Over the past few months, six designer-manufacturer teams have been competing to create the next Bodleian Library chair for the University of Oxford. The winning design by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby was manufactured by Isokon Plus and is a three-legged oak chair—a contemporary response to the brief, which combines a strong sense of craft heritage, sculptural form and complex reader requirements.
Over the next year, the chair will be developed to production standards for installation in the newly refurbished Weston Library, part of the Bodleian Libraries, which will open its doors to readers and University of Oxford students in October 2014.
This is only the third new chair developed specifically for the Bodleian since 1756, and will join an illustrious group of historic chairs that have supported readers over centuries.
“The winning chair is characterized by a strong identity, creative approach, comfort and suitability for intense study and research. The competition was very strong and we would like to congratulate all short listed designers for their participation,” said Richard Ovenden, Bodley’s interim librarian.
Early inspiration was drawn from the duo’s local knowledge of the Bodleian Library and the cultural setting, combined with the pair’s expertise, drawn from research for previous chair designs, most notably the Tip Ton chair for Vitra.
They identified the rear view of the chair as critical to the concept of the design—this is the aspect that will be most visible when the chair is in situ. Thus a strong vertical timber, echoing the spines of books on shelves, forms one of the three legs that attaches to the sled base. The generous circular form of the seat frame is echoed in the armrest and sled base, producing a strong but remarkably light oak chair.
Barber and Osgerby have a highly successful 18-year history of working with Chris McCourt at Isokon Plus, commencing with Loop, a table that initiated the relationship and was the first new piece manufactured by Isokon Plus for over 40 years. The table is now in permanent museum collections at the V&A and New York’s Metropolitan museum.
The final stage of the competition saw chairs by the partnerships of Matthew Hilton and SCP Ltd, and AL_A (Amanda Levete Architects) and Herman Miller, compete with the winning design in a rigorous judging process that involved a highly qualified panel of judges as well as readers from the Bodleian Libraries who will eventually work sitting on the winning design.
Barber and Osgerby’s design as well as other short listed designs are on display at the V&A Museum in South Kensington until November 17. The exhibit plans to give a unique insight into the process behind the development of chairs from the best in British-based design and manufacturing.
The winning design will be installed in the Weston Library in the fall of next year.