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Reed Krakoff on Joris Laarman’s Bone Chair

Reed Krakoff on Joris Laarman’s Bone Chair

June 25th 2018

The first time I saw the Bone Chair was in 2006 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It had just been added to the museum’s permanent collection and was the first piece in a revolutionary series by Joris Laarman, a Dutch designer whose fondness for exuberant shapes had led him back to nature.

Laarman began working on the Bone Chair after seeing a documentary featuring Claus Mattheck, a German expert on biomechanics. Mattheck had researched the efficiency with which natural objects like bones grow, the way material is added where strength is needed and taken away where it isn’t, and how each part of every bone is uniquely calibrated to its conditions.

Mattheck borrowed these principles and applied them to industry. He developed an algorithm for Opel, then a subsidiary of General Motors, which allowed them to optimise car parts. With Mattheck’s software, engineers could model the stresses on engine mounts, for instance, and then remove anything unnecessary, making them lighter and cheaper but no less robust.

Reed Krakoff is chief artistic officer at Tiffany. He was talking to Jill Krasny

Laarman borrowed this algorithm and began using it to design furniture. At first he wasn’t sure how to go about it. It took two weeks for the algorithm to generate the first prototype of the chair, the calculations were fiendishly complex, and Laarman didn’t like the result. Once he’d settled on a design he was happy with, the process was further complicated by his choice of material. At first he thought about trying a form of 3D printing that used layered sheets of adhesive-coated paper, but it wasn’t strong enough and the chair would have been too bulky. He eventually settled on aluminium, cast in a computer-generated mould by Phil Verdult, a Dutch metal-worker. Technology and craft had been combined to deliver the simplest and most efficient form possible. “If Mother Nature wanted to create a chair,” Laarman said, “it would be something like the Bone Chair.”

For me, Laarman’s work represents the end-point of three decades of design and the beginning of a new phase. In the 1980s many designers focused on handmade products that used natural materials such as stone or terracotta. In the 1990s this shifted towards minimalism, where the point was to make the simplest shape you could. In the 2000s designers began using digital technology, but the result was often a demonstration of what computers could achieve without enough interest in whether you could live with the results. The Bone Chair shows what happens when all these elements are combined in one piece.

In my own work, I try to accomplish a similar blending of technology, industry and nature. The Bird’s Nest, which I designed for Tiffany last year, is a decorative piece woven from spaghetti-thin strands of sterling silver with three Tiffany Blue porcelain eggs inside. I took a metal – albeit a precious one – and turned it into something soft and organic. This idea reminds me of Laarman’s work, but he has pushed it further than anybody else. In marrying the complexities of technology and the simplicity of nature, the Bone Chair is a design of the times.