"The role of the architect, or the designer, is that of a very good, thoughtful host, all of whose energy goes into trying to anticipate the needs of his guests – those who enter the building and use the objects in it." Charles Eames
Herman Miller is a furniture design and manufacturing company, which in addition to producing contemporary designs also continues manufacturing classic pieces, including those originally designed by Charles and Ray Eames. The company’s relationship with the designer duo goes back to the 1940s, when they worked together to develop the Eames' Molded Plywood chairs and the classic Chaise Lounge.
Following a long investigation into the curvature of plywood and the construction of organic forms using new technologies and materials, the pair of architects developed their Shell Chair, an iconic design that is still manufactured today. Learn more about the development of the Shell Chair and see how it is constructed, after the break.
“The details are not the details, they make the product.” Charles and Ray Eames
The history of the Shell Chair began more than 10 years before the design’s public debut in 1950. Years before marrying Ray, Charles was already experimenting with techniques for molding plywood, and his efforts resulted in the design of objects such as stretchers, splints and even a seat glider for the US Navy.
After the war was over and the two were married, the Eameses returned to investigating the possibility of creating a chair that could be mass-produced. Despite their efforts, they were still incapable of creating a curved plywood chair using only a “single shell" (although thanks to this experimentation the Eames Plywood Chair was born).
Two years after the debut of the Plywood Chair, they created a chair using just one “shell” in molded metal for MoMA’s International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture Design. They took home second place, but the prototype was too costly so they began to search for new materials such as plastic reinforced with fiberglass.
From that research the chair that we present today was born, becoming the first plastic chair made in the series. Over the years, the chair has been produced in other colors and shapes and with different upholstery options, making it not only reproducible, but also customizable.
Today, Herman Miller manufactures an exact replica of the original chair design, incorporating a 100% recyclable polypropylene. See the 12-step fabrication process of the chair below.
1. The colored resin is mixed in tanks.
Using technology from the auto industry, the new resin fiberglass is “monomer free,” and processed without emitting volatile organic compounds (VOCs) or other Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs), eliminating the need for thermal oxidizers.
2. The preforms are removed from the CNC machine and inspected.
To create preforms for the new chairs a "dry binder process" is used instead of the traditional "wet process" typically used to produce fiberglass. In the “dry binder" method, the strands of fiberglass are blown by the CNC machine onto a shell-shaped screen. A vacuum ensures that the loose particles are contained, instead of being blown into the air and captured by a “wet glue,” as in the traditional fabrication process. At this time, heat is applied to melt some of the strands and maintain the shape of the preform. It is only at this moment that a human hand comes into contact with the preform in order to inspect and clean it.
3. Resin is applied to the preform.
The fiberglass preform is set in a cradle. Workers weigh the resin to calculate the exact amount needed and then pour it over the preform. The resin is smoothed and spread out using a hand tool.
4. The resin-covered preform is placed in a press
Once the resin has been evenly applied to the preform, the shell is placed on a press where heat and pressure are applied. The press also cuts along the edge of the chair to eliminate excess fiberglass before the sanding process.
5. The shell is inspected.
Any excess preform that is still stuck to the chair after it's cut by the press is manually eliminated, and the shell is taken off the press to be visually inspected. The press is cleaned after each use.
6. The edges are sanded.
The edges of the shell are manually sanded and then finished with an electric sander. The chair is then cleaned and sent off for its final inspection.
7. Shockmounts are attached to the base of the shell.
The bottom of the shells are cleaned in order to effectively attach the shockmounts. An adhesive is attached to each shockmount, while the recently cleaned chairs are transported via trays and placed on top of the shockmounts. The chairs are then placed on a pressurized drying rack for two days.
8. The shockmounts are torqued and tested.
During this phase, each shockmount is manually tested.
9. The upholstery is sewn.
The fabric is cut by a computerized “butter cutter” and then sewn by hand.
10. The upholstery is mounted onto the chair.
The foam padding is attached to the chair, after which the upholstery is fitted and attached using a “J-Channel.” The upholstery is then ironed and placed in another press where heat and pressure are applied.
11. The chair bases are attached to the shell.
Each chair is marked with a sticker to specify the type of base it will receive. Each base is then hand-selected and individually attached.
12. Packing and Shipping
Each finished chair is cleaned and packaged for shipping.
Learn more about the Shell Chair here.