From Randal Charlton at TechTown in Detroit
I hope you are sitting on a chair when you read these words. If you are, I have news for you.
You are following in a long line of the high and mighty of centuries past, including kings and pharaohs, princes and princesses, knights of the realm, lords and ladies as well as cardinals and bishops. Feeling pretty good about your heritage?Well, settle down in your chair because that is precisely what you have in common with the leaders of yesteryear. You are using a chair.
I have always taken my right to sit down in a chair for granted but last night as I was leaving my office at TechTown I stopped by an exhibition of chair art on the first floor and discovered that not so long ago chairs where strictly reserved for the aristocracy.
The rest of us poor peasants were obliged to sit on benches or stools or better yet the floor. The exhibition, staged by students of Wayne State University achieves a remarkable feat; it transforms chairs from ordinary objects that are always present but overlooked in almost every modern home or office into exciting objects of art that are stimulating and interesting to look at. If you don’t believe me, stop by TechTown and see for yourself chairs constructed from old bottles of Mountain Dew, chairs hanging from the ceiling, chairs that have glass toes and wooden ankles and legs and others made from wool, wire and rope.
You cannot sit on any of the chairs in this exhibit. If you need to see practical elegant chairs produced by great twentieth-century designers like Herman Miller and Bill Stumpf I encourage you to drive to the Henry Ford Museum where there is another exhibition of chairs that was recently opened to the public. This exhibit highlights the innovative thought and design that went into designing chairs for the tens of millions of twentieth-century workers that moved from factory floors to offices and cubicles. In their new non-manufacturing environment they spent up to eight hours a day sitting in a chair so it was pretty important that they were comfortable even if they were not high born. However, while a lot of thought went into the design of the chair to make it both practical and comfortable, little or no thought was given to how the chair should be positioned relative to other objects.
Now, the overlooked chair is the center of a new approach to 21st century entrepreneurship that is pioneered by the Kauffman Foundation of Kansas City, MO. The Kauffman Foundation is committed to provide the perfect environment for new start-up businesses. How do you organize offices to maximize collaboration, communication and productivity? The old formula of providing the corporate kings such as CEOs and CFOs with fancy corner offices while the peasants slave away in cubicle farms will no longer cut it in the competitive global economy.
So Kauffman have partnered with the Steelcase Company of Grand Rapids, Michigan to design the offices, chairs and tables that will give us the best chance of using our collective intelligence for the common good. I have seen an experimental lay-out of tomorrow’s innovative company at Kauffman’s headquarters. It is a place you would love to work in, a place where you would it find easy to make eye contact and idea contact with your colleagues. Now as we take over a new building at TechTown to provide space for the new businesses that will drive Detroit forward, we are committed to applying these new approaches to office layouts in our new facility. A new approach to space which encourages innovation and collaboration could be as important as Henry Ford’s development of the production line for making the manufacturing industry more efficient. The next generation of Detroit’s entrepreneurs – like you – will create new industries and new jobs and you deserve to be recognized for what you are – modern day kings and pharaohs.
The Wayne State University chair art project was organized by Alice Smith. Exhibitors also came from Adrian Hatfield’s painting and drawing class and Kathy Arkles Art Education Class.
The Herman Miller Travelling Chair Exhibit can be found at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn. It runs until April 25th.
Kauffman Foundation Innovation Center, Kansas City MO (link to Kauffman Foundation)
Steelcase University Learning Center, Grand Rapids, Michigan (link to website).