Serpentine Chair - Case Study
The Serpentine Sackler Gallery consists of two distinct parts, The Magazine and a 21st century tensile structure completed by Zaha Hadid Architects in 2013. The new structure was not originally designed as a restaurant was converted by ZHA in late 2013. Whilst not listed the building is treated as an asset of specific interest and only very minimal works were permitted to the built fabric.
The hard surfaces, high prices and of-its-time lighting scheme meant that the dining experience was somewhat unpleasant, despite the unique and actually quite remarkable relationship between Royal Park and alien built object.
The restaurant space also needed to accommodated up to 100 special events each year, requiring sometimes complete removal of furniture and fittings with only minimal off-site storage.
The main problem was a chair, nothing existed that was both modern, very comfortable and stackable.
There is no good practical reason why more cantilever chairs do not stack. The justifications for why they don’t are likely the negative associations with municipal chairs. In this setting the somewhat retro architecture suits the somewhat retro futurist cantilever typology.
An open curved backrest wraps the seat but never quite reaches parallel in plan. The hoop leg follows this line and projects forward and down, remaining on the same angle to curve within itself when stacked. These are the two elements which allow for the stack.
In elevation the silhouette is a simple triangle of block colour upholstery - at its best from 3/4 rear view, providing hoops of colour and softness in the white lucid restaurant space.
The formal elements of the chair are reduced to Leg, Back and Seat. The pad pinched between the back curve. A seam runs around the top of the backrest accentuating the slim plywood form, this is matched in the cushion like seat pad.
In an azure blue Kvadrat felt with matching powder coated frame the chair with pleasantly springy yet laterally stiff - it was a live chair. There were elements that could be refined. The back rest and seat cores were to be slimmer and hollowed, webbed on the seat, to reduce bulk and weight, a slimmer steel stock was selected to lighten a stacked group and give even more of a lithe feel.
For Chucs Serpentine by Stiff + Trevillion
The chair was unfortunately not produced for the final restaurant.
The basic principle has legs, the first prototype was close to being a good chair and continued development is interesting. Removed from the slightly retro context of the host building, the extremely tight deadline and need for zero tooling, the chair can become something more complex and more refined.
The need to stack within itself meant that the first prototype’s sides had to be slim and as a result the upholstery in this area was little more than wrapped wadding. If we view the stacking properties as being an added bonus or an extra feature then perhaps an extra move can be introduced that takes place in order to make it stack - The upholstery within the arm / back is removable. This not only means that it can be thicker, but also softer, something like a feather cushion, as it will not be compressed or damaged whilst stacked.
The frame will be a matte stainless steel with leather options in contrasting and complimentary leathers and fabrics.
An alternative version with an arm is also possible. With a removable inner wrap instead of homogeneous upholstery the arm can have a thickness not afforded with a slim fixed solution.