From Milan: Q&A with Shigeru Ban

From Milan: Q&A with Shigeru Ban

By Sam Grawe
Boldly declaring “One Chair Is Enough,” Artek, the Finnish company founded in part by legendary architect Alvar Aalto, today introduced a new product line, the 10-Unit System by Shigeru Ban. Two years ago the Japanese architect’s Pavilion constructed from UPM ProFi, a wood-like composite made from the glue-soaked bits of trimmed envelopes, caused a stir among those interested in the material boundaries of sustainable design. Following in the spirit of that design, the 10-Unit System is the first furniture design to be produced with the unique material. Dwell sat down with Ban to discuss the launch of the line.

Apart from the fact that the material is the same, how is this design at all related to the Artek pavilion?

The pavilion was made from extruded material, and the furniture is injection molded, and the quality is different, but the idea is the same—an L profile. With the structure, a single L profile made the roof, walls, and floor—everything. This material is quite difficult because of its fragility—the fiber of the paper is cut quite short, and you can not make a complicated shape out of it. So with the basic L shape, you have a very simple profile. It’s just an L that repeats again and again.

What determined the form of the L?

I think it's a very basic chair form, and the shape comes from having one piece as both the leg and back. The goal was to come up with the most simple shape that could be used in an infinite number of ways. To get the right strength needed for the structure we tried different profiles until we arrived at the L we have today.

And that also helped to determine the packaging?

Usually sending a chair is sending air, but minimizing the package into this L makes it more economical. Finally the customer just assembles it himself or herself. "Sustainability" and "green" are fashionable now, but from the beginning of my practice is 1985, I just tried to reduce waste and make as simple a shape as possible. I’m not thinking about a sustainable or green image at all.

How do you see this in the context of the rest of Artek’s products?

I think it's the same spirit with the other Artek products because since the time of Aalto they have been making simple furniture instead of developing the fancy things every year. I think this is very basic furniture.

Artek, 10 Unit System, Designer Shigeru Ban


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