Flow Form and the Paimio Chair

Second semester of my Foundation of Design lab, my professor Hilary challenged us with a sketching project. We were to draw one object everyday for 22 days. Immediately, I was stumped. How could someone possibly draw the same thing 22 times? The first issue was choosing an object. As an aftrethought I selected “armchair” as my third idea for the project. To my surprise, Hilary decided an armchair was what I needed to study. She took me into the Art and Architecture library on the first floor and showed me the wide variety of designer chairs that are used in there. After a brief description of all of them, she gave me time to choose one. I was instantly fascinated by one chair in particular. The “Paimio” armchair, designed by Alvar Alto, had fluid and smooth curves that really intrigued me. The body of the chair was seemingly made out of one sheet of wood, curved at three spots. The arms and bases were also each only made of one single piece of curved wood. Before I could begin my sketching, I needed to truly understand what made this chair so unique.

Alto had actually designed this chair for recovering tuberculosis patients, who needed their bodies to rest at the specific angle of 110 degrees in order to induce comfortable breathing. He believed a hospital environment was generally cold and stressful. In order to add some positivity, he carefully considered form and material. The arms of the chair purposefully stick out for easy gripping to get in and out of it. The material itself is a combination of multilayered plywood and laminated timber. This curve effect was created by taking layers of veneer, clamping them, and curving them to the desired shape. Understanding this process quickly inspired me for the next 22 days. This methodology could be represented in  many ways.  This iconic piece of furniture taught me that not only should a  product  be fully functional for its intended use, but that it should also be as equally aesthetically pleasing and innovative.

This is the essence of our flow form study right now. The paper and wood veneer studies, although appear to be abstract, clearly have very valuable application to the professional Industrial Design field. The fluidity and simplicity of Aalto’s chair is what I am to understand and achieve in my own personal studies. Linear forms and orthogonality are definitely concepts I am more familiar with, but I  underestimated the power of linear forms as curves. The effect of a line changing its normal properties to create curves is a very powerful tool that should not be overlooked in the design world. Over the next few days, I hope to understand the limits and conditions of the wood veneer, and how far I can manipulate it through the various wetting, heating, and bending techniques. Hopefully, I make some interesting discoveries, much like Aalto once did!


Paimio_Lounge_Chairs_-Alvar_Aalto_2-600x466       Alvar Aalto’s Paimio Chair