The student voice of the Knowlton School of Architecture
by Courtney Coffman
“Eventually, everything connects.” Charles Eames
The Art Institute of Chicago is currently exhibiting “Hyperlinks: Architecture & Design,” which features 30 projects from multi-disciplinary practices. The exhibition frames the projects within a context of experimental materials and innovation with a social agenda. Such an ambitious exhibition is accompanied by a cliché: the design-for-the-good-of-all. This is one of the contemporary protocols in these days of sustainable design and political correctness. Unfortunately, the exhibition feels disjointed by merely placing the projects on their podium with an accompanying, descriptive text screened to and littering the wall. While the projects sit quietly in their respected roles as a representative for the future of well designed social change, I am particularly moved by one specific piece in the show that did not have the obvious outward social impact many of its podium peers possess. Xefirotarch’s Eam-Mess (Chaise) institutes the innovative and material ambitions that the exhibition advertises. Xefirotarch makes it look good. One look at Eam-Mess and, as the name suggests, evocations of the Eames’ La Chaise lounge become apparent and lend precedent to what might be considered a superficial project.
The Eames’ La Chaise debuted in 1948 at MoMA for a competition on economical furniture design. As a surface study, La Chaise requires more than just use of the eyes and more than simply walking around the object of the sculpture; it requires physical contact and conformity to the body. Upon sitting, the chaise embraces the body, like two lovers: the forms converge into one. To develop such a sinuous form, the Eames’ were inspired by the feminine curves of Gaston Lachaise’s “Floating Figure.” Like many of the Eames’ previous chairs, geometric studies and ergonomics played a critical role in the design process. Experimentation came in the form of multigenerational prototypes to develop new construction techniques along with the new material constructs of fiberglass. Their productions speak to the generation before and create a seamless evolution of form and an ever-expanding repertoire of objects, leaving an open-endedness to their own productions and theoretical-conceptual project.
Xefirotarch, Hernán Díaz Alonso’s firm, operates under similar trajectories of material and generational experimentation. His repertoire is commonly described as slick, grotesque, and pornographic; Eam-Mess embodies these characteristics. More importantly, Hernan’s work is also generational, with intentional geometries, proving a formulaic control of technique to choreograph such chaos.
A close examination of Eam-Mess proves an important detail, which demonstrates a genetic sequencing into the scheme of a much larger code. The pinnacle moment is to the far right, where the flowing lines of the chaise converge into one mass; the lines converge into one artery and are snipped. A precise cut suggests that this is only part of a bigger whole- a larger piece that becomes the conceptual. And while there is nothing but gallery space occupying the right of this severed limb, it only takes imagination to see that Hernans’ piece is a silent commentary on the Eames’ personal project of generational parts to whole.
Hernan’s expressive form is just as thoughtful as Eames’ beyond materiality, but also body positioning and ergonomics. The Eames’ lounge allowed for a few sitting positions, but Hernan’s chaise allows for multiple body positions, creating a new discourse for the chaise object; new conformities of the body—put an elbow here, place a head there. If the Eames’ chaise is a couple embracing, then Hernan’s is two -or more- lovers swinging. Perhaps this adult-rated chaise is further solidified when admiring Shiguru Ban’s bench of traditional (read: prude) spindle chairs that are perched to the right of Eam-Mess.
Ray Eames states, “What works is better than what looks good. The looks good can change, but what works, works.” Yet Hernan makes it work and it looks better than good. He continues a fabrication linage that began as an investigation for cost-efficient furniture design, which in our time has evolved into technologically driven design, with unapologetic fervor and sex appeal.