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Grounded Chairs

ABSTRACT

Earth has been a generous source of building materials. Earthen materials have been used for over a millenia and are still sheltering approximately a third of the world population, providing thermal delight, availability and affordability benefits. These materials are currently experiencing a new renaissance with upscaled visions and construction technologies introduced to building methods such as rammed earth, compressed earth blocks (CEB), and cob, each includes different proportions of clay-rich soil and fibers and provides different features of sculptability and plasticity (1).

While earth-based materials are mostly used for building construction, new experiments show premises for smaller scale artifacts used in landscape design, interior design, and most recently - furniture design. While earth-based materials are mostly used for building construction, new experiments show premises for smaller scale artifacts used in landscape design, interior design, and most recently - furniture design. While some designers, like Earth Wall Builders have developed outdoor landscape sculptures that withstand weathering and erosion using rammed earth construction techniques (2) others like Frida Escobedo used rosy rammed earth brick walls to segment the interior of an Aesop store in Brooklyn (3). As for furniture design, cob tiles and stools were previously developed by Adital Ela, proving that thinly-compressed cob shells can withstand the forces applied on them when pushed to their optimum potential (4).

Indeed, as an architectural case study, the chair has been an element often used for architect’s to experiment with. From Frank Lloyd Wright’s infamous Robie to Pierre Jeanneret’s Rattan Chair, the chair has been designed by legendary architects as an effort to reinterpret a traditional artifact in a novel way. Indeed, as an architectural case study, the chair has been an element often used for architect’s to experiment with. From Frank Lloyd Wright’s infamous Robie to Pierre Jeanneret’s Rattan Chair, the chair has been designed by legendary architects as an effort to reinterpret a traditional artifact in a novel way.

As part of this trajectory, the Natural Materials Lab at Columbia GSAPP developed Grounded Chairs, a 100% organic biodegradable low-carbon seating system. The Grounded Chairs series aims to use natural building materials such as clay, sand, fibers, and bamboo, to provide a new interpretation of seating sculptures. By using the thermal advantages of naturally driven mass materials and experimenting with electric heating wires, Grounded Chairs provide sculptural comfort seating that can store heat and absorb moisture to provide optimal thermal comfort, while having sustainability at its core.

As architects and artists declare a climate and biodiversity emergency, and commit to adopting new approaches and technologies, this project reshifts the architectural lens on raw earth as a potential for action. As such, this work aims to reintroduce earthen materials as a readily available and minimally processed source for everyday industrial design. Our first iteration of Grounded Chairs is ‘Jandug’; a structurally sound cob chaise with an internal bamboo skeleton and a radiant heating system to further enhance the user’s thermal experience. Throughout its construction process and phases, Jandug has posed intriguing challenges to the structural and durability limits of the materials used.