Emeco's 111 Navy Chair
The tale of the Emeco's 111 Navy chair is that of a phoenix rising. In 1944, the Hanover, Pennsylvania-based company began producing the original 1006 Navy chair. But despite supplying these chairs—the first to be made from 80 percent recycled aluminum—for use in virtually every U.S. Navy application that required sitting, the company was on the brink of collapse by the late 1990's. While on his way to shutter Emeco, owner Gregg Buchbinder had a startling revelation upon reviewing records: Architects Frank Gehry and Norman Foster had long been ordering chairs directly from the factory. Inspired, Buchbinder revived Emeco with a series of striking new designs, including those from Gerhy and Foster.
Grind and Sort
The story of the 111 Navy Chair starts in the New United Resource Recovery Corporation (NURRC) recycling plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where eight to ten trailer truckloads of PET bales—each measuring 80 cubic feet and consisting of 20,000 bottles—arrive for processing every weekday.
The bales, which have traveled from municipalities east of the Mississippi River, are loaded onto conveyor belts for sorting. Virtually everything involved in the PET reclamation process at NURRC—including the water used to wash the bottles—is recycled. Non-PET materials, such as polypropylene caps, are sold to other facilities. ; by-products are reused, such as ethylene glycol, then used in automobile antifreeze.
Barring any snafus in the sorting process—bowling balls and small engines have been spotted on the conveyor belt—the bottles are sorted, ground, sent through dry and wet washes (which transforms them into rinse flake), and then sorted by color.
The UnPET Process
In the Mold
The worker smooths any imperfections before manually installing the H-brace (created on another mold) as well as the feet.
This final laying on of hands, labor intensive though it may be, is the hallmark of Emeco's Navy chair legacy. Watching the technician clean the rough points on each chair, one is struck by the hybrid nature of this project, in which 21st-century recycling technology is married to a handmade aesthetic, producing an object both old and new—in more ways than one.
The 111 Navy chairs are exact replicas of the aluminum originals, down to the faux weld points on the backside; Emeco knew that Navy-chair devtees would accept nothing less. "At the Milan Furniture Fair," says Daniel Fogelson, Emeco's vice president of sales and marketing, "the first thing our clients did was turn the chair around and look for those [weld] marks, just to make sure we hadn't screwed it up." And the company hasn't.