Tubular Steel Metal Furniture

Tubular Steel Metal furniture existed in antiquity: the Etrus – cans and the Romans, for example, used seats made of bronze. From the mid-nineteenth century, when large-scale production that is mechanical started to replace hand made craftsmanship as a conse- quence of the Industrial Revolution, there was a great expansion in the creation of furniture made of metal.
Nevertheless, these chairs, stools, tables, and beds were made of cast or tubular alloy and weren’t meant for domestic but for institution- al use: in hospitals and sanatoriums, factories and penitentiaries. Because of unattractive appearance and their tremendous weight, they were unsuitable for the dwelling. Welded-steel tubing was produced in Britain as early as 1825, but it was not until 1885 that the brothers Reinhard and Max Mannesmann successfully achieved a critical specialized development by inventing a “rotary piercing procedure” for the production of seamless pipes.
In the “Mannesmann process,” a heated pole of solid steel is turned be- tween two convex rotating rollers and pulled upwards of a mandrel to create a seamless steel pipe. The outcome is a light steel tube that’s permanent and retains its shape; also, it is comparatively cheap and can resist high stress. Mass production at the Mannesmann steel-tube works in various loca- tions throughout Europe meant the new mate- rial was available everywhere. Initially, it was used only for industrial applications-for the frames of bicycles, for example.

And it was the handlebars of a bike-bent to shape, light and yet very powerful that inspired the designer and architect Marcel Breuer, a passionate cyclist, to design his first tubular-steel chair. Since 1920 Breuer had been working at the Bauhaus, Where he in 1925, became the head of the furniture workshop and completed an apprenticeship as a carpenter. Initially Breuer designed wooden furniture with geometric forms that are simplified; the breakthrough came when he began to experiment with cold-bent steel tube in 1925. With B 3 (fig. left), the first seat made of tubular Custom Made Furniture steel designed for domestic use (later known as the Wassily Chair) (1925-1926) (see Design and Marketing), he created the ancestor of all the items of tubular-steel furni- ture that have followed. In an age when the living room was dominated by the lively 1y ornamental designs of Art Nouveau, the cool tube of chrome-plated steel and the seat made of wire -mesh webbing certainly appeared radical.

Cold-bent steel tube proved to be exactly the material with which the Bauhaus designers could realize both their aesthetic goals as well as their interest in industrial manufacturing processes and materials. The clear, unfussy shape of tubular-steel furniture, its foil and functionality, and its light and airy appearance reflected a new, sober style; the utilization of steel tubing appeared to embody the start of the modern era. The chrome- or nickel- plating of the precision steel tubing gave the furniture its classic, chilly “machine aesthetic.” Breuer wrote of his invention several years after: “A chair frame made of high quality tubular steel (a quite flexible substance), with the addition of tight- ly stretched material Where necessary, ends in a light seats element with its own built-in suspension.

It’s the comfort of an upholstered seat but the distinction is it is considerably lighter, more convenient and hygienic, in other words much more practical to use.” Closely linked with the development of tubular-steel furniture is the cantilever seat without rear legs, another design innovation of the twen- tieth century. Here a single length of metal tube is utilized to form the legs, seat, and backrest of the chair (see The Cantilever Chair). Like Breuer, the Dutch architect Mart Stam had experimented with tubular steel, creating the initial version of the cantilever seat in 1926. Nevertheless, he reinforced the tighter curves of the gas piping in order the seat can barely bounce, with the result that it was not as refined as later versions, he was using.

Le Corbusier and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe were fascinated by the possibilities of the stuff, in order they overly designed items of furniture using steel tubing. For the dining room of the Villa Tugendhat in Brno, Mies van der Rohe designed a variant on the cantilever seat made of tubular steel (MR 20); for his famed Barcelona armchair (MR 90), which he designed for the German pavil- ion at the World Fair in Barcelona in 1929, nevertheless, he used elegant steel bands instead of the fairly functional tube. At the suggestion of the French designer Charlotte Perriand, Le Corbusier also turned his attention to tubular-steel furniture to be able to see his ideal of the “machine for living.”
He combined organic forms that conformed with an austere alloy construction to the body’s shape. Hence in CharlottePerriand Confort armchair (1927/1928), soft Villa cushions are set into a bent frame of chrome-plated steel tubing. There is one seat in a narrow version, ideal for the stance that is male, and another wider 1 version for the female sitting position, with the legs crossed to one side. Le Corbusier’s Chaise Longue LC4 (1927/1928, amount pp. 38/39) also reflects a ergonomic adaptation to the human body. The genuine lounger lies on an H-shaped alloy frame with up- holstery of fur or leather, and the curving shape imitates the silhouette of a resting body-in the words of its designer, a “accurate machine for resting.” After the comparatively thin covering of the early versions, before long luxuriously upholstered items of furniture made of tubular steel were also being created. The Irish designer Eileen Gray attained new heights with the enormous upholstery of her Bibendum armchair (1929).

In contrast to the sober Bauhaus designs, this armchair radiates an element of satire-the three round pillows make comic reference to the Michelin tire mascot Bibendum. Even more well-known is her occasional table E 1027 (1927, fig. p. 40), a little item of furniture made of tubular steel and plate glass for her villa on the Cote d’Azur, which in those days was considered the most refined modern interior in France. The height of the table may be fixed and under a bed its semicircular foot may also be pushed with it. The handle enables it to be moved around easily. Also of note is the Sandow seat (1928).
Inspired by bodybuilding equipment, rubber cords were stretched by the French designer Rene Herbst across a framework of nickel-plated steel tubing to form a seat. Innovative tubular-steel furniture was presented to a wide-ranging people in 1927 at the Werkbund exhibit Die Wohnung (The Home), which was held on the Weissenhof estate in Stuttgart. The exhibition Der S tuhl (The Chair), held in Stuttgart the subsequent year, also caused a stir. Tubular-steel furniture brought international interest when, for example, it was shown at the World Fair of 1933 in Chicago. The use of steel was commended as being in step with the times. So it was merely “natural, therefore that the modern spirit should express itself in dramatic, drastically different kinds of furniture, and that furniture should be of steel, for this is actually the age of steel, and steel sounds the keynote of practicability, vigor, and strength which predominates our modern life.”

As early as the late 1920, a number of firms began to specialize in the production of modern tubularsteel furniture, including Standard-Mobel, Berlining Metallgewerbe Joseph Miiller, Wohnbedarf Ziirich, and Thonet. The last-named furniture maker, who’d established a worldwide reputation together with the fabrication of bentwood furniture, developed a second important region of activity together with the tubular-steel furniture of classical modernism.

By the early 194os Thonet had at its disposal the largest tubular-steel furniture program in Eu- rope; to this day the business creates classics by Breuer, Stam, Mies van der Rohe, and others, in some events unchanged and in others as special editions. The tremendous enthusiasm for tubular-steel furniture faded considerably during the 19405, however, not least due to the broad availability of the new material plastic (see Plastic). Steel tubing was increasingly sidelined into the sphere of of- fice furniture. Here also, nevertheless, notable designs were created. Initiating to this day is the office furnishing system by the Swiss firm USM (amount p. 43), designed in 1963 by engineer Paul Scharer in partnership with architect Fritz Haller.

The key element of this modular furniture system is a chrome-plated aluminum ball whose holes are used to support a tubular-steel grid-frame into which metal surfaces may be slotted. This permits the creation of an office system that changed and can be extended as required. It was at this time that the Bauhaus classics were rediscovered, and their popularity has contin- ued unabated ever since. One example is Marcel Breuer’s S 285 desk (fig. correct) from 1935, which has lost nothing of its modernity. The wooden elements-tabletop and drawers-are fitted into the tubular-steel frame shaped in an endless loop like an “N” in this kind of manner they appear to hover.
The overall effect is just one of great lightness and harmony. In 1987 Sir Norman Foster designed the Nomos writing desk chain (amount above) for the Italian office furnishing business Tecno: a blatantly technical, sober yet lavish building of steel, aluminum, and glass. Splayed legs and aluminum supports come from a tubular-steel framework on which rests a sheet of glass. The refined steel construction has different additional components and surfaces that make it very adaptable, so that a wide variety of table configurations are possible. Tubular-steel furniture has enjoyed a renaissance since the 19605. One notable example is Giancarlo Piretti’s Plia folding chair (1969), which combines a glistening tubular-steel frame using a seat and backrest of clear plastic, thus appealing by virtue of its visual lightness.