Colin McSwiggen is Against Chairs


McSwiggen muses on the history and dangers of our love for chairs @ Jacobin.

If you hang out with industrial designers, one thing you may have noticed is that they’re really into chairs.

In fact, tastes are predictable enough that you can often tell a designer’s favorite chair maker from his or her shirt. Black button-down? Mies van der Rohe. Black turtleneck? Peter Opsvik. Low-cut black V-neck and conspicuous hair product? Campanas. Every design school graduate wants a cool-looking chair in their portfolio, and chair design can be a savagely competitive field. If you can be bothered to read to the back of Wallpaper Magazine, I imagine you’ll find the page where they list all the job openings for the position of Famous Designer: “Need not apply unless strangely enthusiastic about crafting beautiful, terrible furniture for rich people.”

I hate to piss on the party, but chairs suck. All of them. No designer has ever made a good chair, because it is impossible. Some are better than others, but all are bad.  Not only are chairs a health hazard, they also have a problematic history that has inextricably tied them to our culture of status-obsessed individualism. Worse still, we’ve become dependent on them and it’s not clear that we’ll ever be free.
It sounds absurd to claim that chairs are dangerous. They’re comfortingly ubiquitous and seem almost too boring to be harmful. But when one considers that the average Briton, for instance, spends over fourteen hours seated per day, relying on chairs for support while working, relaxing, commuting, eating, and sometimes sleeping, it’s easy to believe that chairs could have a serious impact on public health.
It turns out that they do and the figures are grim: last year, the American Cancer Society wrapped up a fourteen-year longitudinal study of 120,000 participants and discovered that sitting for extended periods during the day dramatically increased participants’ risk of death. The result held even among participants who exercised regularly, and although there’s the usual confusion over causation and correlation, the study falls atop a growing pile of evidence that long times spent seated are a contributing cause of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, depression, and practically innumerable orthopedic injuries. It does not matter if you are young, eat well and live an otherwise active life. Just being seated, in excess, will hurt you.

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