Olivares Aluminium Chair for Knoll

Olivares Aluminium Chair for Knoll

The Olivares Aluminum Chair (OAC) for Knoll ( launched at NeoCon 2012 ) is a deceptively simple stackable chair, which Jonathan Olivares spent four years developing in pursuit for a high-performance, ultra-light aluminium chair for indoors and outdoors.

Weatherproof materials, and a solid build and light weight ( just 6.7 kgs ) make the chair ideally suited for well-trafficked outdoor applications.

The OAC is made with a 3mm thin, body-contoured cast aluminum seat shell that introduces a heightened level of comfort in metal seating. Given the thinness of the seat, the chair adjusts quickly to body temperature


The chair’s back and seat are one solid piece. The legs have thin black extruded nylon rails, the same as those on skateboards, to keep the chairs from scratching when stacked

The boldly outlined die-cast aluminum shell is available in a wide range of bright, outdoor powder coated palette. The inner portion of the seat shell can be painted a second color for two-tone variations. The chair’s paint is integral to the design, yielding a matte finish, which is scratch and UV resistant, as well as smooth to the touch.

The OAC chair passes applicable ANSI/BIFMA standards and is seeking GREENGUARD® certification.

They are also 100 per cent recyclable

About Jonathan Olivares

1981 : Born in Boston USA

2003 : Studied design and management at the New School University

2004 : Graduated from Pratt Institute’s Industrial Design Program

2005 : Worked for Konstantin Grcic Industrial Design in Munich. ( where he learned about die-casting via Grcic’s “Chair_ONE” )

2006 : He returned to Boston in 2006, he founded Jonathan Olivares Design Research ( JODR ), an office specializing in furniture, product, lighting, interior, and exhibition design as well as design- focused research and writing.  The combination of these activities gives the office a multilateral approach towards each project.

2008 :  Olivares taught a design workshop at ECAL in Lausanne, Switzerland, and was a guest designer in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Designed Objects Program.

Olivares, a protégé of Konstantin Grcic, is well established as a designer (his Smith storage cart for Danese won the Compasso d’Oro in 2011) and a writer and researcher (his most recent book being A Taxonomy of Office Chairs, published last year by Phaidon Press).

Olivares’ products define a culture of function that is specific for today’s activity and technology.

Olivares research projects have included a survey of the American furniture industry for Domus Magazine, a four-year investigation of office chairs for Knoll Inc., which culminated in the book A Taxonomy of Office Chairs (Phaidon Press, 2011) and The Outdoor Office, a research project focused on designing outdoor work spaces done under two grants from the Graham Foundation.

Jonathan Olivares Design Research has also designed exhibitions for The Art Institute of Chicago, Nouveau Musée National Monaco, and the EXD design Biennial in Lisbon which have ranged from exploratory curatorial projects to overviews of the office’s work

“Design is about searching for something we don’t know. If someone said to me, make me a steel tube chair or a fibreglass chair, I would say no, because there is going to be no updating of the craft”

“Furniture is interesting only insofar as it relates to the world around it. Too many chairs live and die as jpegs.”

Olivares sat in 90 per cent of the 130 chairs in his book “Taxonomy”, dating from the 1840s to the present. So, when he began working on his own chair, he was freed from the anxiety of influence by hands-on knowledge.

Knoll Design Director Benjamin Pardo initiated first book, then chair after meeting Jonathan Olivares, who at the time was writing a survey of the American furniture industry for Domus.

“I work with people like Richard Sapper and Cini Boeri,” explains Pardo, “and they are my tie back to Marco Zanuso and a whole lot of people I could never meet. Then you work with guys in the middle. Then you say, ‘Who am I investing in? Who do I want to make bets on for the future?’ It is very rare to meet a young designer who is articulate and intelligent.”

The long march of attempts by Jonathan Olivares Design Research, thoroughly documented in sketch, photograph and model (once a taxonomist, always a taxonomist), began with a hardware store wheelbarrow, hammered into a seat, and included a clunky steel chair with a T-shaped back, a two-part plastic chair with a thin moulded seat and thick cast legs, and a two-part aluminium chair with a hydro formed seat and die-cast frame.

It was this latter that led to a breakthrough: there was trouble attaching the seat to the frame at the corners, and the aluminium casting supplier Leggett & Platt suggested they cast the whole thing themselves — frame, seat and back. The final chair is a refinement of that experiment.

“You usually think of aluminium casting as like bone; you don’t think of it as skin,” says Olivares. The real chair slims to three milimetres at its narrowest.

This allows Olivares’s skinned chair to weigh less than Harry Bertoia’s 1955 mesh chair at 14,75 pounds (6,6 kilos). Light enough to move, heavy enough not to blow around.

“Part of the project was understanding the nature of chairs,” says Olivares. “Why is that chair inviting? It was about growing a character.” The final shape looks a bit like that of a proscenium arch, broad and inviting. The upper edge curves well back to provide a handhold. The chair looks soft, despite its metallic nature. The chairs will be sold powder-coated in different colours on seat and frame, suggesting upholstery.

“In some of the early feedback, before anyone said anything they smiled,” Pardo says. “It’s approachable.”

The complete colour selection is still up in the air, but will definitely include white with a yellow interior, white with green, magenta with pink, plus solid yellow, green and grey. “Inside relates to man-made objects,” says Pardo, referring to the grey. “Outside relates to a tree or to a flower.”

A Taxonomy of an Office Chair

For two years Jonathan received sponsorship from Knoll to research the structural history of office chairs for a book that he was writing – “A Taxonomy of an Office chair”

A Taxonomy of Office Chairs was launched at Phaidon’s SoHo Store located at 83 Wooster Street, New York, with a window display and in-shop installation by Jonathan Olivares Design Research

With its humble orgins, the office chair has evolved through the centuries mainly through constant technical innovation, which in turn has influenced their design.

Jonathan Olivares has taken an approach using a scientific methodology to classify and document 142 office chairs by their distinguishing features.

The book is comprised of three sections

1) a preface and introduction that outline the cultural and manufacturing history of office chairs

2) a catalogue of chairs that is linked via page numbers to the taxonomy itself.

3) illustrated chapters that focus on each component of the office chair from the backrest to the casters.

A Taxonomy of Office Chairs is an exhaustive visual and technical history of the office chair, from the beginning of the 1840s — a period that saw the origins of modern business management to the present. Over this time frame we selected the most innovative office chairs from the thousands that have been designed and manufactured. This rigorous selection process was been underpinned by only one rule: only chairs that have introduced an least one novel feature have been included.

To piece together and coherently map this vast technical history he interviewed dozens of designers, manufacturer employees, and design museum curators, sifted through archival manufacturer catalogues, and consulted with biologists to create a method for taxonomizing a man-made object

This approach has never before been applied to a man-made object, and while the book could have focused on any product, the office chair was the perfect subject because of its rich technical history and close relation to everyday life.

Through interviews with office furniture industry veterans, design museum curators and physical chair inspections we sought chairs that originated any significant morphological variation.

The book is a offers a new method for conveying design and material history, and a comprehensive understanding of the office chair’s evolution

A Taxonomy of Office Chairs is an exhaustive visual and technical history of the office chair, told through the lens of a morphological taxonomy – a method of classification that orders elements by form and structure.

The book maps the evolution of the office chair, through a catalogue of seminal models and an illustrated taxonomy of their components and movement methods.

Each chair is illustrated, each innovation is explained in a short text, and the details of the designers and manufacturers are provided. In addition, the book includes over 400 technical drawings of individual components, organized into chapters that map their evolution.

Few man-made objects have ever been studied in such detail, and the taxonomical approach provides an objective analysis of design history. The book will serve as a detailed encyclopedic and professionally researched tool for anyone studying, commissioning, buying or designing an office chair.

The Outdoor Office Exhibition

The Outdoor Office: ran at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2011.

“The Outdoor Office is a very utopian idea, a very Modernist idea — in the early sense — of doing something that will benefit society, benefit health and show how enjoyable life on earth is!

The initial impetus for the project came from a stalled commission for cast-iron outdoor furniture.

When the idea of pursuing work furniture was raised, the client would only consider the leisure context. Similar resistance came from other furniture and playground manufacturers, their argument being that they did not have, or did not perceive a market for it.

Olivares, however, was undeterred.

Building on the research for the Taxonomy book,  his speculative project The Outdoor Office looks at an area that has until now been under-explored: the types of furniture used for outdoor activities other than leisure and entertainment pursuits.

Olivares examines how productive work environments can be created with new types of outdoor furniture and architecture, with consideration of privacy, shelter, and adaptability.

It was developed with the goal of understanding the possibility of new types of office spaces located outdoors.

The exhibition presents Olivares’s ideas for three different outdoor settings: a boardroom, a classroom, and an individual work space.

On the opposite wall from the billboards, viewers see excerpts from Olivares’s research on the outdoor office – scenes include Anna Lora’s portable outdoor classroom (2010), a Monty Python film still of a man sitting at a desk on the bank of a river (1969), and a 1945 image of the signing of the surrender of Japan at an outdoor desk. Also from real-world solutions, like the makeshift disaster-relief office set up by Plan International in Haiti.

Through these scenes, he points out the obvious: The outdoor office isn’t actually a new concept; it’s just not something the corporate world has seriously considered.

As working habits change and our mobile devices, attached to us like appendages, allow us the freedom to work outside traditional offices, increasingly we are seeking alternative spaces that make productive activities feasible outdoors. This in turn demands new types of outdoor furniture and architectural elements.

The results clearly reflect Olivares’s Modernist sensibility.

Olivares’s proposed outdoor boardroom is lightly shaded by a semicircular structure and equipped with aluminum office-style chairs and a long, simple conference table.

A work-tent that offers shade for laptop and tablet use was inspired by agricultural high tunnels, an insight that brings to mind Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius’s love of American grain silos.

It is also no coincidence that healthy outdoor living – central to the Modernist way of life — is part of Olivares’s underlying motivation of the project.

In another concept, a man sits on a yellow chair at a white table outdoors in a field. He is hunched over a laptop. A single screen protects him from the natural elements. If it rains on this man, well, that’s too bad for him

Olivares’s designs present the beginnings of possible outdoor offices and raise questions: how could the roofless structures function in a city where rain is one of the few constants?

These images, the viewer should assume, are less literal architectural plans than theoretical proposals or critical expositions on some potential futures of workspace.

A third image reveals the idealized office or classroom of the future, a space in which happy citizens sit at a wood table positioned in front of a black chalkboard.

The New York City skyline serves as an immediate backdrop — the iconic urban landscape is not mediated by a giant glass window as it usually would be. The only element that obstructs the view is a clock, positioned on a white pole. It stands as the single barrier to the tall Manhattan buildings.

Here are a few of the modular elements that Olivares imagines as part of the quintessential outdoor office: recycled rubber flooring, wood-plastic composites, UV resistant shade cloth, and cast and extruded aluminum.

Through his conceptual prods and analysis of creative innovations on the real or imagined workspaces of the past, Olivares turns his eyes to the future in order to change the present. He imagines a better world for the office worker of today.

His confidence came from what he describes as “a chain reaction of logical conclusions”, in particular, the ratio between how much time is spent working indoors in relation to how much good weather is enjoyed in many parts of the world.

Add to this the cost and energy savings of cutting down on air conditioning and lighting usage and it becomes easy to see his point.

And while companies may not have specifically marketed outdoor work furniture, Olivares has found numerous examples that show people adapting existing outdoor spaces for work.

He recounts cycling through Old Harvard Yard (an area of parkland in the centre of Harvard University) in Spring 2010 and seeing Fermob steel chairs there for the first time. “At first you ‘d only see people out there taking the sun but slowly you started to see laptops. By the time the chairs had been there one year we went to take photographs because everybody was out there, professors, students, on their laptop in the shade, working away. This said to us, there may be no perceived market but there is definitely a market”.

Olivares chose to work within the hypothetical framework of an imaginary office furniture client, building a design language that spans all three installations and defining a palette of materials including wood-plastic composites, UV resistant shade cloth and cast and extruded aluminum components.

My ultimate goal with this project” he says, “would be that in 50 years an outdoor office is something that is just as common as a gazebo or a patio. Every corporation or university has one. When students ask ‘can we have class outside today?’ the teacher replies ‘yes, I’ve booked the outdoor classroom‘”.

Olivares discovered that even though there’s a lack of purpose-built furniture, a number of high-profile American companies already encourage employees to go outside.

“Anybody at Google, Apple, Facebook, Nike, or Reebok works outdoors a lot,” he says. “All of those places have picnic tables where some real work goes down.”

Olivares identified three main problems –

1 ) “The first thing you need is something that controls or focuses the view,” he says. “You can’t have a 360-degree view, because it’s too distracting.”

2) “Shade becomes a huge issue. When it gets above seventy degrees, it’s impossible to work outside without shade for more than fifteen minutes. And forget about using a laptop.”

3) There’s a stigma associated with picnic tables and café chairs, because they’re designed for leisure. “You need outdoor tables and chairs that have been subtly shifted to look like office furniture,” he says.

For now, all three setups are just concepts, but Olivares hopes that won’t always be the case. “I would love to actually build an outdoor office,” he says.  “I’m hoping that a corporation, university, or manufacturer says, ‘Hey, let’s try this out.’”

la Table des Materies

La Table des Matières is a library, forum and social hub, designed by JODR for the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco.

Translated literally La Table des Matières means table of contents, but the French term implies a broader arrangement of raw material or matter.

Positioned at the entrance to the museum’s Villa Paloma, the room offers an informal environment to reflect on the museum’s exhibition, education and horticulture programs.

A framework of wall-mounted templates, inspired by blogs, allow the museum’s curators, education coordinator and gardener to regularly post books, videos, plants, useful tools, descriptive texts and news for the visitor, and allow visitors to leave comments and their contact information for the museum.

Seated at tables within the space, visitors can utilize the room’s resources, learn and discuss.

The room’s southern wall bears a view of the Mediterranean Sea and the room’s northern wall is host to the Work of The Month, a revolving work of art, selected by the museum’s curators.

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