"Talking about comfort is like talking about chocolate: you must try it." - Carola Zwick of Studio 7.5
Straddling the hills of Baldwin Hills in an industrial corner of Los Angeles, I was amongst guests invited to the catalog-perfect Herman Miller Showroom Monday night to get a glimpse behind the process of designing a chair with ergonomic and engineering aspirations to eclipse an original from two of the designers themselves.
The original Mirra for Herman Miller was amongst the first task chairs which attempted to address day-long comfort with adaptive flexibility using a combination of materials designed to yield to the body's shape in unison, harmonious to the body's positioning and comfort. Carola Zwick and Burkhard Schmitz of Berlin's Studio 7.5 (their name was born from an early escapade renting a 7.5 ton truck and driving it around project to project as a mobile design and modeling shop studio) described their first iteration as a "sneaker for sitting": casual, supportive, and instantly comfortable from a myriad of positions. Close up, the chair even looks like an athletic piece of footwear turned vertical, with some of the same lateral support features engineered into footwear integrated into the chair's form factor.
But the itch to improve and refine bothered the 4-person design team at Studio 7.5 enough to propose a sequel. Although initially rebuffed by Herman Miller ("why not design a new chair?"), Studio 7.5 was finally able to convince the company a sequel could be as inventive as a new model. And thus began the process of stripping down the original Mirra chair and building a new one from the frame up.
Countless foam models, dismantled parts, engineered prototypes were shown during Monday's night's presentation, giving me a newfound appreciation for what goes into developing what is deceptively labeled as a sequel. At one point Schmitz asked Zwick to turn the audio off during playback of a video showing their team testing the comfort of early prototypes, remarking the German being uttered might offend those fluent in the language, but all the while revealing the hours of passionate back and forth which goes into fine tune an ergonomic experience.
Everything the team learned from the first Mirra was used to refine and reduce this second Mirra into something similar, but almost always better. In humorous fashion, the pair was able to communicate the sometimes onerous process of "fighting for the honor of perception" (this in reference to components not always viewable at first glance and sometimes considered negligible by non-designers), the push and pull between designing and engineering a complicated piece of furniture.
The structural core of the Mirra 2 is its Butterfly Back, a combination of interwoven fabric and polymer veins. Unlike my previous experience with the original Mirra chair, the Mirra 2 wasn't plagued by any noticeable hotspots while shifting weight and repositioning against the back.
Additional refinements include a significant materials and weight reduction, now 18lbs more svelte than the first Mirra. The chair was light enough for Studio 7.5's Carola Zwick to lift the Mirra 2 up to illustrate the chair's trimmer new body (the duo joked the first Mirra was unknowingly pregnant and had given birth to their previous project, the lightweight Setu). The chair is now easier to move around and more eco-friendly to manufacture, thanks to all the use of aluminum and a reduced chassis underneath the chair.
The Mirra 2 will be available in a wide range of colors (my personal favorite being the dark turquoise with white frame), at first with predetermined combinations, later with user-defined customization to expand the range of chairs to match any decor or setting.
For further information about pricing and availability, check out the Herman Miller website.
(Images: Gregory Han; Herman Miller)