Design

One in the World

An exhibition at Vitra Design Museum delves into the history of the ubiquitous Monobloc.

An exhibition at Vitra Design Museum delves into the history of the ubiquitous Monobloc.

One plus one makes infinity if it’s a Monobloc, the familiar white plastic chair produced in one step and with one material. A paragon of modern simplicity in postwar Europe, it soon went global. In “Monobloc: A Chair for the World,” on view at Vitra Design Museum (through July 9), its story is told through 20 objects, from predecessors, like the Panton chair of the late 1950s, to contemporary riffs, like the Campana Brothers’s 2006 plastic-and-wicker “Café Chair” parody. The classic version arrived in 1972 as the Fauteuil 300, invented by the French engineer and entrepreneur Henry Massonnet, who had devised its under-two-minute production cycle at his plastics factory. Despite the low manufacturing cost of the Fauteuil 300, not to mention an influx of copycats, skyrocketing demand drove up its price, and, by the 1980s, it was in the range of much higher-end furniture. “One reason, back then, was the fascination among both designers and consumers with the novel technology,” explains the show’s curator, Heng Zhi. But the egalitarian aesthetic was apparently due for a backlash, and plastic seating has since come to be seen as cheap, disposable, and even worthy of banishment in some European cities. Zhi’s takeaway is more forgiving: “It’s a controversial everyday object that reflects the complexity of global material culture,” she says. Fetishized or maligned, the Monobloc continues to multiply.

A Monobloc overlooking the Austrian landscape. (Photo: Jürgen Lindemann)
At top: Tina Roeder’s “White Billion Chairs” (2002/2009). (Photo: Christoph Sagel)

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