a fleet of specially customized motorbikes as on-demand mobile seating. Perhaps tourists visiting Rome for the day could even rent motorbikes in a shady side-street so as not to miss out on their expected siestas. And, particularly in London, where dedicated outdoor beer gardens—a losing proposition for at least three hundred days of the year, but the most desirable real-estate in the city on those few hot, sunny days—smart publicans would eagerly pay to rent a dozen Vespa bar stools for their clientele to enjoy.

In each case, the motorbikes would be gone by the time pedestrian and vehicle traffic started up again—their mobility ensuring that streets and sidewalks remain uncluttered at peak flow.

It would only be a matter of time before low-platform flat-bed trucks had rentable sofas installed in the back and were then parked at scenic overlooks, while empty lorries were re-purposed as hammock dormitories, circling airport terminals to snap up jet-lagged travelers intent on maximizing layover time. The first international Mobile Street Furniture Conference in Milan would be swiftly followed by the creation of an industry-sponsored urban planning lobbying arm, high-profile design contests, and premium membership schemes, allowing unlimited worldwide street furniture rental…

[Other guest posts by Nicola Twilley include Watershed Down, The Water Menu, Atmospheric Intoxication, Park Stories, and Zones of Exclusion].

Pushkin Park

[Image: A moldy sofa, otherwise unrelated to this post, photographed by Flickr user melinnis].

Russian scientists have begun testing blood stains on the sofa where novelist Alexander Pushkin is rumored to have died, in order to determine if those stains might have come from Pushkin himself.
At least two things interest me here:

1) It’s the forensic sciences applied to antique furniture in order to find the otherwise undetectable remains of a dead Russian novelist. One might even say residue here, not remains at all; it is the barest of traces. Suddenly, though, it’s as if those old stuffed sofas, fading carpets, and tables of hand-worn wood in obsolete interiors around the world have been transformed into a kind of archaeological site, in which the chemical traces of literary history might yet be discovered. The sofa is Pushkin’s Calvary, if you will – a chemical reliquary. Furniture becomes a kind of hematological Stargate into literature’s mortal past. Who else might they find in there? You go around the world performing genetic tests on antique furniture to see which novelists ever used it – traces of Sebald, Hemingway, Tolstoy.

2) Two words: Pushkin Park. We clone Pushkin and start a theme park. Like a thousand Mini-Me‘s well-versed in storycraft, Pushkin – one man distributed through a thousand bodies – wanders the artificial landscape, and like some strange Greek myth wed with Antiques Roadshow, he tells the crowds, “I sprung forth, fully formed, from a sofa…” And there begins a tale for stunned tourists.

(Via the Guardian).

Wormholes in Wood

Emilio Grifalconi, a character in Georges Perec’s 1978 novel Life: A User’s Manual, at one point discovers “the remains of a table. Its oval top, wonderfully inlaid with mother-of-pearl, was exceptionally well preserved; but its base, a massive, spindle-shaped column of grained wood, turned out to be completely worm-eaten. The worms had done their work in covert, subterranean fashion, creating innumerable ducts and microscopic channels now filled with pulverized wood. No sign of this insidious labor showed on the surface.”


Grifalconi soon realizes that “the only way of preserving the original base – hollowed out as it was, it could no longer suport the weight of the top – was to reinforce it from within; so once he had completely emptied the canals of the their wood dust by suction, he set about injecting them with an almost liquid mixture of lead, alum and asbestos fiber. The operation was successful; but it quickly became apparent that, even thus strengthened, the base was too weak” – and the table would have to be discarded.
In preparing to get rid of the table, however, Grifalconi stumbles upon the idea of “dissolving what was left of the original wood” that still formed the table’s base. This would “disclose the fabulous arborescence within, this exact record of the worms’ life inside the wooden mass: a static, mineral accumulation of all the movements that had constituted their blind existence, their undeviating single-mindedness, their obstinate itineraries; the faithful materialization of all they had eaten and digested as they forced from their dense surroundings the invisible elements needed for their survival, the explicit, visible, immeasurably disturbing image of the endless progressions that had reduced the hardest of woods to an impalpable network of crumbling galleries.”
And if we could sculpt and harden our own paths through cities – across continents – what wormholes of structure and space might we find?

(Earlier on BLDGBLOG: Wormholes).