A Context-Free Design Item

{ 💺 } – The monobloc chair: how “that white plastic chair” become design’s symbol of globalisation

Credit: KindPNG.

Regardless of where you were born, what kind of family you grew up in or where life brought you, there is an item which you will have certainly seen, or even used, almost once. This item is the monobloc chair.

This chair has appeared in virtually every corner of this planet and has maintained its relevance regardless of current trends. What has determined the success of such item? And does it tell us something about the universality of design?

The Origins of the Monobloc Chair

A piece of design the likes of the monobloc chair doesn’t come about just like that

In 1946, long before the monobloc chair was first launched, Canadian designer Douglas Simpson came up with a prototype of a moulded plastic chair. Back then, the idea of a mass-producible moulded chair was perhaps a little ahead of its time, and so Simpson’s idea was not marketed.

This changed in the 1960s with the launch of the Panton Chair, designed by Verner Pantones. This design can be considered a predecessor of the monobloc as it is the first plastic chair produced using the same moulding technique as Simpson’s 1946 prototype.

Nowadays, the Panton Chair has become a classic piece of Modernist furniture and it is still sought after for its distinctive S-shaped design and durability.

Panton Chair in different colourways. Credit: Vitra.

Worldwide Takeover

Regardless of whether you’re in some resort in Thailand, at a public gathering in a square in Italy or outside a cafe in Mexico, chances are that the monobloc chair was part of the furniture.

How, and when, did the monobloc chair go on to take over the world?

It could be argued that no other design in history enjoyed a comparable global success as the monobloc chair. It it the quintessential symbol of globalisation and its ease of reproducibility together with its durability made it an almost instant hit worldwide.

A 3D model of a typical monobloc chair. Credit: Free3D.

Do you know how we’re usually capable of telling somewhat accurately around what time and where was a photo or video taken based on some visual cues which are distinctive and characterising of a certain decade and place? Now try doing that if in the frame you don’t have much more than some monobloc chairs. This chair has become so universal that having a chance at guessing time and place is virtually impossible.

The Legacy of That White Plastic Chair

There’s no doubt that the monobloc chair will keep being used for many, many years to come. In fact, if you think about it, there is no real viable replacement for a chair which is this versatile, functional, easy to make and affordable.It ticks all the boxes.

Still, as attention towards design increases even in those regions of the globe where a wider section of the population just could not afford something other than the monobloc to, say, offer seating at their beach-side cafes, it is time to perhaps ask whether that white plastic chair is really on the way out and, if so, what will its legacy be.

How will we think of this very peculiar and omnipresent piece of furniture in twenty or fifty years from now?

Will we still see it as an object devoid of a context?

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Gianmarco Caprio Avatar

Gianmarco Caprio / Content & Community Manager @ Phase

Content creator, editor and community manager at Phase.