Naoto Fukasawa’s Latest Chair Dials Into Our Unconscious Behavior

With the release of Za, American furniture maker Emeco expands its roster of battleship-proof seating with a sublime stool that feels like a natural evolution to the Navy family.

It’s no coincidence that modern design history is told by chairs rather than cars, typefaces, or home appliances. So many extraordinary chairs were borne from innovative use of materials, a microcosm of objets d’art that take us through a series of key technological episodes in the evolution of design. This is true for the Emeco 1006, also known as the Navy chair, a seat originally conceived for maritime warships. Since 1944, Emeco has been democratizing furniture by investing in recycled material and handmade processes that have yielded virtually indestructible chairs able to withstand sea air and torpedo blasts.

Four generations later, Naoto Fukasawa is putting those lessons to good use. The lauded Japanese designer recently debuted Za, an aluminum stool marked by its elegant, bird-like profile. Fukasawa’s interpretation subliminally invites sitting with its materiality and form, prompting “centered” seating. While a stool’s central purpose is utility, it has served a higher purpose throughout history— it is a beautiful design object in its own right. After endless centuries of carving, turning, and joining, the Thonet family transported furniture into a fully industrial process, bending wood with steam in the 19th century, and thus coining the sister to the infamous cafe chair, the 1880 barstool. After bentwood, furniture makers experimented with other materials like tubular steel (a la the Marcel Breuer Bauhaus stool), a huge range of synthetic plastic and glass (think of the Eames molded plastic stool), and eventually machine-shaped aluminum (e.g. Sottsass’s stool for Emeco). In this sense, the stool is a striking reflection of shifts in technology, production methodology, and aesthetics. Emeco’s Za is just the latest example of the humble seat’s limitless potential.  

Below, Fukasawa tells us the keys to making a great chair, how unconscious behavior inspires his designs, and the pandemic’s impact on his creativity. 

How have you been spending your time during the pandemic?
Since the pandemic started, I’ve been cooking three times a day, and walking and running every day in the park next to my home. The work has become more virtual and I’m designing more than normal.

Do you find it difficult to be creative in these times? Is it hard to find inspiration when you’re shut out from the world?
Not at all. The time I spend is more creative and motivating. I’m more inspired by things that surround my life. My awareness for details has advanced, realizing what’s necessary for life and what isn’t.  

 What was the inspiration behind Za?
I was almost sure that a round stool already existed in the Navy chair family and could almost imagine it in my mind. When I realized that it didn’t exist, I felt lucky that I found this idea.

What’s the logic behind its form?
I focus not only on my own but also on anyone’s unconscious behavior. 

What makes a good chair in terms of materiality and design?
Compatibility and good balance between sitting comfort and the chair’s environment. Apart from that, the material of the chair is, of course, also significant.

What did your research and development process look like?
It’s my process for every project:

  1. Feel something.
  2. Think intuitively. 
  3. Draw a rough sketch. 
  4. Make a 1:1 3-D form model.
  5. If the model is good, I go to the computer to render and modify surfaces and details.
  6. Confirm and check details during the engineering and manufacturing processes.

Can you talk about aluminum as a material?

Emeco already developed this material for the Navy chair because it has strong functionality. I like the appearance and quality of the roughness, as well as the lightweightness of aluminum.

What are you working on right now?
Designing and building my home-studio to make art.

What do you like to do for fun?
As I desire to explore and feel nature, I travel and play golf everywhere I go, not just in Japan, but around the world.

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