Two months ago, I began researching zip-tie joinery, looking up a half-dozen furniture and architecture projects that used zip-ties as the primary fastener. Three dominant structural systems emerged from that research: pure zip-tie, panel-on-frame, and panel-on-panel. A few days after that post, I began a series of experiments with models, made from dumpster-ed cardboard.
After about a dozen quarter-scale models of just the seat shell, I moved to full-scale mock-ups. My first efforts were concentrated on making a structurally independent shell, perched on top of a load-bearing base. The products of that line of inquiry ended up being unfortunately derivative, geometrically over-complicated, and tiresome to make. There were also thirteen pieces, with a correspondingly large amount of holes to drill, driving up the the time and difficulty of construction. Instead of proper, flat arms, the curvature of the form would leave your elbows sliding down, unable to find purchase.
The problem began to really gnaw at me, and I found myself thinking about this chair constantly -- driving to work, walking to get groceries, every time I was supposed to be working on something else. Panelized chairs with sewn joints, create a flexible "net" of surfaces that has very little rigidity, akin to a hammock. A series of perpendicular panels, linked to the parallel planes of the seating surface, somehow have to provide enough bracing while retaining some pliability. So, instead of focusing on making a rigid, geodesic shell, I began thinking that I could use the base frame to stabilize the seating surface. The basic arrangement is much like the Road Sign Lounger -- a "box" of U-shaped pieces with a shell inserted between the arms.
Six weeks of model-making, head-scratching, and beer-drinking later, I felt I was finally ready to commit to plywood. I foraged some scraps from a building we were demo-ing at my day job, and some more bits and pieces from construction at my brother's house -- he even threw in a bag of zip-ties for free! Assuming I am in for some further iteration, I kept this one rough, with no sanding, no refinement, some paint, unmatching and lashed together with a whole bunch of industrial footnotes.
As much as I love craft, and the pursuit of beautiful, refined objects, I keep finding myself drawn back to its opposite -- the artless, raw mash-up of dumpster-rescued plywood. I know how to make complex joinery and blind joints and decent upholstery; I find it is a more interesting design problem, and design choice, to make something that can be assembled without tools from common materials. A sort of alchemy occurs, where weak, floppy materials gradually rigidify into something solid. Every time I sit in this chair there is a moment of discovery -- holy shit, this can actually hold me up! -- and then a second of satisfaction as the comfort takes over.