Iconic Furniture by Architects

With a deep understanding of ergonomics, a strong interest in materials, and perhaps the desire to create site-specific furniture that fits within each building, Le Corbusier, his contemporaries and some of today’s architects have the basic understanding to create well-loved furniture pieces. Masters in modern architecture, architects like Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright are some of the architects who have ventured into furniture and product design on multiple occasions. It might seem questionable why these architects were working cross-disciplinary but in those days, an architect’s scope of works appears to encompass a lot more than the role the profession undertakes today. All elements including how the screw position of door handles was deliberately designed, so it is not surprising to see furniture designed and manufactured specifically for a building. Often, successful furniture pieces are also later licensed for wider manufacturing or exports to other parts of the world.    

LC4 Chaise Longue (1928) by Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Jeanneret

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LC4 Chaise Longue by Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Jeanneret. Image from Cassina.

Taking the idea that form and function should serve the user, and in this case, a user’s relaxation as the LC4 chaise longue is nicknamed ‘relaxation machine’. This lounge chair was designed so that it accommodates a user’s wish to lie at any angle that is held through the solid rubber base and the curved metal tubes. Functional enough for a daytime nap, elegant enough to be the centrepiece furniture in any living space, it also has the design sensibility to withstand settings from the twenties to contemporary settings. The LC4 chaise longue was designed in 1928 and then launched the next year at the Paris’ Salon d’Automne. It was made by the French branch of Thonet in 1929 but since 1965, the LC4 chaise longue has been manufactured by Cassina as they hold the exclusive worldwide licence from the Le Corbusier Foundation.

Barcelona Chair (1929) by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

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Barcelona chair by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Image from The Conran Shop.

One of the most commonly used furniture in office lobbies - often a company’s first chance to welcome guests and to indirectly depict what their company stands and appreciates. This chair was designed by Mies van der Rohe for the German Pavilion at the International Exposition of 1929 held in Barcelona, Spain. True to Mies van der Rohe’s famous saying that less is more, the chair may seem minimal but it is detailed such that it requires a high level of craftsmanship to construct each chair. The mix of traditional materials with modern materials, such as leather and chrome legs, also adds another dimension to this iconic chair by the German-American architect.

Wassily Chair (1926) by Marcel Breuer

adf-web-magazine wassily chair. image from the metropolitan museum of art

Wassily chair by Marcel Breur. Image from The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Inspired by tubular steel used on bicycles, Breuer created the Wassily chair by bending tubular steel into furniture. Breaking away from the traditional norm of puffy and stuffed chairs, the Wassily chair’s seat, armrest and back were made from canvas or leather held between the bent tubular steel. The chair was one of Breuer’s most influential designs, pushing furniture design in a new direction, even though Breuer himself described the chair as his ‘most extreme work… the least artistic… the most mechanical.’ Like the LC4 Chaise Longue by Le Corbusier, Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Jeanneret, this chair was also made in partnership with Thonet - Breuer went with the German branch instead, and together, they continued to develop this concept into other furniture such as ottomans and stools.

Taliesin Barrel Chair (1937) by Frank Lloyd Wright

adf-web-magazine taliesin barrel chair. image from cassina

Taliesin Barrel Chair by Frank Lloyd Wright. Image from Cassina.

Based on an original design for Darwin Martin’s house from 1903, this slightly larger barrel-shaped chair was created much later in 1937 by Frank Lloyd Wright for Herbert Johnson’s house. Made out of 37 parts, each part was designed and made to fit like a well-made jigsaw; all pieces are still hand-finished by Cassina’s carpenters today. The base and chair are constructed from three pieces of solid wood and finished to a high level. From the three pieces, each of them is then split into two to create the perfect balance from wood processing stages like steam-bending and drying, and later glued together to return its form to the three essential pieces. The chair showcases the architect’s attention to detail, bringing a seemingly simple idea into reality by Cassina’s craftsmen who continue to make this chair to a high standard today.

Rocking Chaise (1972) by Frank Gehry

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Rocking chaise by Frank Gehry.

Industrial materials were commonly seen in Frank Gehry’s early works, using materials such as corrugated metal and plywood on his buildings. The architect was particularly interested in designing and creating well-designed and cost-effective creations from furniture to buildings. The rocking chaise was designed in the 70s, transforming utilitarian corrugated cardboard and masonite creatively stacked to be made into furniture. Gehry was quoted saying “I discovered that by alternating the direction of layers of corrugations, the finished board had enough strength to support a small car, and a uniform, velvety texture on all four sides. I found I could cut these edge board sections into geometrical forms, or bend them into sculptural, ribbon-candy folds.”

Horm Sendai Bookcase (2004) by Toyo Ito

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Horm Sendai bookcase by Toyo Ito.

Taking the essence of the Sendai media library building by Ito himself, this bookcase by Toyo Ito reintroduces the concept of supporting six slabs with irregularly shaped lattice columns. Although the original design was highly functional - it was driven by earthquake proofing requirements in the Miyagi prefecture and the solution for the building is beautiful inside out, this bookcase is nonetheless a great reminder that innovation and elegance can go hand-in-hand. The original columns at Sendai mediatheque were reduced in scale and then replaced with solid wood made with non-replicating angles to re-create the movement that was gracefully expressed.

If you are an architect designing a building today, would you normally design custom furniture for the project? Why or why not? With the right client who appreciates good design, I think it is the ultimate luxury to design a building from the ground up with dedicated furniture made for each space.


If you have any questions or would like to share your recommendations of other iconic furniture by architects, please do not hesitate to contact me via email at von@vonxarchitects.com


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