Where the World Sits: Love & Hate for the Monobloc

Until I came across its name a few days ago, I, like many of you, knew the above as "those white plastic chairs." The monobloc has had its share of lovers and haters, but no matter which camp you're in, you've seen one, you've sat in one, and so has nearly everyone in the world.

One is born in just 70 seconds in 11 different countries. No, not babies. Monobloc chairs. Maxwell says it takes 10 days, but you come to appreciate their comforting presence. Most of you didn't agree, and I can see your point. In the March issue of Dwell, they muse over why some chairs are in museums, but monobloc is everywhere. With plastic as the material of the future, it was the dream to make a chair from a single piece of it. Panton had to do his by hand, but it was the monobloc that achieved it:

The chair itself is versatile and accessible, and at a mere three-sixteenths of an inch thick, it's functional, flexible, and within the grasp of the masses--in other words, a modernist dream fulfilled. But how does this utopian vision end? Unsung ubiquity, it seems. Lacking nearly every form of inspiration-- that key quality that divides the great from the merely present--is it any surprise we hardly know the monobloc's name?

Not everyone finds the monobloc so uninspiring. Arnd Friedrichs and Kerstin Finger put together a book called 220ºC Virus Monobloc: The Infamous Chair, sharing the history of the monobloc, as well as art and design using or inspired by the chair. The chairs have even been upgraded and used in European cafés and restaurants. More than just your frat house's patio furniture, the monobloc has even been reinvented as wheelchairs and bike taxis in places like Cambodia and Mexico.

Despite its flimsy construction and overabundance, next time I see one of those white plastic chairs, I'll be respectful and address it by its proper name.

(Images: 1. Dwell, 2-4. 220ºC Virus Monobloc: The Infamous Chair, via Creative Review, 5. Front via Design Boom, 6. Free Wheelchair Project via Design Boom)

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